WHAT HAPPENED IN ITHACA WHILE ODYSSEUS WAS AWAY
 While Odysseus was fighting far away in
Troyland, his baby son grew to be a big boy.
And when years passed and Odysseus did
not return, the boy, Telemachus, grew to be
Telemachus loved his beautiful mother,
Penelope, but his heart always longed for
the hero father whom he could only dimly
remember. As time went on, he longed more
and more, for evil things came to pass in the
kingdom of Odysseus.
The chiefs and lords of Ithaca admired
Penelope for her beauty. They also coveted
her money and her lands, and when
Odysseus did not return, each one of these
greedy and wicked men wished to marry her
 and make all that had belonged to brave
Odysseus his own.
'Odysseus is surely dead,' they said, 'and
Telemachus is only a lad and cannot harm us.'
So they came to the palace where Penelope
and Telemachus lived, and there they
stayed, year in, year out, feasting and drinking
and wasting the goods of Odysseus. Their
roughness and greed troubled Penelope, but
still more did they each one daily torment her
by rudely asking: 'Wilt thou marry me?'
At last she fell on a plan to stop them from
talking to her of marriage.
In the palace hall she set up a great web,
beautiful and fine of woof.
Then she said, 'When I have finished weaving
this robe I shall give you my answer.'
Each day she worked at it, but each night,
when the wooers slept, she undid all that
she had done during the day. So it seemed
to the wooers as if the robe would never be
Penelope's heart was heavy, and heavy, too,
was the heart of Telemachus. For three weary
years, while Odysseus was imprisoned on the
 island of Calypso, the mother and son pined
One day Telemachus sat at the door of the
palace sadly watching the wooers as they
drank and revelled. He was thinking of the
brave father that he feared was dead, when
there walked up to the door of the courtyard
a stranger dressed like a warrior from another
The stranger was the goddess Athene. At
the same time that she gained leave from the
gods to set Odysseus free, they had agreed
that she should go to Ithaca and help
Telemachus. But she came dressed as a warrior,
and not as a beautiful, grey-eyed, golden-haired
goddess with golden sandals on her feet.
Telemachus rose up and shook her kindly
by the hand, and led her into the hall. He
took from her the heavy bronze spear that she
carried, and made her sit down on one of the
finest of the chairs, in a place where the noise
of the rough wooers should not disturb her.
'Welcome, stranger,' he said. 'When thou
hast had food, then shalt thou tell us in what
way we can help thee.'
He then made servants bring a silver basin
and golden ewer that she might wash her
hands, and he fetched her food and wine of
Soon the wooers entered, and noisily ate
they and drank, and roughly they jested.
Telemachus watched them and listened with
an angry heart. Then, in a low voice, he said
'These men greedily eat and drink and
waste my father's goods. They think the
bones of Odysseus bleach out in the rain in a
far land, or are tossed about by the sea. But
did my father still live, and were he to come
home, the cowards would flee before him. Tell
me, stranger, hast thou come from a far-off
country? Hast thou ever seen my father?'
Athene answered: 'Odysseus still lives. He
is a prisoner on a sea-girt island, but it will
not be long ere he escapes and comes home.
Thou art like Odysseus, my son. Thou hast a
head like his, and the same beautiful eyes.'
When Athene spoke to him so kindly and
so hopefully, Telemachus told her all that was
in his heart. And when the wickedness and
 greed of the wooers was made known to her,
Athene grew very angry.
'Thou art in sore need of Odysseus,' she
said. 'If Odysseus were to come to the door
now with lance in hand, soon would he scatter
those shameless ones before him.'
Then she told Telemachus what he must do.
'To-morrow,' said she, 'call thy lords to a
council meeting, and tell the wooers to return
to their homes.'
For himself, she told him to fit out a ship
with twenty oarsmen, that he might sail to a
land where he should get tidings of his father.
'Thou art tall and handsome, my friend,' she
said. 'Be brave, that even in days to come men
may praise thy name.'
'Thou speakest as a father to a son. I will
never forget what thou hast said,' said Telemachus.
He begged Athene to stay longer, and wished
to give her a costly gift. But she would not
stay, nor accept any present. To Telemachus
she had given a gift, though he did not know
it. For into his heart she had put strength
and courage, so that when she flew away like
 a beautiful bird across the sea she left behind
her, not a frightened, unhappy boy, but a strong,
The wooers took no notice of the comings
and goings of the strange warrior, so busy
were they with their noisy feast. As they
feasted a minstrel played to them on his lyre,
and sang a song of the return of the warriors
from Troyland when the fighting was over.
From her room above, Penelope heard the
song, and came down. For a little, standing
by the door, she listened. Then she could
bear it no longer, and, weeping, she said to the
'Sing some other song, and do not sing a
song of return from Troyland to me, whose
husband never returned.'
Then Telemachus, in a new and manly
way that made her wonder, spoke to his
'Blame not the minstrel, dear mother,' he
said. 'It is not his fault that he sings sad
songs, but the fault of the gods who allow sad
things to be. Thou art not the only one who
hast lost a loved one in Troyland. Go back to
 thy room, and let me order what shall be, for I
am now the head of the house.'
In the same fearless, manly way he spoke
to the wooers—
'Ye may feast to-night,' he said; 'only let there
be no brawling. To-morrow meet with me. For
once and for all it must be decided if ye are to
go on wasting my goods, or if I am to be master
of my own house and king in mine own land.
