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Alfred J. Church

Ulysses and His Son

T HE next day, while the swineherd was making the breakfast ready, Ulysses heard a step outside, and because the dogs did not bark, he said: "Friend, here comes some one whom you know, for the dogs do not bark." And while he was still speaking, Telemăchus stood in the doorway. It should be told that he had landed from his ship at the nearest place that there was to the swineherd's cottage, for he knew that he was a good man and true.

When the swineherd saw Telemăchus, he dropped the bowl that he had in his hand, for he was mixing some wine with hot water for him and his guest to drink with their breakfast, and ran to him, and kissed his head, and his eyes, and his hands. As a father kisses an only son who comes back to him after being away for ten years, so did the swineherd kiss Telemăchus. The beggar, for such Ulysses seemed to be, rose from his place, and would have given it to the young man. But Telemăchus would not take it. So they three sat down, and ate and drank. And when they had finished, the young man said to the swineherd: "Who is this?" The swineherd answered: "He is a stranger, who has asked me for help. But now I pass him over to you, for you are my master, and I am your servant."

"Nay," said Telemăchus, "this cannot be. You call me master; but am I master in my own house? Do not the Suitors devour it? Does not even my mother doubt whether she will not forget the great Ulysses who is her husband, and follow one of these men? I will give this stranger food and clothes and a sword; but I will not take him into my house, for the Suitors are there, and they are haughty and insolent."

Ulysses heard the two talking, and he said: "But why do you bear with these men? Do the people hate you, that you cannot punish these insolent fellows as they deserve? Have you no kinsman to help you? I would sooner die than see such shameful things done in my house."

Telemăchus answered: "My people do not hate me, but they are very slow to help. As for kinsmen, I have none. For my grandfather, Laertes, was an only son, and so was my father Ulysses, and I myself have neither brother nor sister. So I have no one to stand by me, and these wicked men spoil my goods, with none to stop them, ay, and they even seek to kill me."

Then he said to the swineherd: "Go to my mother the queen, and tell her that I have come back safe. But see that no one hears you; and I will stay here till you return."

So the swineherd departed. And when he was gone, there came the goddess Athené, and she had the likeness of a tall and fair woman. Telemăchus did not see her, for it is not every one who can see the gods; but Ulysses saw her, and the dogs saw her, and whimpered for fear. She made a sign to Ulysses, and he went out of the house. Then she said: "Do not hide yourself from your son; tell him who you are, and plan with him how you may slay the Suitors. And remember that I am with you to help you."

Then she touched him with her golden wand. And all at once he had a new tunic and a new coat. Also he became taller and more handsome, and his cheeks grew rounder, and his hair and his beard grew darker. Having done this, she went away, and Ulysses went again into the cottage. Much did Telemăchus marvel to see him, and he cried:—

"Stranger, you are not the same that you were but a few moments ago. You have different clothes, and the colour of your skin is changed. Can it be that you are a god and not a man?"

"I am no god," said Ulysses; "I am your father, the father for whom you have been looking."

But Telemăchus could not believe what he said. "You cannot be my father," he answered. "No man could do what you have done, making yourself old and young as you please, and changing your clothes this way. Just now you were a shabby beggar, and now you are as one of the gods in heaven."

Ulysses answered: "Ay, but it is in very truth your father who has come back to his home after twenty years. As for what you so wonder at, it is Athené's work; it is she who makes me at one time like an old beggar in shabby clothes, and at another like a young prince, richly clad."

When he had said this he sat down, and Telemăchus threw his arms round his father's neck and shed many tears. After a while Telemăchus said to his father: "Tell me now, father, how you came back."

Ulysses said: "The Phaeacians brought me in a ship, and set me down on the shore of this island, and they brought many things with me, handsome presents that were made to me. These have I hidden in a cave. But now let us plan how we may slay these Suitors. Tell me how many there are of them. Should we make war upon them ourselves, or shall we get others to help us?"

Telemăchus said: "My father, you are, I know, a great warrior, but this thing we cannot do. These men are not ten, or twice ten, but more than a hundred. And they have a herald and a minstrel, and certain attendants."

Then said Ulysses: "To-morrow you must go to the palace, and take your place among the Suitors, and I will come like to a shabby beggar. If they behave themselves badly to me, endure it. Their time is nearly come; they shall soon be punished as they deserve. Be prudent, therefore. Also, when I give you a sign, then take away all the arms that hang in the hall, and stow them away in your chamber. And if any man ask you why you do this, say that they want cleaning, for the smoke has soiled them, and they are not such as Ulysses left them when he went away to Troy. And you might say also that it is not well to have weapons in a hall where men are used to feast, for the very sight of the steel makes men ready to quarrel. But keep two swords and two spears close at hand. These will be for you and me. And mind that you tell no one that I have come back—not my father, nor the swineherd, no, nor Penelopé herself."

While they were still talking, the swineherd came back from the city. But before he came into the house, Athené changed Ulysses back again into the shape of the old beggar man, for it was not well that he should know the truth until everything was ready.

Telemăchus said to him: "Have you brought back any news from the city? Have the Suitors who went out in a ship to kill me come back, or are they still watching for me?"

The swineherd said: "I cannot tell you this for a certainty. I thought it better to ask no questions in the city. But I saw a ship coming into the harbour, and I saw a number of men in it who had shields and spears. It may be that these were the Suitors, but I am not sure."

Then Telemăchus looked at Ulysses, but he was careful not to meet the eye of the swineherd.