|The Odyssey for Boys and Girls|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|Lively retelling of Homer's Odyssey, telling of the wanderings of Ulysses and his adventures with the giant Cyclops and the enchantress Circe as he makes his way home to his beloved Ithaca. There, after slaying the suitors who have been wooing his wife Penelope, he is reunited with his family after twenty long years. Ages 8-12 |
OF THE BEGGAR IRUS AND OTHER THINGS
 THIS same afternoon there came a beggar from the town, whom
the young men called Irus, because he carried messages
for them, giving him this name because it is Iris who
takes the messages of the gods. This fellow was very
stout and tall, and a mighty man to eat and drink, but
he was a coward. When he saw Ulysses sitting at the
door of the palace, he said: "Old man, get away from
that place, or I will drag you from it. The young men
would like me to do so now, but I think it a shame to
strike an old man."
Ulysses said: "There is room here for you and me; get
what you can, I do not grudge it you; but you do not
make me angry, lest I should hurt you."
But Irus thought to himself: "Here is a man whom I can
easily get the better
 of;" and he said: "Get
away from your place, or else fight with me."
Antinoüs heard what he said, and he called to the
Suitors and said: "Here is good sport, the best that I
have ever seen in this place. These two beggars are
going to fight. Come, my friends, and let us make a
match between them."
Then the young men got up from their seats to join in
the sport. And Antinoüs said: "Here are two haunches
of goats—we should have had them for supper. Now if
these two beggars will fight, we will give the
conqueror one of the haunches for his own supper, and
he shall eat it with us, and he shall always have a
place kept for him."
Ulysses said: "It is a hard thing for an old man to
fight with a young one. Still I am ready. Only you
must all swear that you will not give me a foul blow
while I am fighting with this fellow."
Telemăchus said: "That shall be so, old man;" and all
the Suitors agreed. Then Ulysses made himself ready to
fight. And when the Suitors saw his thighs, how strong
and thick they were, and how broad his
and what mighty arms he had, they said to each other:
"This is a strong fellow; there will be little left of
Irus when the fight is over." As for Irus, when he saw
the old beggar stripped, he was terribly afraid, and
would have slunk away, but the young men would not
suffer it. Antinoüs said: "How is this, Irus? Are
you afraid of that old beggar? If you play the coward,
you shall be put into a ship, and taken to King
Echetus, who will cut off your ears and your nose, and
give them to his dogs."
ULYSSES PREPARING TO FIGHT WITH IRUS
So the two men stood up to fight. And Ulysses thought
to himself: "Shall I kill this fellow with a blow, or
shall I be content with knocking him down?" And this
last seemed the better thing to do. First Irus struck
Ulysses, but did not hurt him with his blow; then
Ulysses struck Irus, and the blow was on the man's
jaw-bone. And Irus fell to the ground, and the blood
poured out of his mouth. Then Ulysses dragged him out
of the hall, and propped him against the wall of the
courtyard, and put a staff in his hand and said: "Sit
 and keep away dogs and swine from coming
in at the door; but do not try to lord it over men, no,
not even over strangers and beggars, lest some worse
thing should happen to you."
Then Antinoüs gave Ulysses the goat's haunch, and
another of the Suitors, whose name was Amphinŏmus, took
two loaves from the table, and gave them to him. Also
he gave him a cup of wine, and himself drank his
health, saying: "Good luck to you, father, hereafter,
for now you seem to have fallen on evil days."
And Ulysses had a liking for the young man, knowing
that he was better than his fellows, and he tried to
give him a warning. So he said: "You have some
wisdom, and your father, I know, is a wise man. Now
listen to me: there is nothing in the world so foolish
as man. When he is prosperous, he thinks that no evil
will come near him; but when the gods send evil, then
he can do nothing to help himself. Look at me; once I
was prosperous, and I trusted in myself and in my
kinsfolk, and see what I am now! Trust not in robbery
 and wrong, for the gods will punish such things
sooner or later. You and your fellows here are doing
wrong to one who is absent. But he will come back some
day and slay his enemies. Fly, therefore, while there
is time, and be not here to meet him when he comes."
So Ulysses spoke, meaning to be kind to the man. And
the man felt in his heart that these words were true;
nevertheless he went on in the same way, for his doom
was upon him that he should die. And now Athené put it
into the heart of Penelopé that she should show herself
to the Suitors, and this the goddess did for this
reason. First, that the hearts of the young men should
be still more lifted up in them with pride and folly,
and next that they should be moved to give gifts to the
queen, as will be seen; and, thirdly, that the queen
might be more honored by her husband and her son. So
Penelopé said to the old woman that waited on her: "I
have a desire now for the first time to show myself to
the Suitors, though they are quite as hateful to me as
before. Also, I would say a word to my son, lest he
 should have too much to do with these wicked men,
and that they should do him some harm."
