Gateway to the Classics: The Odyssey by Jeanie Lang
The Odyssey by  Jeanie Lang

How Odysseus Came Home

While yet Telemachus sought news of his father, Odysseus was wellnigh home. On that misty morning when he found himself in Ithaca, and did not know it, because the grey fog made everything seem strange and unfriendly, Odysseus was very sad as he sat beside the moaning sea.

Then came Athene, and drove the mist before her, and Odysseus saw again the land that he loved, and knew that his wanderings were past. She told him the tale of the wooers, and of the unhappiness of Penelope and Telemachus, and the heart of Odysseus grew hot within him.

'Stand by me!' he said to the goddess. 'If thou of thy grace wilt help me, I myself will fight three hundred men.'

'Truly I will stand by thee,' said Athene, and many of the greedy wooers shall stain the earth with their blood.'

She then told Odysseus how the wooers were to be destroyed, and Odysseus gladly agreed to her plans. First she made him hide far in the darkness of the cave, under the olive-tree, all the gold and bronze ornaments and beautiful clothes that had been given to him in the land of Nausicaa.

Then she touched him with her golden wand. In a moment his yellow hair fell off his head; his bright eyes were dim; his skin was withered and wrinkled, and he had a stooping back and tottering legs like a feeble old man. His clothes of purple and silver she changed into torn and filthy old rags, and over his shoulders she threw the old skin of a stag with the hair worn off.

'Go now,' said Athene, 'to where thy faithful swineherd sits on the hill, watching his swine as they grub amongst the acorns and drink of the clear spring. He has always been true to thee and to thy wife and son. Stay with him and hear all that he has to tell, and I will go and fetch home Telemachus.'

'When thou didst know all, why didst thou not tell Telemachus?' asked Odysseus. 'Is he, too, to go wandering over stormy seas, far from his own land?'

'Telemachus will be a braver man for what he has gone through,' said Athene. 'No harm shall come to him, although the wooers in their black ship wait to slay him.'

Then Athene flew across the sea, and Odysseus climbed up a rough track through the woods to where the swineherd had built himself a hut. The hut was made of stones and thorn branches, and beside it were sties for the swine made in the same way. The wooers had eaten many swine at their daily feasts, but thousands remained. These the swineherd tended, with three men and four fierce dogs to help him.

At an open space on the hill, from whence he could look down at the woods and the sea, Odysseus found the swineherd sitting at the door of his but making himself a pair of sandals out of a brown oxhide.

When the swineherd's dogs saw a dirty, bent old man toiling up the hill, they rushed at him, barking furiously. Up they leapt on him and would have torn him to pieces if their master had not cast away his oxhide, dashed after them, scolded them and beaten them, and then driven them off with showers of stones.

'If my dogs had killed thee I should have been for ever ashamed,' he said to Odysseus, and without that I have enough sorrow. For while my noble master may be wandering in a strange land and lacking food, I have to feed his fat swine for others to eat.'

So speaking, he led Odysseus to his hut. He laid some brushwood on the floor, spread over it the soft, shaggy skin of a wild goat, and bade Odysseus be seated. Then he went out to the sties, killed two sucking pigs, and roasted them daintily. When they were ready he cut off the choicest bits and gave them to Odysseus, with a bowl of honey-sweet wine.

While Odysseus ate and drank, the swine-herd talked to him of the greed and wastefulness of the wooers, and in silence Odysseus listened, planning in his heart how he might punish them.

'Tell me thy master's name,' he said at length. 'I have travelled in many lands. Perchance I may have seen him, and may give thee news of him.'

But the swineherd answered—

'Each vagrant who comes straying to the land of Ithaca goes to my mistress with lying tales of how he has seen or heard of my master. She receives them all kindly, and asks many questions, while tears run down her cheeks. You, too, old man, would quickly make up a story if any one would give thee some new clothes. My master is surely dead, and wherever I may go I shall never again find a lord so gentle.'

Then said Odysseus—

'My friend, I swear to thee that Odysseus shall return. In this year, as the old moon wanes and the new is born, he shall return to his home.'

When the other herds returned that evening they found Odysseus and their master still deep in talk. At night the swineherd made a feast of the best that he had, and still they talked, almost until dawn. The night was black and stormy, and a drenching rain blotted out the moon, but the swineherd, leaving Odysseus lying in the bed he had made for him, with his own thick mantle spread over him, went outside and lay under a rock that sheltered him from the storm, keeping guard on the white-tusked boars that slept around him. And Odysseus knew that he had still at least one servant who was faithful and true.

While Odysseus dwelt with the swineherd, Athene sought Telemachus and bade him hasten home. Speedily Telemachus went back to his ship and his men. The hawsers were loosed, the white sail hauled up, and Athene sent a fresh breeze that made the ship cut through the water like a white-winged bird. It was night when they passed the island where the wooers awaited their coming, and in the darkness none saw them go by.

By daybreak they reached Ithaca, and Telemachus, as Athene had bidden him, sent on the men to the harbour with the ship, but made them put him ashore on the woody coast near the swineherd's dwelling.

