Book XVII When the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, Telemachus bound
on his sandals and took a strong spear that suited his hands, for he wanted
to go into the city. "Old friend," said he to the swineherd, "I will now
go to the town and show myself to my mother, for she will never leave off
grieving till she has seen me. As for this unfortunate stranger, take him
to the town and let him beg there of any one who will give him a drink
and a piece of bread. I have trouble enough of my own, and cannot be burdened
with other people. If this makes him angry so much the worse for him, but
I like to say what I mean."
Then Ulysses said, "Sir, I do not want to stay here; a beggar can
always do better in town than country, for any one who likes can give him
something. I am too old to care about remaining here at the beck and call
of a master. Therefore let this man do as you have just told him, and take
me to the town as soon as I have had a warm by the fire, and the day has
got a little heat in it. My clothes are wretchedly thin, and this frosty
morning I shall be perished with cold, for you say the city is some way
On this Telemachus strode off through the yards, brooding his revenge
upon the When he reached home he stood his spear against a bearing-post
of the cloister, crossed the stone floor of the cloister itself, and went
Nurse Euryclea saw him long before any one else did. She was putting
the fleeces on to the seats, and she burst out crying as she ran up to
him; all the other maids came up too, and covered his head and shoulders
with their kisses. Penelope came out of her room looking like Diana or
Venus, and wept as she flung her arms about her son. She kissed his forehead
and both his beautiful eyes, "Light of my eyes," she cried as she spoke
fondly to him, "so you are come home again; I made sure I was never going
to see you any more. To think of your having gone off to Pylos without
saying anything about it or obtaining my consent. But come, tell me what
"Do not scold me, mother,′ answered Telemachus, "nor vex me, seeing
what a narrow escape I have had, but wash your face, change your dress,
go upstairs with your maids, and promise full and sufficient hecatombs
to all the gods if Jove will only grant us our revenge upon the suitors.
I must now go to the place of assembly to invite a stranger who has come
back with me from Pylos. I sent him on with my crew, and told Piraeus to
take him home and look after him till I could come for him
She heeded her son′s words, washed her face, changed her dress,
and vowed full and sufficient hecatombs to all the gods if they would only
vouchsafe her revenge upon the suitors.
Telemachus went through, and out of, the cloisters spear in hand-
not alone, for his two fleet dogs went with him. Minerva endowed him with
a presence of such divine comeliness that all marvelled at him as he went
by, and the suitors gathered round him with fair words in their mouths
and malice in their hearts; but he avoided them, and went to sit with Mentor,
Antiphus, and Halitherses, old friends of his father′s house, and they
made him tell them all that had happened to him. Then Piraeus came up with
Theoclymenus, whom he had escorted through the town to the place of assembly,
whereon Telemachus at once joined them. Piraeus was first to speak: "Telemachus,"
said he, "I wish you would send some of your women to my house to take
awa the presents Menelaus gave you."
"We do not know, Piraeus," answered Telemachus, "what may happen.
If the suitors kill me in my own house and divide my property among them,
I would rather you had the presents than that any of those people should
get hold of them. If on the other hand I manage to kill them, I shall be
much obliged if you will kindly bring me my presents."
With these words he took Theoclymenus to his own house. When they
got there they laid their cloaks on the benches and seats, went into the
baths, and washed themselves. When the maids had washed and anointed them,
and had given them cloaks and shirts, they took their seats at table. A
maid servant then brought them water in a beautiful golden ewer, and poured
it into a silver basin for them to wash their hands; and she drew a clean
table beside them. An upper servant brought them bread and offered them
many good things of what there was in the house. Opposite them sat Penelope,
reclining on a couch by one of the bearing-posts of the cloister, and spinning.