The old woman said: "This is well thought, lady. Go
and show yourself to the Suitors, and speak to your
son, but first wash and anoint your face. Do not let
the tears be seen on your cheeks: it is not well to be
But the queen said: "Do not talk to me about washing
and anointing my face. What do I care how I look, now
that my husband is gone? But tell two of my maids to
come with me, for I would not go among these men
So the old woman went to tell the maids. But Athené
would not let the queen have her own way in this
matter. So she caused a deep sleep to fall upon her,
and while she slept, she made her more beautiful and
taller than she was before.
When the queen awoke, she said to herself: "O that I
might die without pain, just as now I have fallen
asleep. For what good is my life to me, now that my
husband is gone?"
 Then she got up from her bed, and washed her face,
and went down to the hall, and stood in the door, with
a maid standing on either side of her. Never was there
a more beautiful woman, and every one of the Suitors
prayed in his heart that he might have her for his
First she spoke to her son: "Telemăchus, when you were
a child, you had a ready wit; but now that you are
grown up, though you are such to look at as a king's
son should be, tall and fair, yet your thoughts seem to
go astray. What is this that has now been done in this
house—this ill-treating a stranger? It would be a
shame to us for ever, if he should be hurt."
Telemăchus answered: "You do well to be angry, my
mother. Nevertheless, I am not to blame; I cannot have
all things as I would wish them to be, for others are
stronger than I am, and will have their way. But as
for this fight between the stranger and Irus, it did
not end as the Suitors would have had it. The stranger
had the better of him, and Irus now sits by the gate,
wagging his head, and cannot raise himself on to his
feet, for the
 stranger has taken all the strength
out of him. I wish in my heart that all the Suitors
were in as evil case as he."
Then said one of the Suitors to Penelopé: "O queen, if
all the Greeks could behold you, there would be such a
crowd in this hall to-morrow as never was seen, so fair
are you above all the women in the land."
Penelopé said: "Do not talk to me of beauty; my beauty
departed when my lord, Ulysses, went to Troy. If only
he would return! Then it would be well with me. I
remember how, when he departed, he took me by the hand,
and said: 'O lady, not all the Greeks that go this day
to Troy will come back, for the men of Troy, they say,
are great spearmen, and skilled in shooting with the
bow, and good drivers of chariots. And so I know not
whether I shall come back to my home or perish there
before the walls of the city. Do thou, therefore, care
for my father and for my mother while I am away; care
for them as you do now, and even more. And bring up
our son, Telemăchus. And when he is a bearded man,
then, if I am dead, marry whom you will.' So my
 And now the time is come. For he
is dead, for it is ten years since Troy was taken, and
yet he has not come back; and Telemăchus is grown to be
a man; and I am constrained to make another marriage,
although I am unhappy. And I have yet another trouble.
My Suitors are not as the Suitors of other women. For
the custom is that when a man would woo a lady, he
brings sheep and oxen and makes a feast for his kindred
and friends, but these men devour my substance, and
make no payment for it."
So spoke the queen; and Ulysses was glad to see how she
beguiled the men, drawing gifts from them, while she
hated them in her heart.
Then said Antinoüs: "Lady, we will give you gifts, nor
will you do well to refuse them. But know this, that
we will not depart from this place till you have chosen
one of us for your husband."
To this all the Suitors agreed. And every man sent his
squire to fetch his gift. Antinoüs gave an embroidered
robe, very handsome, with twelve brooches and twelve
clasps of gold on it. Another gave a chain
curious work, with beads of amber; a third a pair of
ear-rings; and yet another a very precious jewel.
Every one gave a gift. So the queen went back to her
Then said one of the Suitors to his fellows, scoffing
at the stranger: "See now our good luck in that the
gods have sent this man to us. How does the light of
the torches flash on his bald head!" And he turned to
Ulysses, and said: "Stranger, will you serve me as a
hired servant at my farm among the hills? Your wages
will be sure, and you shall work, gathering stones, and
building walls, and planting trees. And you shall have
clothes, and shoes for your feet, and bread to eat.
But you do not care, I take it, to work in the fields;
you like better to beg your bread and to do no work."
Ulysses answered: "Young man, I would gladly try my
strength against yours. We two might each take a
scythe in his hand and mow grass when the days grow
long in the spring, fasting meanwhile. Or we might
plough against each other, driving
 teams of oxen
in a field of four acres. Then you should see whether
I could plough a clean and straight furrow. Or if Zeus
should order, would that you and I might stand together
in the front rank! You think overmuch of yourself;
but, verily, if Ulysses should come back, this door
would not be wide enough for you and your fellows to
The man was very angry to hear such words. "Old man,"
he cried, "you had better not say such things, lest I
do you a mischief. Has the wine stolen away your wits,
or is it your way to prate in this idle fashion, or are
you puffed up by having got the better of Irus the
And he caught up a footstool, and threw it at Ulysses,
but Ulysses stooped down and escaped it. But the
footstool struck a young man who was carrying round the
wine, and hurt his hand so grievously that he fell
back, and lay on the floor groaning.
Then said one of the Suitors to his neighbour: "I wish
this fellow would go away. Ever since he came hither
there has been strife and quarrelling in the place.
 we shall have no more pleasure in the feast."
But Telemăchus said: "It is plain that you have had
meat and drink enough. Now let us all go to rest."
And they agreed and went away.
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