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I. THE RETURNING HEROES
 OF all the heroes that fought against Troy, the wisest
and shrewdest was Ulysses, the young king of Ithaca.
Yet he went not willingly to the war. It would have
pleased him better to remain at home with his fair
wife, Penelope, and his baby boy, Telemachus. He was
far happier pruning his grapevines and plowing among
his orchard trees than he could ever be in the turmoil
of battle, wielding the sword or thrusting the spear.
But the princes of Greece demanded that he should help
them, and rather than be deemed a coward he consented.
"Go, Ulysses," said Penelope, "I will keep your home
and kingdom safe until you return."
Statue of Penelope.
"Do your duty, Ulysses," said his old father, Laertes.
"Go, and may wise Athene speed your coming back."
And so, bidding farewell to Ithaca and all that he held
dear, he sailed away. Forgetting the quiet delights of
home, he thenceforth gave all his thoughts to war.
 Ten years passed before the weary siege of Troy was
ended. When at length the city was laid in ashes, the
Greeks embarked in their ships, and each chieftain with
his followers sought, in his own way, to return to his
native land. Fondly then did the thoughts of Ulysses
turn to his loved wife and his child, now a sturdy lad
with winning ways; and he longed to see again the
rugged hills and pleasant shores of Ithaca.
"Spread the sails, my men, and row hard," he said to
his fellows ; "for Penelope waits at home for my
return, and keeps my kingdom for me."
But scarcely were his little ships well out to sea ere
fearful storms arose. The vessels were tossed hither
and thither at the mercy of the winds and waves. They
were driven far, far out of their course. The sailors
lost their reckoning, and not one could tell which way
to steer for Ithaca. By strange, wild shores they
sailed, past lands where barbarous people dwelt; and
every puff of wind and every stroke of oars drove them
farther and farther away from the port which they
II. THE IMPORTUNATE SUITORS
Now, one by one, the other heroes reached their homes,
and the news of their coming was carried
 to every part of Greece. But of Ulysses and his
companions there came no word whether they were living
or dead. Daily did Penelope and young Telemachus and
feeble old Laertes stand by the shore and gaze with
aching eyes far over the waves. No sign of sail or of
glinting oars could they discern. Months passed by and
then years, and still no word.
"His ships are wrecked, and he lies at the bottom of
the sea," sighed old Laertes; and after that he shut
himself up in his narrow room and went no more to the
"Surely Ulysses has perished," said the men and women
of Ithaca; "else some news would come to us of his
But Penelope still hoped and hoped and hoped. "He is
not dead," she said; "and until he comes I will hold
this fair kingdom for him."
Every day his seat was placed for him at the table; his
house coat was hung by his chair; his chamber was aired
and dusted; his great bow that hung in the hall was
polished and kept supple.
Ten years passed thus with constant watching.
Telemachus had become a young man, graceful and tall
and gentle-mannered; and his mother's queenly beauty
had not faded with the lapse of time, but grace and
dignity were added to her girlish loveliness.
Throughout all Greece fair
 Penelope's fame was sounded. Men talked of nothing but
the charms of her face and form, the sweetness of her
manners, and the nobleness of her mind.
"But how foolish of her," said they, "to be forever
looking for Ulysses. Everybody knows that he is dead.
She ought to marry some one of the young chieftains of
Greece and share with him the kingdom of Ithaca; for no
woman in the world is more richly endowed than she."
The chieftains and princes who were looking for wives
took the hint at once. One after another they sailed to
Ithaca, hoping to win the love of Penelope and also the
riches which were said to be hers. The first to arrive
was Antinous, a young spendthrift, haughty,
overbearing, and insolent. After him came Agelaus, a
foppish fellow, proud of his slender figure and fine
clothes and long, curling hair. The third was a rich
old merchant, Leocritus, fat and pompous, and glorying
in his wealth. Scarcely were these landed safely in
Ithaca before many others arrived, whose names have
been forgotten, as they deserved to be.
Straight to the palace they went, with their servants
and belongings, not waiting for an invitation. For
they knew that they would be treated as honored guests,
whether they were welcome or not.
 "Penelope," they said, "it is not the custom in our
country for a widow to live long unwedded. We have come
as suitors for your hand, and you dare not turn us all
away. Choose, now, the man among us who pleases you
best, and the rest will forthwith depart." And then
each one began to tell of his own good qualities, of
his noble family, his powerful friends, his wealth, and
But Penelope answered sadly, "Princes and heroes, this
cannot be; for I am quite sure that Ulysses still
lives, and I must hold his kingdom for him till he
"Return, he never will," answered the suitors. "So make
your choice, as becomes your duty."
