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Alfred J. Church

Menelaus's Story

T HE next day Menelaüs said to Telemăchus: "Tell me now on what business you have come. Is it on some affair of your own, or is it something that concerns the State?"

Telemăchus answered: "I have come to see whether you can tell me anything about my father. No one knows whether he is alive or dead. And I am in great trouble at home, because certain nobles of Ithaca and of the islands round about would have my mother choose a husband from among them, and meanwhile they devour my substance."

Menelaüs said: "They will certainly be punished for their wrong-doing. So a hind lays her young in a lion's den, but when the lion comes back, he slays both her and her fawn. So will Ulysses slay these Suitors, for he will most certainly come back. But now I will tell you all that I know. In my travels I went to the land of Egypt, and when I wished to sail homeward, I could not, for the winds were against me. There is an island opposite the mouth of the Nile, which is the great river of Egypt. There I stayed, not of my own choice, for twenty days, till all our food was eaten up. Truly we had all perished, I and my men, but that one of the goddesses of the sea had pity on us. She was the daughter of a sea god, and one day as I sat alone, for my men were wandering about fishing with hooks for anything that they might catch, she stood by me and said: 'Surely this is a foolish thing that you do, sitting here till you and your men die of hunger.' I answered: 'I know not who you are, but I will tell you the truth. It is not of my own choice that I stay; the winds are against me, and I cannot go. Tell me, now, whether I have offended the gods, and tell me also how I can return to my home.' Then she said: 'I cannot tell you these things, but there is one who can, and that is my father Proteus. He comes here with the sea-beasts which he herds. But you must lay hold on him, for he will not tell you these things except by force.' Then I asked her to tell me how this could be done. Then she said: 'The old man comes here at noon to a certain cave that there is by the sea, and he brings his sea-beasts with him. Then he lies down in the cave to sleep, and the beasts lie all round him. That is the time for you to lay hold of him. Choose now out of your men the three that are bravest and strongest, and I will take them and you at daybreak and hide you in the cave. The old man will come at noon. First, he will count the beasts, as a shepherd counts his sheep, and then he will lie down to sleep in the middle of them. Then you must rush upon him, and lay your hands upon him and hold him fast. Remember that he will take all kind of shapes, beasts and creeping things, and water and fire. But when he shall come back to his proper shape, then let him go, and ask him what you want to know, and he will tell you.' When the goddess had said this, she dived into the sea. So I chose three of my men, the bravest and the strongest that there were, and we waited at the place where the goddess had spoken to me. Just before dawn she came out of the sea, bringing four skins of sea-beasts with her. And she took us into the cave, and dug out hiding places for us in the sand, and wrapped the skin of a sea-beast about each of us, and made us lie down in the places which she had dug out. She wrapped the skins about us in order that the old man might take us for sea-beasts. Now the beasts had been just killed, and the smell of them was such as could scarcely be borne; so she took portions of ambrosia, which is the food of the gods, and very sweet smelling. She put a portion under the nose of each one of us, and so we were able to endure the smell of the beasts. So we waited all the morning. At noon the old man came from the sea, and the beasts came with him, and went into the cave and lay down on the sand. And the old man went along the line, and counted the beasts, counting us with the rest, and he did not perceive our device. This done, he lay down to sleep in the midst of the herd. Then we rushed upon him, and held him fast. He took many shapes, a lion, and a snake, and a panther, and a wild boar, yes, and running water, and a tree covered with flowers. All the while we held him fast. But when he was come back to his proper shape, we let him go. Then he said: 'Who told you how to beguile me?' To this I made no answer, for why should I make mischief between him and his daughter? But I said: 'Tell me now the things that I desire to know. I am kept fast in this island; tell me how I can escape.' He said: 'You are kept here by the gods; if you had done proper sacrifice to them before you set sail, you had been near to your home by this time. But now go back to Egypt, and do sacrifices, as is proper, and the gods will give you your desire.' It troubled me to hear this, for I desired to go homeward and not back to Egypt. But I said: 'There is yet another thing which I would hear. Tell me about the chiefs whom Nestor and I left behind us in Troy; have they returned safely to their homes or no?' The old man said: 'Why did you ask this question, for the answer will make you sorry? Two only of the chiefs perished. Ajax the Lesser was shipwrecked. He had offended Athené, and she brake his ship with a thunderbolt. And yet he might have escaped with his life, for the gods of the sea helped him so that he got to the rocks. But he boasted foolishly that he had saved himself in spite of the gods; and when the god of the sea heard this, he was angry, and smote the rock on which Ajax sat, so that it was broken into two pieces, and Ajax fell into the sea, and was drowned. And the other chief who perished was thy own brother Agamemnon. He came safely indeed to his own land; but there Aegisthus wickedly killed him.' Then I said: 'There is yet one chief of whom I wish to hear something.' But before I could tell his name, the old man said: 'I know of whom you are speaking. It is Ulysses of Ithaca. Him I saw in the island of Calypso. He was weeping, because Calypso keeps him there against his will, and he has no companions and no ship.' And when he had said this he plunged into the sea. Then I went back to Egypt, and offered sacrifice to the gods, and so came safely home, for the gods gave me a favourable wind. And now, my son, tarry with me as long as you will. And when you wish to depart, I will give you a chariot and horses, and also a goodly cup."

But Telemăchus said: "Keep me not, for I would go home as soon as may be. But as for the horses I thank you, but I desire them not. Here you have corn, land, and pasture, but we have none such in Ithaca. There is no feeding land save for goats; and yet I love it."

Menelaüs answered: "You speak well and warily, as becomes your father's son. I will therefore change the gift. You shall have the finest cup that I have in my house, the one that the king of Sidon gave me. It is of silver, but the rim is finished with gold."

Then Telemăchus departed and went to his ship where it lay at Pylos. And the crew came from Nestor's palace, when they heard of his return, and in due course they started for their home. Now Antinoüs had taken a ship with twenty men, and lay in wait in the Strait between Ithaca and Samé. But Telemăchus was warned by Athené that he should go home by another way, and this he did, and so escaped the danger.