Then they laid their hands on the good things that were before them, and
as soon as they had had enough to eat and drink Penelope
"Telemachus, I shall go upstairs and lie down on that sad couch,
which I have not ceased to water with my tears, from the day Ulysses set
out for Troy with the sons of Atreus. You failed, however, to make it clear
to me before the suitors came back to the house, whether or no you had
been able to hear anything about the return of your
"I will tell you then truth," replied her son. "We went to Pylos
and saw Nestor, who took me to his house and treated me as hospitably as
though I were a son of his own who had just returned after a long absence;
so also did his sons; but he said he had not heard a word from any human
being about Ulysses, whether he was alive or dead. He sent me, therefore,
with a chariot and horses to Menelaus. There I saw Helen, for whose sake
so many, both Argives and Trojans, were in heaven′s wisdom doomed to suffer.
Menelaus asked me what it was that had brought me to Lacedaemon, and I
told him the whole truth, whereon he said, ′So, then, these cowards would
usurp a brave man′s bed? A hind might as well lay her new-born young in
the lair of a lion, and then go off to feed in the forest or in some grassy
dell. The lion, when he comes back to his lair, will make short work with
the pair of them, and so will Ulysses with these suitors. By father Jove,
Minerva, and Apollo, if Ulysses is still the man that he was when he wrestled
with Philomeleides in Lesbos, and threw him so heavily that all the Greeks
cheered him- if he is still such, and were to come near these suitors,
they would have a short shrift and a sorry wedding. As regards your question,
however, I will not prevaricate nor deceive you, but what the old man of
the sea told me, so much will I tell you in full. He said he could see
Ulysses on an island sorrowing bitterly in the house of the nymph Calypso,
who was keeping him prisoner, and he could not reach his home, for he had
no ships nor sailors to take him over the sea.′ This was what Menelaus
told me, and when I had heard his story I came away; the gods then gave
me a fair wind and soon brought me safe home again."
With these words he moved the heart of Penelope. Then Theoclymenus
said to her:
"Madam, wife of Ulysses, Telemachus does not understand these things;
listen therefore to me, for I can divine them surely, and will hide nothing
from you. May Jove the king of heaven be my witness, and the rites of hospitality,
with that hearth of Ulysses to which I now come, that Ulysses himself is
even now in Ithaca, and, either going about the country or staying in one
place, is enquiring into all these evil deeds and preparing a day of reckoning
for the suitors. I saw an omen when I was on the ship which meant this,
and I told Telemachus about it."
"May it be even so," answered Penelope; "if your words come true,
you shall have such gifts and such good will from me that all who see you
shall congratulate you."
Thus did they converse. Meanwhile the suitors were throwing discs,
or aiming with spears at a mark on the levelled ground in front of the
house, and behaving with all their old insolence. But when it was now time
for dinner, and the flock of sheep and goats had come into the town from
all the country round, with their shepherds as usual, then Medon, who was
their favourite servant, and who waited upon them at table, said, "Now
then, my young masters, you have had enough sport, so come inside that
we may get dinner ready. Dinner is not a bad thing, at dinner
They left their sports as he told them, and when they were within
the house, they laid their cloaks on the benches and seats inside, and
then sacrificed some sheep, goats, pigs, and a heifer, all of them fat
and well grown. Thus they made ready for their meal. In the meantime Ulysses
and the swineherd were about starting for the town, and the swineherd said,
"Stranger, I suppose you still want to go to town to-day, as my master
said you were to do; for my own part I should have liked you to stay here
as a station hand, but I must do as my master tells me, or he will scold
me later on, and a scolding from one′s master is a very serious thing.
Let us then be off, for it is now broad day; it will be night again directly
and then you will find it colder."
"I know, and understand you," replied Ulysses; "you need say no
more. Let us be going, but if you have a stick ready cut, let me have it
to walk with, for you say the road is a very rough one."
As he spoke he threw his shabby old tattered wallet over his shoulders,
by the cord from which it hung, and Eumaeus gave him a stick to his liking.
The two then started, leaving the station in charge of the dogs and herdsmen
who remained behind; the swineherd led the way and his master followed
after, looking like some broken-down old tramp as he leaned upon his staff,
and his clothes were all in rags. When they had got over the rough steep
ground and were nearing the city, they reached the fountain from which
the citizens drew their water. This had been made by Ithacus, Neritus,
and Polyctor. There was a grove of water-loving poplars planted in a circle
all round it, and the clear cold water came down to it from a rock high
up, while above the fountain there was an altar to the nymphs, at which
all wayfarers used to sacrifice. Here Melanthius son of Dolius overtook
them as he was driving down some goats, the best in his flock, for the
suitors′ dinner, and there were two shepherds with him. When he saw Eumaeus
and Ulysses he reviled them with outrageous and unseemly language, which
made Ulysses very angry.