"Give me yet a week, a month, to wait for him," she
pleaded. "In my loom I have a half-finished web of soft
linen. I am weaving it for the shroud of our father,
Laertes, who is very old and cannot live much longer.
If Ulysses fails to return by the time this web is
finished, then I will choose, although unwillingly."
"Will you work upon this web every day?" asked
"Every day," she answered, "I will sit at my loom and
weave the web. It would be a sin, indeed, if Laertes
should go to the grave while the shroud is unfinished."
 "Let her delay her choice as she desires," said
Agelaus. "In the meantime, we will enjoy ourselves."
Forthwith the suitors made themselves at home in the
palace. They seized upon the best of everything. They
feasted daily in the great dining hall, eating and
wasting the provisions that had been stored away with
greatest care against the homecoming of Ulysses. They
helped themselves to the wine in the cellar and to the
fruits and flowers in the garden. They were rude and
uproarious in the once quiet and beautiful chambers of
the palace. They were insolent and overbearing to the
servants and friends of Penelope, and they kept the
people of Ithaca in constant terror by reason of their
III. THE DISCOVERED SECRET
Every day Penelope sat at her loom and wove. "See how
much I have added to the length of the web," she would
say when the evening came. But in the night, while the
suitors were asleep, she raveled out all the threads
she had woven in during the day. Thus, although she
was always at the work, the web was never finished. And
Telemachus, while his mother toiled, sat moodily in
 hall or strolled about the palace, angry and sad, and
praying for his father's return.
So long as the wine and provisions held out, the
suitors seemed to care but little about the web. "We
can wait," they said; "and while she is weaving the
shroud, we will spend our days in eating, drinking,
and making merry."
At the end of a month, however, the cellar was almost
empty. The fatted beeves had been killed and eaten; and
it was hard for the kitchen maids to find food for the
daily feasts. Then the suitors began to wonder and
"How soon may we expect that web to be finished?" they
"I am busy every day," answered Penelope, "and yet the
web grows very slowly. But see how fine and soft it is,
and how delicate the meshes. Such a piece of work
cannot be completed in a day."
Agelaus, however, was not satisfied. In the dead of
night he crept quietly through the great hall and the
long passageways, and peeped into the weaving room.
There, by the light of a little lamp, sat Penelope,
busily unraveling the work of the day and whispering to
herself the name of Ulysses.
The spying suitor stayed but a little while, watching
her movements. Then he stole silently back
 to his own place. "The trick is a good one," he said to
himself, "but it will not last long."
Ulysses makes himself known to Telemachus
The next morning the secret was known to every one of
the unwelcome guests. When Penelope came down into the
hall, as was her wont, they greeted her with jibes and
"Fair queen," they said, "you are very cunning; but we
have found you out, and all your gentle tricks are
known to us. The web that has been so long in weaving
must be finished to-day; and you must make your choice
this very evening. We shall wait no longer."
"Oh, ask not that which is impossible," pleaded
Penelope. "Give me yet a little more time. Give me one
more day; and I promise you that the web shall then be
finished. To-morrow evening the moon will be at its
full. Do but wait until then, and you shall have my
"We will wait until that hour," said Antinous,
haughtily; "but not a moment longer."
"No, not a moment longer," echoed all the rest.
IV. THE TARNISHED WEAPONS
The next afternoon the unwelcome guests were assembled
in the great hall as usual. The feast was set, and they
ate and drank and sang and
 shouted as never before. They made such an uproar that
the very timbers of the palace shook, and the shields
and swords that hung on the walls rattled against each
While the turmoil was at its height, Telemachus came
in, followed by Eumæus, his father's oldest and most
faithful servant. The guests were so busy enjoying
themselves that their entrance was scarcely noticed.
"My young master," said Eumæus, "those shields and
swords have hung long in their places, waiting for the
return of your father."
"Yes," answered Telemachus, "and they are becoming
tarnished with the smoke and dust. Let us take them
down and put them in the great chest in the treasure
room. They will be much better kept there."
"It is a good thought, master," said the old servant.
"I will carry the shields and the bows, and you may
bring the swords."
"Very well, Eumæus; and let us do the task at once. But
my father's great bow that hangs at the head of the
hall must not be touched. My mother polishes and
supples it every day, and she would sadly miss it if it
To lift the weapons from the walls was no hard matter;
but there were a number of them, and the
 prince and old Eumæus had to go and come many times
before all were removed.
