|A Story of the Golden Age of Greek Heroes|
|by James Baldwin|
|This book paves the way to an enjoyable reading of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by presenting the legends about the causes of the Trojan War woven into a continuous narrative, ending where the story of the Iliad begins. The youthful Odysseus is the hero, as he journeys to visit his grandfather Autolycus, then Nestor and Menelaus, hearing the old stories as he goes. Ages 8-12 |
AN UNWILLING HERO
 IN the shade of the orchard trees, at the foot of Mount
Neritus, there was gathered, one afternoon, a happy
family party. The chief figure in the group was
white-haired Laertes, in his gardener's garb, picking
some ripe fruit from the overloaded branches. At his
right stood Anticleia, as queenly beautiful as when her
hero-husband had won her in the halls of old Autolycus.
At his left was Penelope, her sweet face beaming with
smiles; while on the ground beside her sat Odysseus,
gently dandling in his arms the babe Telemachus, and
laughing at the budding wisdom of the child.
"Some men wander the wide world over, seeking for empty
glory," said he, turning towards Penelope. "But I would
rather have my pleasant home, and live amid its
never-failing delights, than share the honors even of
At this moment, Phemius the bard was seen coming in
haste from the palace. "What news, Phemius?" asked
Odysseus. "Hast thou finished that new song
 of thine?
And dost thou hasten thus to sing it to us before some
part of it shall go out of thy mind?"
"Nay, master," answered the bard, speaking in anxious
tones. "I have come to tell you that there are guests
waiting in the hall. Famous men they are,—even
Nestor, king of Pylos, and shrewd Palamedes of
Eubœa. And they bring wonderful news,—news of
that which will, perchance, fill our land with
"Tell me what it is," said Odysseus.
Then the bard told the story of Paris and Helen, as he
had learned it briefly from Palamedes; and he explained
the errand of the hero-guests which they had
thoughtlessly imparted to him. Odysseus looked at his
smiling babe, and at his fair wife, and his loved
mother, and his honored father; and his brow darkened
as he shook his head, and said, "Why should I risk so
much, and, joining in this war, leave all that is dear
to me on earth, simply for the sake of Menelaus and his
Then, after a moment's thought, he added, "I will not
go. Tell Nestor and Palamedes that I am mad, and cannot
All at once a great change seemed to come over him. He
put the babe into its nurse's arms; and then with long
strides, and in the aimless manner of a maniac, he made
his way across the orchard, and along the foot-path by
the beach to the white palace near the shore. When his
old friends, Nester and Palamedes, saw him, they
hastened towards him, expecting to receive
greeting; but with unmeaning words, and a vacant stare,
he passed by them without a word of recognition.
"He is mad," said the frightened servants, as they fled
"Yes, he is mad, and knows not where he is nor what he
does," said Phemius, hastily rejoining the guests.
"When I went out to find him just now, he was wandering
among the fruit trees, picking the green fruit, and
roaring like a wild beast. The gods have taken his
reason from him."
"How sad that so great a mind should be thus clouded!"
answered Nestor, with a sigh. "And at this time it is
doubly sad for us and for all who love him, for we had
counted on great things from shrewd Odysseus. Surely
some unfriendly god has done this thing with intent to
harm all Hellas."
"Do not judge hastily," whispered Palamedes. "We shall
find out from whence this madness comes."
PALAMEDES TESTS THE MADNESS OF ODYSSEUS.
Soon Odysseus rushed from his chamber, looking wildly
about him, as if the very Furies were at his heels. He
was dressed in his richest garments, and on his
shoulder he carried a bag of salt. Without speaking to
any one, he made his way to the stables, where, with
his own hands, he harnessed a mule and a cow, and yoked
them side by side to a plough. Then he drove his
strange team down to the beach, and he began to plough
long, deep furrows in the sand. By and by, he opened
the bag of salt, and strewed the grains here and there,
as though he were sowing seed. This
 strange work he
continued until the daylight faded into darkness, and
all the people were fain to seek rest under their
home-roofs. Then he drove his team back to the stables,
unyoked the beasts and fed them, and hurried silently
to his chamber.
The next morning, as soon as the dawn appeared, he was
seen ploughing the sandy beach as before.
"I will see whether there be any reason in his
madness," said Palamedes to Nestor.
It chanced at that moment, that Eurycleia the nurse was
passing by with little Telemachus in her arms. Without
another word, Palamedes lifted the babe, and laid it
smiling in the last furrow that Odysseus had made, so
that on his next round the team would trample upon it.
As Odysseus drew near, urging forward the mule and the
cow, with many cries and maniacal gestures, he saw the
helpless babe. The sight of its danger made him forget
himself and his assumed madness; he turned his team
aside, and running forward seized Telemachus, and,
kissing his laughing lips, handed him, with every show
of gentleness, to the good nurse.
"Ha, Odysseus!" cried Palamedes. "Thou canst not
deceive us. Thou art no more mad than I am. Cease now
that boyish play, and come and talk with us as becometh
Then Odysseus, seeing that he had been fairly
outwitted by one as shrewd as himself, knew that
further pretence of madness would avail him nothing.
 single moment his brow was clouded with anger,
and he whispered hoarsely to Palamedes, "You shall have
your reward for this!"
Then, leaving his plough and his
ill-matched team upon the beach, he took his two guests
kindly by the hand, and led them into his palace. A
great feast was spread upon the tables, and the morning
was spent in eating and merry-making, and not a word
was said concerning the great business which had
brought the kings to Ithaca.
Later in the day, however, Nestor told Odysseus the
story of the perfidy of Paris. Then Palamedes followed
with a speech so clear, so forcible, that the hearts of
all who heard it were stirred to their very depths; and
Odysseus, rising from his seat, renewed the vow which
he had made when Menelaus won fair Helen for his
bride. And from that time to the very end, there was
not a man among all the Hellenes, who threw himself
more earnestly into the work than did Odysseus.
For seven days Nestor and Palamedes tarried at Ithaca,
talking with Odysseus, and making plans for the war
against Troy. On the eighth day, the three heroes
embarked for the mainland; and for months they
journeyed from country to country, and from city to
city, reminding the princes of their vows, and stirring
all Hellas into a flame. Soon the watch-fires were
kindled on every mountain-top; and every warrior in the
land made haste to see that his arms were in order, and
every seaman to put his ship to rights. And Ares, the
 mighty god of battle, brandished his sword above the
sea; dread comets blazed red in mid-heaven; glittering
stars fell to the earth, or shot gleaming athwart the
sky. Sounds of warlike preparation were heard, not only
in the dwellings of men, but even in the halls of Zeus,
upon the airy summit of Olympus.
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