"There you go," cried he, "and a precious pair you are. See how
heaven brings birds of the same feather to one another. Where, pray, master
swineherd, are you taking this poor miserable object? It would make any
one sick to see such a creature at table. A fellow like this never won
a prize for anything in his life, but will go about rubbing his shoulders
against every man′s door post, and begging, not for swords and cauldrons
like a man, but only for a few scraps not worth begging for. If you would
give him to me for a hand on my station, he might do to clean out the folds,
or bring a bit of sweet feed to the kids, and he could fatten his thighs
as much as he pleased on whey; but he has taken to bad ways and will not
go about any kind of work; he will do nothing but beg victuals all the
town over, to feed his insatiable belly. I say, therefore and it shall
surely be- if he goes near Ulysses′ house he will get his head broken by
the stools they will fling at him, till they turn him
On this, as he passed, he gave Ulysses a kick on the hip out of
pure wantonness, but Ulysses stood firm, and did not budge from the path.
For a moment he doubted whether or no to fly at Melanthius and kill him
with his staff, or fling him to the ground and beat his brains out; he
resolved, however, to endure it and keep himself in check, but the swineherd
looked straight at Melanthius and rebuked him, lifting up his hands and
praying to heaven as he did so.
"Fountain nymphs," he cried, "children of Jove, if ever Ulysses
burned you thigh bones covered with fat whether of lambs or kids, grant
my prayer that heaven may send him home. He would soon put an end to the
swaggering threats with which such men as you go about insulting people-gadding
all over the town while your flocks are going to ruin through bad
Then Melanthius the goatherd answered, "You ill-conditioned cur,
what are you talking about? Some day or other I will put you on board ship
and take you to a foreign country, where I can sell you and pocket the
money you will fetch. I wish I were as sure that Apollo would strike Telemachus
dead this very day, or that the suitors would kill him, as I am that Ulysses
will never come home again."
With this he left them to come on at their leisure, while he went
quickly forward and soon reached the house of his master. When he got there
he went in and took his seat among the suitors opposite Eurymachus, who
liked him better than any of the others. The servants brought him a portion
of meat, and an upper woman servant set bread before him that he might
eat. Presently Ulysses and the swineherd came up to the house and stood
by it, amid a sound of music, for Phemius was just beginning to sing to
the suitors. Then Ulysses took hold of the swineherd′s hand, and
"Eumaeus, this house of Ulysses is a very fine place. No matter
how far you go you will find few like it. One building keeps following
on after another. The outer court has a wall with battlements all round
it; the doors are double folding, and of good workmanship; it would be
a hard matter to take it by force of arms. I perceive, too, that there
are many people banqueting within it, for there is a smell of roast meat,
and I hear a sound of music, which the gods have made to go along with
Then Eumaeus said, "You have perceived aright, as indeed you generally
do; but let us think what will be our best course. Will you go inside first
and join the suitors, leaving me here behind you, or will you wait here
and let me go in first? But do not wait long, or some one may you loitering
about outside, and throw something at you. Consider this matter I pray
And Ulysses answered, "I understand and heed. Go in first and leave
me here where I am. I am quite used to being beaten and having things thrown
at me. I have been so much buffeted about in war and by sea that I am case-hardened,
and this too may go with the rest. But a man cannot hide away the cravings
of a hungry belly; this is an enemy which gives much trouble to all men;
it is because of this that ships are fitted out to sail the seas, and to
make war upon other people."
As they were thus talking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised
his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Ulysses had bred
before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any work out of him.
In the old days he used to be taken out by the young men when they went
hunting wild goats, or deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone
he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front
of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure
the great close; and he was full of fleas. As soon as he saw Ulysses standing
there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close
up to his master. When Ulysses saw the dog on the other side of the yard,
dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and
"Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure
heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is
he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept
merely for show?"