"What are you doing with those swords and shields?"
cried Antinous, as they were going out with the last
"We are putting them in the big chest in the treasure
room. They were being ruined with hanging here so long
in the dust and smoke," answered Telemachus, not
deigning to stop.
"The lad is uncommonly cheerful to-day," remarked one
of the younger suitors.
"Perhaps he is expecting his father," said old
Leocritus, with a sneer.
V. THE STROLLING BEGGAR
At that moment a strange beggar entered the courtyard.
He was dressed in rags; his feet were bare, his head
was uncovered, his hands trembled as he slowly walked
toward the doorway of the great hall. Some of the
servants who saw him laughed at his poverty, and bade
him begone; but others pitied his distress and checked
their rudeness. "Deal gently with him," they said; "for
mayhap he brings news of our master, the lordly
Ulysses. He looks as though he had traveled far."
An old greyhound, Argos, was lying on a heap
 of ashes by the kitchen door. Twenty years before he
had been the swiftest and most beautiful of hunting
dogs—the pet and companion of Ulysses. But now, grown
old and helpless, he was neglected and abused. His
teeth gone, his eyes grown dim, his legs shaky and
useless, he had no longer any joy of life. When he saw
the beggar slowly moving through the yard, he raised
his head to look. Then a strange light came suddenly
into his old eyes. His tail wagged feebly, and he tried
with all his failing strength to rise. He looked up
lovingly into the beggar's face, and uttered a long but
joyful howl like that which he was wont to utter in his
youth when greeting his master.
The beggar stooped and patted his head. "Argos, old
friend!" he whispered.
" 'Argos, old friend!' he whispered."
The dog staggered to his feet, then fell, and was dead
with the look of joy still in his eyes.
"What ails the old dog?" asked Antinous; for the sound
of his howling was heard even in the feast hall.
"Doubtless he is bewailing the loss of his mistress,"
said Agelaus; and all the suitors laughed.
A moment afterward the beggar stood in the door.
"Well, well!" cried Leocritus. "What newcomer is this
who thus pushes himself among his betters?"
 "What do you want here, Old Rags?" said another of the
suitors, hurling a crust at his head. "Don't you know
that this is the king's palace? Begone!"
"Yes, begone!" shouted old Eumæus, trying to appear
"I wish to speak with the son of Ulysses," said the
"Then speak, for I am he," said Telemachus, frowning
and seeming angry. "Make your story short."
"O noble youth," said the beggar, "you are strong and
fair, and life is all before you. But I am old and have
fallen upon evil days. I pray that you will have pity
on my distress." Then in a low voice he added, "Have
you removed all the weapons as I bade you? And are
they safe in the great chest?"
"All except the great bow which hangs at the head of
the hall," whispered Telemachus. "What say you? Shall
we strike now?"
"Shall we strike now?" said old Eumæus, drawing near
and speaking below his breath.
"What is it the old vagrant is telling the boy?" cried
Antinous. "Out with him!"
"Yes, out with him!" cried the younger suitors,
crowding forward with threatening gestures.
 "Let him stay," said Leocritus. "Let him stay. We shall
have great sport with him. Perhaps he, too, has come to
claim the hand of fair Penelope. Say, is it not so, my
The beggar made no answer. He grasped his staff with a
firmer grip and gazed across the hall where was the
lofty stairway that led to the queen's chambers. Down
the stairs came Penelope, stately and beautiful, with
her servants and maids around her.
"The queen! the queen!" cried the suitors. "She has
come to redeem her promise."
"Telemachus, my son," said Penelope, "what poor man is
this whom our guests treat so roughly?"
"Mother, he is a strolling beggar whom the waves cast
upon our shores last night," answered the prince. "He
says that he brings news of my father."
"Then he shall tell me of it," said the queen, "But
first he must rest and be fed and receive the
attentions due to every guest." With this she caused
the beggar to be led to a seat at the farther side of
the room, and she bade Telemachus bring him food and
drink with his own hands. "Here, Melampo," she said to
one of her maids, "bring a bowl and water with which to
wash the poor man's feet."
 "Not I," said the proud maid; "I touch no beggar's
"Then I will do the queen's bidding," said Dame
Eurycleia, the old nurse who had cared for Ulysses when
he was a child.
Forthwith she brought a great bowl and warm water and
towels; and kneeling on the stones before the stranger
she began to bathe and wash his feet. Then suddenly,
with a scream, she sprang up, overturning the bowl in
her confusion. "O master! the scar!" she muttered
hoarsely, but so low that only the stranger heard her.