With his bronze-shod spear in his hand, Telemachus strode up the rocky path. Odysseus and the swineherd had kindled a fire, and were preparing the morning meal, when Odysseus heard the noise of footsteps. He looked out and saw a tall lad with yellow hair and bright eyes, and a fearless, noble face. 'Surely here is a friend,' he said to the swine-herd. 'Thy dogs are not barking, but jump up and fawn on him.'

The swineherd looked, and when he saw his young master he wept for joy.

'I thought I should never see thee more, sweet light of my eyes,' he said. 'Come into my hut, that I may gladden my heart with the sight of thee.'

He then spread before him the best he had, and the three men ate together. Although Odysseus seemed only a poor, ragged, old beggar, Telemachus treated him with such gentleness and such courtesy that Odysseus was proud and glad of his noble son. Soon Telemachus sent the swineherd to tell Penelope of his safe return, and while he was gone Athene entered the hut. She made herself invisible to Telemachus, but beckoned to Odysseus to go outside.

'The time is come for thee to tell thy son who thou art,' she said, and touched him with her golden wand.

At once Odysseus was again a strong man, dressed in fine robes, and radiant and beautiful as the sun.

When he went back into the but Telemachus thought he was a god.

'No god am I,' said Odysseus; 'I am thy father, Telemachus.'

And Odysseus took his son in his arms and kissed him, and the tears that he had kept back until now ran down his cheeks. Telemachus flung his arms round his father's neck, and he, too, wept like a little child, so glad was he that Odysseus had come home.

All day they spoke of the wooers and plotted how to slay them.

When the swineherd returned, and Athene had once more changed Odysseus into an old beggar-man, he told Telemachus that the wooers had returned, and were so furious with Telemachus for escaping from them, that they were going to kill him next day.

At this Telemachus smiled to his father, but neither said a word.

Next morning Telemachus took his spear and said to the swineherd—

'I go to the palace to see my mother. As for this old beggar-man, lead him to the city, that he may beg there.'

And Odysseus, still pretending to be a beggar, said—

'It is better to beg in the town than in the fields. My garments are very poor and thin, and this frosty air chills me; but as soon as I am warmed at the fire and the sun grows hot, I will gladly set out.'

Down the hill to the city strode Telemachus. When he came to the palace, his old nurse, whom he found busy in the hall, wept for joy. And when Penelope heard his voice, she came from her room and cast her arms round him and kissed his face and his eyes, and said, while tears ran down her cheeks—

'Thou art come, sweet light of my eyes. I thought I should never see thee more.'

Then Telemachus, looking like a young god, with his spear in his hand and his two hounds following at his heels, went to the hall where the wooers sat. To his friend Mentor he told his adventures, but he looked on the wooers with silence and scorn.

Soon Odysseus and the swineherd followed him to the city. A beggar's bag, all tattered, was slung round the shoulders of Odysseus. In his hand he carried a staff. Men who saw him, tattered and feeble, mocked at him and his guide. But Odysseus kept down the anger in his heart, and they went on to the palace. Near the doorway, lying in the dirt, thin and old and rough of coat, lay Argos, the dog that long ago had been the best and fleetest that had hunted the hares and deer with Odysseus.

When he heard his master's voice he wagged his tail and tried to crawl near him. But he was too feeble to move. He could only look up with loving, wistful eyes that were almost blind, and thump his tail gladly. So glad was he that his faithful heart broke for joy, and before Odysseus could pat his head or speak a kind word to him, old Argos rolled over dead.

There were tears in the eyes of Odysseus as he walked past the body of his friend. He sat down on the threshold leaning on his staff, and when Telemachus sent him bread and meat from his table he ate hungrily. When the meal was over he went round the hall begging from the wooers. Some gave him scraps of broken meats, others called him hard names and bade him begone, and one of them seized a footstool and struck him with it.

But Odysseus still kept down the anger in his heart, and went back to his seat on the threshold with his beggar's bag full of the scraps that had been given to him.

As he sat there, a common beggar, well known for his greed and impudence, came to the palace.

'Get thee hence, old man,' said he to Odysseus, 'else I shall knock all thy teeth from thy head.'

More, too, he said, rudely and roughly, and at last he struck Odysseus.

Then Odysseus could bear no more, and smote him such a blow on his neck that the bones were broken, and he fell on the ground with blood gushing from his mouth. Odysseus dragged him outside by the heels, and propped him, with his staff in his hands, against the courtyard wall.

'Sit there,' he said, 'and scare off dogs and swine.'

The wooers laughed and enjoyed the sport, and gave gifts of food to the sturdy old beggar, as they took Odysseus to be. All evening they feasted and drank, but when night fell they went to their own homes.

When they were gone Odysseus and Telemachus carried all the helmets and swords and sharp-pointed spears that stood in the hall away to the armoury and hid them there.

Then Telemachus went to his room to rest, but Odysseus sat in the hall where the servants were clearing away the remains of the feast. While he sat there, Penelope came with her maids and rested on a chair in front of the glowing wood fire on which the servants had piled fresh logs.

