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Alfred J. Church

Of the Dog Argus and Other Things

T HE next day Telemăchus said to the swineherd: "I will go to the city, for my mother will not be easy till she sees my face. You will take the stranger with you that he may beg of any that may have a mind to give."

"Yes," said Ulysses, "that is what I desire. If a man must beg, 'tis better to beg in the city than in the country. And do you go first; I will follow a little later, when it will be warmer, for now I shall feel cold under these rags."

So Telemăchus went on to the city, and very glad were his mother and the nurse to see him. He looked after certain business that he had to do, but all the time he had one thought always in his mind, how he and his father might kill the Suitors.

About noon the swineherd and Ulysses came to the city. Now just outside the wall there was a fountain, and there the two came across a certain Melanthius, who looked after the goats. When he saw the swineherd and his companion, he said: "Why do you bring beggars to the city? we have enough of them already." And he came up and kicked Ulysses on the thigh, thinking to push him over. But Ulysses stood firm. For a while he thought to himself: "Shall I knock out this fellow's brains with my club?" But he thought it better to endure. So the two went on to the palace. Now at the door of the courtyard there lay a dog, Argus by name, which had belonged to Ulysses in old time. He had reared him from a puppy, feeding him with his own hand; but before the dog had come to his full growth, his master had gone away to fight against Troy. While Argus was strong, men had used him in their hunting, when they went out to kill roe-deer and wild goats and hares. But now he was old no one looked after him, and he lay on a dunghill, and the lice swarmed on him. When he saw his old master, he knew him at once, and wagged his tail and drooped his ears, for he was too weak to get up from the place where he lay.


Ulysses and his Dog

When Ulysses saw him, the tears came into his eyes, and he said to the swineherd: "Now this is strange, Eumaeus, that so good a dog, for I see that he is of a good breed, should lie here upon a dunghill."

The swineherd answered: "He belongs to a master who died far away from his home. Once upon a time there was no dog more swift or more strong; but his master is dead, and the careless women take no count of him. When the master is away, the slaves neglect their work. Surely it is true that a slave is but half a man." While the two were talking together, the dog Argus died. He had waited twenty years for his master to come back, and he saw him at last.

Then the swineherd and the beggar went into the hall where the Suitors sat at their meal. When Telemăchus saw them, he took bread and meat, as much as he could hold in his two hands, and bade a servant carry them to the beggar. Also, he bade the man tell him that he could go round among the Suitors and ask alms of them. So Ulysses went, stretching out his hand as beggars do. Some of the Suitors gave, for they saw that he was tall and strong, for all that he looked old and shabby. But when he came to Antinoüs, and had told him his story, how he had been rich in old days, and had had ships of his own, and how he had gone to Egypt and had been sold as a slave to Cyprus, the young man mocked him, saying: "Get away with your tales, or you will find that Ithaca is a worse place for you than Egypt or Cyprus."

Ulysses said to him: "You have a fair face but an evil heart. You sit here at another man's feast, and yet will give me nothing."

Then Antinoüs caught up the footstool that was under his feet, and struck Ulysses with it. It was a hard blow, but he stood as firm as a rock. He said nothing, but he was very angry in his heart. Then he went and sat down at the door of the hall. And he said to those who sat in the hall: "Hear, all ye Suitors of the queen! Antinoüs has struck me because I am poor. May the curse of the hungry fall upon him, and bring him to destruction before he come to his marriage day."

But Antinoüs cried: "Sit still, stranger, and eat what you have got in silence, or I will bid the young men drag you from the house, ay, and tear your flesh off your bones."

But even the Suitors blamed him: "You did ill to strike the stranger; there is a curse on those that do such things. Do you not know that sometimes the gods put on the shape of poor men, and visit the dwellings of men to see whether they are good or bad?" But Antinoüs did not care what others thought about him, so full of naughtiness was his heart. As for Telemăchus, he was full of anger to see his father so treated. But he kept it to himself; he did not shed a tear, no, nor speak a word; but he thought of the time when the Suitors should suffer for all their ill-doings. But Penelopé, when she heard of it, prayed that the gods might strike the wicked man. "They are all enemies," she said to the dame that kept the house, "but this Antinoüs is the worst of all." Then she said to the swineherd: "Bring this stranger to me; I should like to talk with him. Perhaps he has heard something of Ulysses, or even has seen him, for I hear that he has wandered far."

The swineherd answered: "Be sure, my queen, that this man will charm you with his talk. I kept him in my house for three days, and he never stopped talking of what he had seen and of his adventures. He charms those that listen to him, as a man that sings beautiful songs charms them. And, indeed, he does say that he has heard of Ulysses, that he has gathered much wealth, and that he is on his way home."

When Penelopé heard this, she was still more eager to talk with the stranger. "Call him," she said, "and bring him here to me at once. O that Ulysses would come back, and punish these wicked men for all the evil that they have done! Tell the stranger that if I find he tells me truth, I will give him a new coat and cloak."

Then the swineherd said to Ulysses: "The queen wants to speak to you, and ask you what you have heard about her husband. And if she finds that you have told her the truth, she will give you a new coat and cloak; yes, and give you leave to beg anywhere you please about the island."

Now Ulysses did not think that it was quite time to let his wife know who he was, and he was afraid that if he went to talk to her she would find it out. So he pretended to be afraid of the Suitors, and said to the swineherd: "I would gladly tell the queen all that I know about her husband; but I am afraid of the wicked young men, of whom there are so many. Even now, when that man struck me, and that for nothing, there was no one to stop him. Telemăchus himself would not, or could not. Tell the queen, therefore, that I am afraid to come now, but that if she will wait till the evening, then I will come."

Then the swineherd went to the queen to give her this message. And when she saw that the beggar was not with him she said: "How is this that you have not brought him? Is he ashamed to come? The beggar who is ashamed does not know his trade."

The swineherd answered: "Not so, lady, but he is afraid of those haughty and violent young men; and, indeed, he is right. So he would have you wait till the evening before he comes, and then you can speak with him alone. It will be better so."

The queen said: "The stranger is wise, and it shall be as he says. Truly, these men are more insolent than any others in the world."

Then the swineherd went close up to Telemăchus and whispered to him: "I am going back to the farm, to look after things there. Take care of yourself and the stranger. There are many here who are ready to do you harm. May the gods bring them to confusion!"

Telemăchus answered: "Go, father, as you say, and come again to-morrow, and bring with you beasts for sacrifice."

So the swineherd went away, and the Suitors made merry in the hall with dancing and singing.