"This hound," answered Eumaeus, "belonged to him who has died in
a far country. If he were what he was when Ulysses left for Troy, he would
soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest
that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he
has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women
take no care of him. Servants never do their work when their master′s hand
is no longer over them, for Jove takes half the goodness out of a man when
he makes a slave of him."
As he spoke he went inside the buildings to the cloister where
the suitors were, but Argos died as soon as he had recognized his
Telemachus saw Eumaeus long before any one else did, and beckoned
him to come and sit beside him; so he looked about and saw a seat lying
near where the carver sat serving out their portions to the suitors; he
picked it up, brought it to Telemachus′s table, and sat down opposite him.
Then the servant brought him his portion, and gave him bread from the
Immediately afterwards Ulysses came inside, looking like a poor
miserable old beggar, leaning on his staff and with his clothes all in
rags. He sat down upon the threshold of ash-wood just inside the doors
leading from the outer to the inner court, and against a bearing-post of
cypress-wood which the carpenter had skillfully planed, and had made to
join truly with rule and line. Telemachus took a whole loaf from the bread-basket,
with as much meat as he could hold in his two hands, and said to Eumaeus,
"Take this to the stranger, and tell him to go the round of the suitors,
and beg from them; a beggar must not be shamefaced."
So Eumaeus went up to him and said, "Stranger, Telemachus sends
you this, and says you are to go the round of the suitors begging, for
beggars must not be shamefaced."
Ulysses answered, "May King Jove grant all happiness to Telemachus,
and fulfil the desire of his heart."
Then with both hands he took what Telemachus had sent him, and
laid it on the dirty old wallet at his feet. He went on eating it while
the bard was singing, and had just finished his dinner as he left off.
The suitors applauded the bard, whereon Minerva went up to Ulysses and
prompted him to beg pieces of bread from each one of the suitors, that
he might see what kind of people they were, and tell the good from the
bad; but come what might she was not going to save a single one of them.
Ulysses, therefore, went on his round, going from left to right, and stretched
out his hands to beg as though he were a real beggar. Some of them pitied
him, and were curious about him, asking one another who he was and where
he came from; whereon the goatherd Melanthius said, "Suitors of my noble
mistress, I can tell you something about him, for I have seen him before.
The swineherd brought him here, but I know nothing about the man himself,
nor where he comes from."
On this Antinous began to abuse the swineherd. "You precious idiot,"
he cried, "what have you brought this man to town for? Have we not tramps
and beggars enough already to pester us as we sit at meat? Do you think
it a small thing that such people gather here to waste your master′s property
and must you needs bring this man as well?"
And Eumaeus answered, "Antinous, your birth is good but your words
evil. It was no doing of mine that he came here. Who is likely to invite
a stranger from a foreign country, unless it be one of those who can do
public service as a seer, a healer of hurts, a carpenter, or a bard who
can charm us with his Such men are welcome all the world over, but no one
is likely to ask a beggar who will only worry him. You are always harder
on Ulysses′ servants than any of the other suitors are, and above all on
me, but I do not care so long as Telemachus and Penelope are alive and
But Telemachus said, "Hush, do not answer him; Antinous has the
bitterest tongue of all the suitors, and he makes the others
Then turning to Antinous he said, "Antinous, you take as much care
of my interests as though I were your son. Why should you want to see this
stranger turned out of the house? Heaven forbid; take′ something and give
it him yourself; I do not grudge it; I bid you take it. Never mind my mother,
nor any of the other servants in the house; but I know you will not do
what I say, for you are more fond of eating things yourself than of giving
them to other people."
"What do you mean, Telemachus," replied Antinous, "by this swaggering
talk? If all the suitors were to give him as much as I will, he would not
come here again for another three months."
As he spoke he drew the stool on which he rested his dainty feet
from under the table, and made as though he would throw it at Ulysses,
but the other suitors all gave him something, and filled his wallet with
bread and meat; he was about, therefore, to go back to the threshold and
eat what the suitors had given him, but he first went up to Antinous and
"Sir, give me something; you are not, surely, the poorest man here;
you seem to be a chief, foremost among them all; therefore you should be
the better giver, and I will tell far and wide of your bounty. I too was
a rich man once, and had a fine house of my own; in those days I gave to
many a tramp such as I now am, no matter who he might be nor what he wanted.