She talked kindly and gently to the old beggar-man, and bade the old nurse bring water to wash his weary feet.

Now, once long ago, a wild boar that he hunted had torn the leg of Odysseus with his tusk, and as the old nurse washed his feet she saw the scar. In a moment she knew her master, and cried out. The brazen bath fell with a clang on the floor, and the water was spilt.

'Thou art Odysseus,' she said; 'I did not know thee, my dear child, until I found the scar.'

Penelope must have heard her glad cry, had not Athene at that moment made her deep in thoughts of other things. Quickly Odysseus bade the old nurse be silent, and the old woman obeyed him.

Before Penelope went to rest she said sadly to Odysseus: 'I feel that the end is drawing near. Soon I shall be parted from the house of Odysseus. My husband, who was always the best and bravest, used to set up the twelve axes ye see standing here, and between each axe he shot an arrow. I have told the wooers that I shall marry whichever one of them can do the like. Then I shall leave this house, which must be for ever most dear to me.'

Then answered the old beggar-man: 'Odysseus will be here when they shoot. It will be Odysseus who shoots between the axes.'

Penelope, longing for his words to be true, went up to her room and lay crying on her bed until her pillows were wet. Then Athene sent sleep upon her eyelids and made her forget all her sorrows.

Odysseus, too, would have tossed all night wide awake, with a heart full of anger and revenge, had not Athene gently laid her hands on his eyes and made him fall asleep.

Next day the wooers came to the palace, and with rough jest and rude word they greeted Odysseus.

'Who harms this man must fight with me,' said Telemachus, and at that the wooers shouted with laughter.

But a stranger who sat amongst them cried out in a voice of fear—

'I see your hands and knees shrouded in blackness! I see your cheeks wet with tears! The walls and the pillars drip blood; the porch is full of shadows, and pale ghosts are hastening out of the grey mist that fills the palace.'

At this the wooers laughed the more, for they thought the man was mad. But, as in a dream, he had seen truly what was to come to pass.

Weeping, Penelope then brought forth from the armoury the great bow with which Odysseus had shot in years that were past. Her heart was full of love for Odysseus, and she could not bear to wed another.

Telemachus then threw aside his red cloak and ranged out the bronze axes.

One by one the wooers tried to move the great bow and make it drive a swift arrow before it. One by one they failed.

And when it seemed as if no man there was strong enough to move it, Odysseus took it in his hands, and between each axe he shot an arrow. When the last arrow was shot he tore off his rags, and in a voice that rang through the palace he cried to Telemachus: 'Now is it time to prepare supper for the wooers! Now, at last, is this terrible trial ended. I go to shoot at another mark!'

With that he shot an arrow at the wooer who had ever been the most insolent and the most cruel. It smote him in the throat, his blood dripped red on the ground, and he fell dead.

The others gave a great cry of rage, but Odysseus looked at them with burning eyes, and with a voice that made them tremble he cried—

'Ye dogs! ye said I should never return, and, like the traitors ye are, ye have wasted my goods and insulted my queen. But now death has come for you, and none shall escape.'

In vain did the cowards, their faces pale with fear, beg for mercy. Mercy there was none that day. It was useless for those who drew their swords and rushed on Odysseus to try to slay him, for ere their swords could touch him, his bow had driven sharp arrows into their hearts.

One of the servants of the palace treacherously climbed into the armoury and brought spears and shields and helmets for the wooers. But even that did not daunt Odysseus and his son. Telemachus, with his spear, slew man after man. When his arrows were done Odysseus also snatched a spear, and they fought side by side. Beside them fought the swineherd and one other man, and they all fought the more fearlessly because, all the time, Athene put fresh courage in their hearts.

There were four men to very many others when that fight began. When it was ended the floor ran with blood, and Odysseus, like a lion at bay, stood with the dead bodies of the wooers piled in heaps around him and his face and hands stained with blood.

When all lay dead, the old nurse gave a great cry of joy.

'Rejoice in thy heart, old nurse,' said Odysseus. 'It is an unholy thing to rejoice over slain men.'

The nurse hastened to Penelope's room.

'Penelope, dear child!' she cried, 'Odysseus is come home, and all the wooers lie dead.'

At first Penelope would not believe her. Too good did it seem to be true. Even when she came down and saw Odysseus leaning against a tall pillar in the light of the fire, she would not believe what her own eyes saw.

'Surely, mother, thy heart is as hard as stone,' said Telemachus. 'Dost thou not know my father?'

But Penelope saw only a ragged beggar-man, soiled with the blood of the men he had slain, old and ugly and poor.

Then Athene shed her grace upon Odysseus, and once more he was tall and strong and gallant to look upon, with golden hair curling like hyacinth flowers around his head. And Penelope ran to him and threw out her arms, and they held each other close and wept together like those who have suffered shipwreck, and have been tossed for long by angry seas, and yet have won safely home at last.

And when the sun went down that night on the little rocky island of Ithaca in the far seas, the heart of Odysseus was glad, for he knew that his wanderings were ended.

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