|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 |
THE TRIAL OF THE BOW
 ULYSSES lay down to sleep in the gallery of the hall. He lay
with the undressed hide of a bull under him, and he
took to cover him fleeces of sheep that had been killed
for sacrifice and feast. Also the dame
that kept the house laid a mantle over him. But he
could not sleep, for he was thinking about many things,
chiefly how he, being one, with but some two or three
to help him, could slay all the company of Suitors.
While he turned from side to side thinking over those
things, Athené came and stood over his head in the
likeness of a woman, and said to him: "Why do you not
sleep? Here you are in your own home, and you find that
your wife is true to you, and that your son is just
such as you could wish. What troubles you?"
 Ulysses answered: "These things that you say, O
goddess! are true. But I think how I, being one
against many, shall be able to slay the Suitors. This
troubles me; and this also, how, if I slay them, shall
I escape the avengers of blood?"
The goddess answered: "Truly, your faith is weak.
Should you not trust in the gods, for they are stronger
than men? The gods are on your side; I am with you,
and will keep you to the end. And now sleep, for to
wake all night is vexation of spirit."
So she poured sleep on eyes, and left him.
When he awoke up in the morning, he took up the fleeces
which had covered him, and laid them on a seat in the
hall, and the bull's hide on which he had slept he
carried outside. And as he stood, he looked up to the
sky and said: "O Zeus, send me now a sign, if indeed,
in bringing me back to my country, thou meanest to do
And even while he was speaking there came thunder from
the sky, and Ulysses was glad to hear it. Also there
an-  other sign to him, and this was a word
which was spoken by a woman at the mill. Twelve women
there were who ground corn for the palace, wheat and
barley. Eleven of them were sleeping, for they had
finished their task; but this one was weaker than the
rest, and had not finished her part, but still was
grinding. And when she heard the thunder, she cried:
"O Zeus, may this be a sign of good to me! may it mean
that I shall never grind wheat and barley any more for
And now Telemăchus came down from the room where he
slept, and said to the nurse: "Did you give to our
guest food and drink and bedding as was fitting?"
Then nurse said: "The man ate and drank as much as he
would, but a mattress and rugs he would not have. He
slept on a bull's hide, and had the fleeces of sheep to
cover him. But he had also a mantle over him."
After this the swineherd came, driving three fat hogs
for the day's feast. He said to Ulysses: "Stranger,
how have these young men behaved to you?"
 Ulysses said: "May the gods deal with them as
they have dealt with me!"
And after the swineherd came Melanthius the goatherd,
bringing goats for the day's feast. When he saw
Ulysses, he spoke roughly to him: "Old man, are you
still plaguing us with your begging? We shall not
part, I take it, till we have made trial of each other
with our fists. Your begging is past bearing. Are
there not other feasts to which you can go?"
Last came the neatherd, whose name was Philaetius, and
he was driving a barren heifer; and this also, besides
the pigs and the goats, was for the feast. He said to
Ulysses: "Friend, I hope that you may have better luck
in the time to come; for now I see that you have many
troubles. Maybe Ulysses is wandering about, clothed in
rags as you are and begging his bread. I weep to think
of it. Ay, it may be that he is dead. That would be a
great grief. Long ago he set me to take care of his
cattle, and they have increased under my hand, yet it
vexes me to see how these strangers are ever devouring
them in his
 own home. Long ago I would have fled
to some other place, for the thing is past bearing, but
that I hope that Ulysses will yet come again to his
Ulysses said to him: "Philaetius, I see that you are a
good man. Now listen to what I say: I swear that this
day, while you are still here, Ulysses will come home.
You shall see it with your eyes—yes, and the end of
the Suitors also." And now the Suitors came and sat
down, as they were wont, to their morning meal. And
the servants took to Ulysses a full share of meat and
drink, for this was what Telemăchus had bidden them do.
When Ctesippus saw this—he was one who cared neither
for gods nor men—he said: "Is this fellow to
fare as well as we fare? See now what gift I will give
him!" And he took the foot of a bullock out of a
basket, and threw it at Ulysses. But he moved his head
to the left, and the foot flew by, and made a mark on
When Telemăchus saw this, he cried: " 'Tis well for
you, Ctesippus, that you did not hit the stranger.
Truly, if you had hit
 him, I had pierced you
through with my spear, and your father would have had
to make ready your burying, not your wedding."
"That is well said," cried another of the Suitors;
" 'tis a shame to do wrong either to Telemăchus, or to
his guest. Nevertheless, he must bid his mother choose
out from among us the man whom she will marry, so that
we may not waste our time any more."
Telemăchus answered: "My mother may marry whom she
will; but never will I force her to leave this house."
When he said this the Suitors laughed, but their
laughter was not as of men that were glad. And there
came a darkness over the place, so that one of the men
cried: "It is this stranger that brings bad luck with
him. Let us send him away, for the hall seems to grow
dark while he is here."