I had any number of servants, and all the other things which people have
who live well and are accounted wealthy, but it pleased Jove to take all
away from me. He sent me with a band of roving robbers to Egypt; it was
a long voyage and I was undone by it. I stationed my bade ships in the
river Aegyptus, and bade my men stay by them and keep guard over them,
while sent out scouts to reconnoitre from every point of
"But the men disobeyed my orders, took to their own devices, and
ravaged the land of the Egyptians, killing the men, and taking their wives
and children captives. The alarm was soon carried to the city, and when
they heard the war-cry, the people came out at daybreak till the plain
was filled with soldiers horse and foot, and with the gleam of armour.
Then Jove spread panic among my men, and they would no longer face the
enemy, for they found themselves surrounded. The Egyptians killed many
of us, and took the rest alive to do forced labour for them; as for myself,
they gave me to a friend who met them, to take to Cyprus, Dmetor by name,
son of Iasus, who was a great man in Cyprus. Thence I am come hither in
a state of great misery."
Then Antinous said, "What god can have sent such a pestilence to
plague us during our dinner? Get out, into the open part of the court,
or I will give you Egypt and Cyprus over again for your insolence and importunity;
you have begged of all the others, and they have given you lavishly, for
they have abundance round them, and it is easy to be free with other people′s
property when there is plenty of it."
On this Ulysses began to move off, and said, "Your looks, my fine
sir, are better than your breeding; if you were in your own house you would
not spare a poor man so much as a pinch of salt, for though you are in
another man′s, and surrounded with abundance, you cannot find it in you
to give him even a piece of bread."
This made Antinous very angry, and he scowled at him saying, "You
shall pay for this before you get clear of the court." With these words
he threw a footstool at him, and hit him on the right shoulder-blade near
the top of his back. Ulysses stood firm as a rock and the blow did not
even stagger him, but he shook his head in silence as he brooded on his
revenge. Then he went back to the threshold and sat down there, laying
his well-filled wallet at his feet.
"Listen to me," he cried, "you suitors of Queen Penelope, that
I may speak even as I am minded. A man knows neither ache nor pain if he
gets hit while fighting for his money, or for his sheep or his cattle;
and even so Antinous has hit me while in the service of my miserable belly,
which is always getting people into trouble. Still, if the poor have gods
and avenging deities at all, I pray them that Antinous may come to a bad
end before his marriage."
"Sit where you are, and eat your victuals in silence, or be off
elsewhere," shouted Antinous. "If you say more I will have you dragged
hand and foot through the courts, and the servants shall flay you
The other suitors were much displeased at this, and one of the
young men said, "Antinous, you did ill in striking that poor wretch of
a tramp: it will be worse for you if he should turn out to be some god-
and we know the gods go about disguised in all sorts of ways as people
from foreign countries, and travel about the world to see who do amiss
and who righteously."
Thus said the suitors, but Antinous paid them no heed. Meanwhile
Telemachus was furious about the blow that had been given to his father,
and though no tear fell from him, he shook his head in silence and brooded
on his revenge.
Now when Penelope heard that the beggar had been struck in the
banqueting-cloister, she said before her maids, "Would that Apollo would
so strike you, Antinous," and her waiting woman Eurynome answered, "If
our prayers were answered not one of the suitors would ever again see the
sun rise." Then Penelope said, "Nurse, I hate every single one of them,
for they mean nothing but mischief, but I hate Antinous like the darkness
of death itself. A poor unfortunate tramp has come begging about the house
for sheer want. Every one else has given him something to put in his wallet,
but Antinous has hit him on the right shoulder-blade with a
Thus did she talk with her maids as she sat in her own room, and
in the meantime Ulysses was getting his dinner. Then she called for the
swineherd and said, "Eumaeus, go and tell the stranger to come here, I
want to see him and ask him some questions. He seems to have travelled
much, and he may have seen or heard something of my unhappy
To this you answered, O swineherd Eumaeus, "If these Achaeans,
Madam, would only keep quiet, you would be charmed with the history of
his adventures. I had him three days and three nights with me in my hut,
which was the first place he reached after running away from his ship,
and he has not yet completed the story of his misfortunes. If he had been
the most heaven-taught minstrel in the whole world, on whose lips all hearers
hang entranced, I could not have been more charmed as I sat in my hut and
listened to him. He says there is an old friendship between his house and
that of Ulysses, and that he comes from Crete where the descendants of
Minos live, after having been driven hither and thither by every kind of
misfortune; he also declares that he has heard of Ulysses as being alive
and near at hand among the Thesprotians, and that he is bringing great
wealth home with him."