And then, to turn away suspicion, she added in a louder
tone, "How awkward I have become in my old age, that I
should do so careless a thing! Now I shall have to
refill the bowl."
"Dear nurse," whispered the seeming beggar, "you were
ever discreet and wise. You know me by the old scar
that I have carried on my knee since boyhood. Keep well
the secret, for I bide my time and the hour of
vengeance is nigh."
"O Ulysses, my master," she answered softly, "I knew
that you would come."
This man in rags was indeed Ulysses, the king. Alone in
a little boat he had been cast, that very morning, upon
the shore of his own island. He had made himself known
first to old Eumæus and
 then to his son Telemachus, but to no other person; and
it was by his orders that the weapons had been removed
from the great hall.
But the old nurse was prudent and shrewd. With the
empty bowl in her hands, she hobbled from the hall to
refill it, muttering loud complaints against the
troublesome beggar. And Telemachus, bending over his
father, whispered hoarsely, "Shall we not strike now?"
VI. THE WEB IS FINISHED
In the meanwhile the suitors had gathered again around
the feast table and were more boisterous than before.
"Come, fair Penelope!" they shouted. "Come and grace
our banquet with your presence. The beggar can tell his
tale to-morrow, for we shall delay no longer. The moon
is full, and your promise must be redeemed. Come!
choose a husband from among us. For know you this, that
Ulysses, even though he lives, shall never again enter
"Yes, choose! choose!" cried the younger men, as the
queen passed slowly to the head of the hall.
"Choose me," said Agelaus, the fop; "for not even
Apollo can match me for grace of form and figure."
 "Choose me," said rich Leocritus, "and the treasures of
land and sea shall be yours."
"Choose me," said Antinous, the insolent; "for you dare
not arouse my displeasure, and you shall be mine
whether you choose or not."
"Chiefs and princes," said Penelope, in trembling
tones, "it is not fit that I should decide this
question. Let us leave it to the gods. Behold, there
hangs the great bow of Ulysses with which he was wont
to do most valiant deeds ere cruel fate called him to
Troy. Let each of you try his strength in bending it,
and I will choose that one who can shoot an arrow from
it the most skillfully."
"Well said!" cried all the suitors, "and we agree to
it. Hand us the bow, Telemachus, and let us make the
First Antinous took the bow in his hands, and struggled
long to bend it. Then, losing patience, he threw it
upon the ground and strode away. "None but a giant can
string a bow like that," he said.
Then, one by one, the other suitors made trial of their
strength; but all in vain.
"Perhaps the old beggar who has just had his feet
washed would like to take a part in this contest," said
Agelaus, with a sneer.
Then Ulysses in his beggar's rags rose from his
 seat and went with halting steps to the head of the
hall. He lifted the great bow and looked with fond
recollection at its polished back and its long,
well-shaped arms, stout as bars of iron. "Methinks,"
he said, "that in my younger days I once saw a bow like
He took the slender bowstring of rawhide in his
fingers. With seeming awkwardness he fumbled long with
the bow, seeming unable to bend it. "Enough! enough,
old man!" cried Antinous, striking him in the face
with his hand. "Drop the bow, and stay no longer in the
company of your betters."
Suddenly a great change came over Ulysses. Without
apparent effort he bent the great bow and strung it.
Then, rising to his full height, he shook off his
beggar's rags and appeared in his own true likeness,
clad in armor from head to foot, and every inch a king.
"O Ulysses! Ulysses!" cried Penelope, falling, fainting
into the arms of the old nurse.
The suitors were speechless with amazement. Then in the
wildest alarm they turned and tried to escape from the
hall. But the arrows of Ulysses were swift and sure,
and not one missed its mark. "Now I avenge myself upon
those who have eaten up my substance and would destroy
my home!" cried the hero.
 Twang! went the bow; and Antinous, the insolent, fell
headlong upon the threshold of the palace. Twang! went
the bow; and Agelaus in his silken robes rolled in the
dust. Twang! went the bow; and all the wealth of
Leocritus availed him nothing. And thus, one after
another, the lawless suitors perished—slain by the
wrath of the hero whom they had wronged.
The next day as Ulysses sat in the great hall with his
queenly wife and his noble son Telemachus and the
joyful men and maidens of his household, he told the
story of his long wanderings over the sea. And
Penelope, in turn, related how she had faithfully kept
the kingdom for him, as she had promised, though beset
by insolent and wicked suitors. Then she brought from
her chamber a roll of soft, white cloth of wonderful
fineness and beauty, and said, "This is the web,
Ulysses. I promised that on the day of its completion I
would choose a husband; and I choose you."