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The Odyssey for Boys and Girls by  Alfred J. Church

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ITHACA

[179] WHEN Ulysses had finished his story, the king and all his people sat for a time saying nothing. After a while, the king said: "Ulysses, you shall have your wish; we will carry you to your home. This we will do to-morrow, for now it is time for bed." Then he turned to the princes and said: "This guest of ours is a brave man, and has suffered much; let us give him a special gift to show that we honour him. He has a chest full of clothes and gold already; and now let us give him kettles and bowls to use in his home. These you may bring to-morrow, and now you can go to your homes."

The next day the princes brought the kettles and bowls, and the king stowed them away with his own hands under the benches of the ship. When this was finished they [180] all went to the palace, and sat down to a great feast. But Ulysses kept watching the sun, wishing that the day was finished, so much did he want to see his home again.

At last he stood up and said: "O king, you and your people have been very kind to me; and now send me home, I beg you. Let us have the parting cup, and then let me go." So the king told his squire to mix the cup. And the squire mixed it, and served it out. And all the people in the hall drank, and as they drank they prayed that the stranger might have a happy return to his home. And when the cup was given to Ulysses, he stood up and put it into the hand of the queen, and said: "O queen, farewell; I pray that you may be happy with your husband, and your children, and your people." And when he had said this, he turned and left the palace. The king sent his squire to show him the way to the ship; also some of the women who waited on the queen carried food and wine, and a rug on which he might sleep in the ship. The chest, with the clothes and the gold, was taken down also and put into the ship.

[181] Then the rowers made all things ready. They put the rug in the hinder part of the vessel, and Ulysses climbed into the ship, and lay down upon it. Then the men unfastened the ropes which made the ship fast to the shore, and took their places on the benches, and began to row. As soon as ever they touched the water with their oars, Ulysses fell into a deep sleep. And the men rowed, and the ship sprang forward more quickly than a chariot with four horses travels over the plain. A hawk could not fly through the air more swiftly.

When the morning star rose in the sky, the ship came to Ithaca. Now there was a harbour in the island which the rowers knew very well. It was sheltered from the waves, and at the head of it was a great olive tree, and near the olive tree a cave. Here the men ran the ship ashore, and they took up Ulysses in his rug, for he was still fast asleep, and laid him down under the olive tree, and by his side they put all his provisions. After this, they got into their ship again, and started for home.


[Illustration]

ULYSSES ASLEEP LAID ON HIS OWN COAST BY THE PHAEACIAN SAILORS

After a while Ulysses woke up from his [182] sleep. Now Athené had spread a great mist over all the place, and Ulysses did not know where he was, so different did it look from what it really was. And he cried out: "Where am I? What shall I do? Where shall I put these goods of mine? Surely these Phaeacians have not done what they promised, but have taken me to a strange land. But first let me see whether they have left me the things which belonged to me." So he counted the clothes, and the gold, and the kettles, and found that nothing was missing. Still he was in great trouble, for he did not know where he was. While he walked to and fro, Athené met him. She had taken the shape of a handsome young shepherd. When Ulysses saw her, he was glad, though, indeed, he did not know that it was the goddess, not a shepherd, that he saw. He said: "Friend, you are the first man that I have seen in this country. Tell me where I am, and help me. Is this an island, or is it part of the mainland?"

Athené said: "You must have come from a very far country not to know this place, [185] for, indeed, it is a country which most men know. This is the island of Ithaca, a good land, though it is not a good place for horses. Yet it is fertile, and gives good pasture for sheep and goats, and the vineyards bear good wine." Ulysses was very glad to hear this, still he thought it better not to let the stranger know who he really was. So he made up this story: "I come from the island of Crete. I got into trouble, for I killed the king's son, who would have robbed me of some of my goods. Then I made a bargain with certain Phoenicians that they should take me and my goods either to Pylos or to Elis. This they would have done but for the contrary winds which drove them to this place. So they put me out of the ship while I slept, and my possessions with me."

When Ulysses had finished his story, Athené changed her shape again, becoming like a woman fair and tall. And she laughed, and said: "O Ulysses, he would be a cunning man who could cheat you. Here you are in your own country again, and you are still making up these tales about [186] yourself. Well, you are the wisest among mortals, and I am Athené, the goddess of Wisdom. I have always been used to stand by you and help you. And so I will do hereafter. First let us hide these goods of yours. Afterwards we will consider what should best be done. But you must be silent, telling no one who you are. So shall you come at last to your own again."

Ulysses answered: "O goddess, it is hard for any man to know you, for you take many shapes. You were always good to me when we were fighting against Troy, and you helped me the other day when I was among the Phaeacians. But now tell me truly: What is this place? You say that it is Ithaca, but it seems to me a strange country."

Then Athené scattered the mist so that Ulysses could see the place as it really was, and he knew it to be Ithaca, and he kneeled down, and kissed the ground, for he was very thankful in his heart.

And Athené said: "Now let us hide away your goods in the cave." So Ulysses took the clothes, and the gold, and all his [187] other possessions, and stored them away in the cave, and Athené rolled a great stone to the mouth of the cave to keep them safe.

After this Athené asked him how he meant to get possession of his kingdom again. She told him how that there was a great crowd of princes from Ithaca and the islands round about, who had come hoping to marry Penelopé, and how they sat day after day in his palace and wasted his substance. "And how," said she, "will you, being one man, prevail over them who are so many?" "If you will stand by me, and help me," said he, "I will fight against a hundred, ay, and against three hundred."

Then said Athené: "I will so change you that no man shall know you. I will make the skin of your face and hands withered and cold, and take the colour out of your hair, and make your eyes dull. The Suitors will think nothing of you, and even your wife and your son will not know you. Now go to the house of Eumaeus, who looks after the swine, for he is faithful to you; I will go to Sparta and fetch home [188] your son Telemăchus, for he is gone there seeking news of you."

Ulysses said: "Why did he go when you knew all and might have told him? Is he also to suffer what I have suffered?" "Nay," answered Athené, "it was only right that he should bestir himself, looking for his father. Be contented; all will be well."

So she touched him with her rod. And when she touched him, his skin withered, like the skin of an old man, and his hair lost its colour, and his eyes grew dim. And his clothes also looked torn and dirty. Also the goddess gave him a stag's skin, very shabby, with the hair worn from it. And she put a staff in his hand, and a battered wallet, such as beggars carry, which was fastened to his shoulders by a rope.


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