"Call him here, then," said Penelope, "that I too may hear his
story. As for the suitors, let them take their pleasure indoors or out
as they will, for they have nothing to fret about. Their corn and wine
remain unwasted in their houses with none but servants to consume them,
while they keep hanging about our house day after day sacrificing our oxen,
sheep, and fat goats for their banquets, and never giving so much as a
thought to the quantity of wine they drink. No estate can stand such recklessness,
for we have now no Ulysses to protect us. If he were to come again, he
and his son would soon have their revenge."
As she spoke Telemachus sneezed so loudly that the whole house
resounded with it. Penelope laughed when she heard this, and said to Eumaeus,
"Go and call the stranger; did you not hear how my son sneezed just as
I was speaking? This can only mean that all the suitors are going to be
killed, and that not one of them shall escape. Furthermore I say, and lay
my saying to your heart: if I am satisfied that the stranger is speaking
the truth I shall give him a shirt and cloak of good
When Eumaeus heard this he went straight to Ulysses and said, "Father
stranger, my mistress Penelope, mother of Telemachus, has sent for you;
she is in great grief, but she wishes to hear anything you can tell her
about her husband, and if she is satisfied that you are speaking the truth,
she will give you a shirt and cloak, which are the very things that you
are most in want of. As for bread, you can get enough of that to fill your
belly, by begging about the town, and letting those give that
"I will tell Penelope," answered Ulysses, "nothing but what is
strictly true. I know all about her husband, and have been partner with
him in affliction, but I am afraid of passing. through this crowd of cruel
suitors, for their pride and insolence reach heaven. Just now, moreover,
as I was going about the house without doing any harm, a man gave me a
blow that hurt me very much, but neither Telemachus nor any one else defended
me. Tell Penelope, therefore, to be patient and wait till sundown. Let
her give me a seat close up to the fire, for my clothes are worn very thin-
you know they are, for you have seen them ever since I first asked you
to help me- she can then ask me about the return of her
The swineherd went back when he heard this, and Penelope said as
she saw him cross the threshold, "Why do you not bring him here, Eumaeus?
Is he afraid that some one will ill-treat him, or is he shy of coming inside
the house at all? Beggars should not be shamefaced."
To this you answered, O swineherd Eumaeus, "The stranger is quite
reasonable. He is avoiding the suitors, and is only doing what any one
else would do. He asks you to wait till sundown, and it will be much better,
madam, that you should have him all to yourself, when you can hear him
and talk to him as you will."
"The man is no fool," answered Penelope, "it would very likely
be as he says, for there are no such abominable people in the whole world
as these men are."
When she had done speaking Eumaeus went back to the suitors, for
he had explained everything. Then he went up to Telemachus and said in
his ear so that none could overhear him, "My dear sir, I will now go back
to the pigs, to see after your property and my own business. You will look
to what is going on here, but above all be careful to keep out of danger,
for there are many who bear you ill will. May Jove bring them to a bad
end before they do us a mischief."
"Very well," replied Telemachus, "go home when you have had your
dinner, and in the morning come here with the victims we are to sacrifice
for the day. Leave the rest to heaven and me."
On this Eumaeus took his seat again, and when he had finished his
dinner he left the courts and the cloister with the men at table, and went
back to his pigs. As for the suitors, they presently began to amuse themselves
with singing and dancing, for it was now getting on towards
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