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Alfred J. Church


A FTER a while Ulysses rose to go into the city, and Athené spread a mist about him so that the passers-by might not see him as he went. Also she took upon her the shape of a young girl who was carrying a pitcher, and met him.

Ulysses asked her: "My child, can you tell me where King Alcinoüs lives? I am a stranger here."

She answered: "I will show you his abode; it is close to the home of my father." So she led the way, and Ulysses followed her. Much did he wonder, as he went, at all he saw—the harbour, and the ships, and the place of assembly, and the walls, till they came to the palace. Athené said: "This is the king's house." Further, she said—and now Ulysses knew that it was Athené and not a girl that was speaking—"Go in, fear nothing; the fearless man always fares best. And look first for the queen. Her name is Areté. Never was there a wife more loved by her husband, or a queen more honoured by her people. Be sure that if she favours you, you have come to the end of your troubles, and will see your dear land of Ithaca again."

When she had said this, Athené vanished out of sight, and Ulysses went into the palace. A wonderful place it was, as bright as if the sun had been shining in it. The walls were of brass, and the doors were of gold, and the posts on which the doors were hung were of silver, and along the sides of the hall were golden chairs on which the chiefs were used to sit when they were invited to a feast. By each seat was the golden statue of a man, holding a torch in his hand, so that the hall might be lighted when it was night. There were fifty maid-servants in the house; half of them were grinding corn, and half of them were weaving robes. All round the house were beautiful gardens, full of fig-trees and apples, and pears, and pomegranates, and olives. They never are harmed by frost or by drought, and there is never a time when some fruit is not ripe. Also there was a vineyard, and this bore grapes all the year round. Some of them were hanging dried in the sun, and some were being gathered, and some were just turning red. Also there were beds of beautiful flowers, and in the middle were two fountains which never grew dry.

Ulysses could not help looking for a short time at all these wonderful and beautiful things. There were many people in the hall, but no one saw him, for, as we know, there was a mist all around him which hid him from them. So he went on to where the queen was sitting, and knelt down before her, and put his hands on her knees. And as he did this, the mist cleared away from round him, and all the people in the hall saw him quite plainly.

He said: "O queen, I beg a favour of you. I pray you, and your husband, and your children to help me. Send me to my home, for I know that you help strangers to travel across the sea."

And when he had said this, he sat down among the ashes on the hearth. Then said one of the nobles that were in the hall—he was the very oldest man that there was in all the land: "King Alcinoüs, do not let this stranger sit there among the ashes. Tell him to sit upon a chair, and give him something to eat and drink."

Then the king told his eldest son to take the stranger by the hand and raise him up, and make him sit down on his own seat. This the young man did. And a servant brought a basin and poured water over Ulysses' hands, and the housekeeper brought him something to eat and to drink. The king said: "This man begs a favour of us, that we may take him to his home. To-morrow we will have an Assembly, and will consider how we may best do this. And now you can go all of you to your homes." But before they went, Ulysses said: "I could tell you, my friends, of many troubles that I have suffered. But first I must eat and drink; that a man must do, however unhappy he may be. I will say only this, when you come together to-morrow, do your best to help me in this matter. I should be content to die if I could only see my home again."

This they all promised to do, and so departed.

When Ulysses was left alone, the queen looked at him somewhat more closely, and she saw that the clothes which he wore had been made by herself and her maids, and she said: "From what country have you come, and who gave you these clothes?"

Then Ulysses told her how he had travelled many miles across the sea on the raft, and how the raft had been broken, and how he had got to the shore after swimming for two days and two nights and more, and how Nausicaa had found him, and had had pity on him, and brought him to the city. The queen said: "I blame my daughter that she did not bring you with her. That was what she should have done." "Nay, lady," said Ulysses, "she would have brought me, but I would not come, for I did not like that the girl should be blamed."

Then said the king: "Eat and drink in peace, stranger. We will do what you wish, and take you to your home. There are no men in all the world who can row better than the Phaeacian youths. You will lie down to sleep, and before you wake they will have carried you to your own country. They can go to the farthest part of the world, and can come back the same day, and not be tired."

Ulysses was glad to hear what the king said, and he prayed in his heart: "May the king do what he promises, and may I come in peace to my own land."

Then the queen told the maids to make a bed ready for the stranger. And they went with torches in their hands and made it ready, and came again and said to Ulysses: "Stranger, your bed is ready." So he followed them. Right glad was he to sleep after all that he had suffered.