By this time Penelopé had taken down the great bow of
Ulysses from the peg on which it hung, and she drew it
out of the case in which it was kept, and laid it
across her knees and wept over it. Then, after a
 while, she rose, and carried it to the hall, where the
Suitors sat feasting. With the bow she brought also
the quiver full of arrows, and, standing by the pillar
that stood under the dome, she said:—
"You, who come here day after day, and devour my
substance, pretending that you wish to marry me, see
here; look at this bow and these arrows; they belong to
the great Ulysses, and with these I will try you.
Whoso among you that shall most easily bend this bow
with his hands, and shall shoot best at the mark which
my son shall set up, him will I take for my husband;
him will I follow, leaving this house, which I shall
never see again except in my dreams."
PENELOPE CARRYING THE BOW OF ULYSSES TO THE SUITORS
Then Telemăchus set the mark. And when he had set it,
he made as if he would have drawn the bow himself; and
this he would have done, for he was strong and worthy
of his father; but Ulysses signed to him that he should
not do it. So he said: "I am too young, and have not
grown to my full strength; you that are older than I
should try first."
 Then a certain priest who was among the Suitors,
Leiodes by name, made trial of the bow. He was the
best among them, and did not like their ways; but for
all that he stayed with them. He took the bow, and
tried to bend it, wearying himself with it, making his
hands sore, for they were soft and not used to work.
At last he said: "I cannot bend the bow; and I fear
that it will bring grief and pain to many this day."
But Antinoüs cried: "Why do you say such words?" And
he bade the goatherd fetch a roll of fat from the
kitchen, that they might make the string soft with it.
And the Suitors rubbed the fat upon it, trying to
soften it. But they could not bend it; they tried all
of them, but it was in vain, till only two were left,
Antinoüs and Eurymachus, who were indeed the strongest
of them all.
While the Suitors were trying the bow, Ulysses went out
into the court, and spoke to the swineherd, and the man
who herded the cattle, taking them by themselves, and
said to them: "What would you do if
 Ulysses were
to come back to his home? Would you fight for him, or
for the Suitors?"
They both answered with one voice: "We would fight for
Then said Ulysses: "Look now at me: I am Ulysses, and
I have come back after twenty years. You are glad in
your hearts to see me; but I know not whether there is
any one else besides you who is glad. Come now, be
brave men to-day and help me, and I will reward you;
you shall have wives and lands and houses, and you
shall lie near me, and Telemăchus shall take you for
comrades and brothers. And if you want a sign that I
am indeed Ulysses, look at this scar; this is the wound
which the wild boar made on the day when I went hunting
with my grandfather."
The men wept for joy to hear this; and they kissed
Ulysses, and he kissed them. Then he said to the
swineherd: "When the Suitors have tried the bow, bring
it to me. Also bid the women keep within doors, and
not move out if they hear the noise of battle." To the
herdsman of the
 cattle he said: "Lock the doors
of the hall, and fasten them with a rope."
Then he went back to the hall. Eurymachus had the bow
in his hand, and was warming it at the fire. Then he
tried to draw it, but could not. And he groaned aloud,
saying: "Woe is me! I am grieved not for the loss of
this marriage, for there are other women in Greece who
may be wooed, but because we are all weaker than the
great Ulysses. This is, indeed, a shameful thing."
But Antinoüs said: "Do not lose heart. This day is
holy to the god of Archers, and it does not please him
that we are about this business. We will try again
to-morrow, and first we will sacrifice to the god."
They were all pleased to hear these words, hoping that
they might yet be able to draw the bow. But Ulysses
said: "Let me try it; I should like to know whether I
have still the strength which I had when I was young."
The Suitors were very angry that the stranger should
dare to think of such a thing; but Penelopé said that
 should try the bow, and that she would
give him great gifts if he could bend it. Then said
Telemăchus: "Mother, this bow is mine, and I will give
it or refuse it, as I shall see fit. And if it pleases
me that this stranger shall try it, then it shall be
so, and no man shall say nay. But now do you and your
maids go to your rooms; these things are for men to
This he said because he knew what would soon happen in
the hall, and he would not have her there. She
wondered to hear him speak with such authority, but she
made no answer to him, and she went out of the hall,
taking her maids with her.
Then Telemăchus gave the bow to the swineherd, and bade
him take it to Ulysses. The Suitors were angry, and
would have stopped him, but Telemăchus said: "Take it;
it is mine to give or to refuse," and the swineherd
took it to Ulysses. And when he had done this, he went
to the nurse, and bade her keep the women within doors
whatever they might hear.
Then Ulysses took the bow in his hand, and felt it to
see whether it had suffered
 any hurt; and the
Suitors laughed to see him do it. And when he found
that it was without a flaw, then he bent it, and strung
it, and he twanged the string, and the tone of it was
shrill and sweet as the cry of a swallow. After this
he took an arrow from the quiver, and laid the notch
upon the string, and drew the bow to the full, still
sitting in his place. And the arrow went straight to
the mark. Then he said to Telemăchus: "Come, stand by
me; there is yet another feast to be kept before the
sun goes down." And the young man stood by his side,
armed with a spear.
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