The wooers bit their lips with rage, and
some of them answered him rudely; but
Telemachus paid no heed, and when at last they
returned to their houses, he went upstairs to
his own room. The old woman who had nursed
him when he was a child carried torches before
him to show him the way. When he sat down
on his bed and took off his doublet, she folded
the doublet and smoothed it and hung it up.
Then she shut the door with its silver handle,
and left Telemachus, wrapped in a soft fleece of
wool, thinking far into the night of all that
Athene had said to him.
When day dawned he dressed and buckled
on his sword, and told heralds to call the
lords to a council meeting. When all were
 assembled he went into the hall. In his hand
he carried a bronze spear, and two of his
hounds followed him, and when he went up to
his father's seat and sat down there, the oldest
men gave place to him. For Athene had shed
on him such a wondrous grace that he looked
like a young god.
'Never since brave Odysseus sailed away to
Troyland have we had a council meeting,' said
one old lord. 'I think the man who hath called
this meeting is a true man—good luck go with
him! May the gods give him his heart's desire.'
So good a beginning did this seem that
Telemachus was glad, and, burning to say all
that had been in his heart for so long, he rose
to his feet and spoke.
Of the loss of his father he spoke sadly, and
then, with burning words, of the cowardly
wooers, of their feastings and revellings and
wasting of his goods, and of their insolence to
Penelope and himself.
When he had thus spoken in rage and grief,
he burst into tears.
For a little there was silence, then one of the
wooers said angrily—
 'Penelope is to blame, and no other. For
three years she has deceived us. "I will give
you my answer when I have finished weaving
this robe," she said, and so we waited and
waited. But now that three years have gone
and a fourth has begun, it is told us by one of
her maids that each night she has undone all
that she has woven during the day. She can
deceive us no longer. She must now finish the
robe, and tell us whom she will marry. For
we will not leave this place until she has
chosen a husband.'
Then, once again, with pleading words,
Telemachus tried to move the hearts of the
'If ye will not go,' at last he said, 'I will
ask the gods to reward you for your wickedness.'
As he spoke, two eagles flew, fleet as the
wind, from the mountain crest. Side by side
they flew until they were above the place of
the council meeting. Then they wheeled
about, darted with fury at each other, and
tore with their savage talons at each other's
heads and necks. Flapping their great wings,
 they then went swiftly away and were lost in
the far distance.
Said a wise old man: 'It is an omen.
Odysseus will return, and woe will come
upon the wooers. Let us make an end of
these evil doings and keep harm away from
Go home, old man,' angrily mocked the
wooers. 'Prophesy to thine own children.
Odysseus is dead. Would that thou hadst
died with him. Then thou couldst not have
babbled nonsense, and tried to hound on
Telemachus in the hope that he may give
thee a gift.'
To Telemachus they said again—
'We will go on wasting thy goods until
Penelope weds one of us.'
Only one other beside the old man was
brave enough to speak for Telemachus.
Fearlessly and nobly did his friend Mentor
blame the wooers for their shamelessness.
But they jeered at him, and laughed aloud
when Telemachus told them he was going to
take a ship and go to look for his father.
'He will never come back,' said one, 'and
 even were Odysseus himself to return, we
should slay him when he came.'
Then the council meeting broke up, and
the wooers went again to revel in the palace
Down to the seashore went Telemachus,
and knelt where the grey water broke in
little white wavelets on the sand.
'Hear me,' he cried, 'thou who didst speak
with me yesterday. I know now that thou
art a god. Tell me, I pray thee, how shall
I find a ship to sail across the misty sea and
find my father? For there is none to help
Swiftly, in answer to his cry, came Athene.
'Be brave. Be thy father's son,' she said.
'Go back to thy house and get ready corn
and wine for the voyage. I will choose the
best of all the ships in Ithaca for thee, and
have her launched, and manned by a crew,
all of them willing men.'
Then Telemachus returned to the palace.
In the courtyard the wooers were slaying
goats and singeing swine and making ready
a great feast.
 'Here comes Telemachus, who is planning
to destroy us,' they mocked. 'Telemachus,
who speaks so proudly-—angry Telemachus.'
Said one youth—
'Who knows but what if he goes on a voyage
he will be like Odysseus, and never return.
Then will we have all his riches to divide
amongst ourselves, and his house will belong
to the man who weds Penelope.'
Telemachus shook off the jeering crowd,
and went down to the vaulted chamber where
his father's treasures were kept. Gold and
bronze lay there in piles, and there were great
boxes of splendid clothes, and casks of wine.
The heavy folding doors of the treasure
chamber were shut day and night, and the
old nurse was the keeper of the treasures.
Telemachus bade her get ready corn and
wine for the voyage.
'When my mother has gone to rest I will
take them away,' he said, 'for this night I go
to seek my father across the sea.'
At this the old nurse began to cry.
'Do not go, dear child,' she wailed. 'Thou
art our only one, and we love thee so well.
 Odysseus is dead, and what canst thou do,
sailing far away across the deep sea? As soon
as thou art gone, those wicked men will begin
to plot evil against thee. Do not go. Do not
go. There is no need for thee to risk thy life
on the sea and go wandering far from home.'
'Take heart, nurse,' said Telemachus. 'The
goddess Athene has told me to go, so all will
be well. But promise me not to tell my dear
mother that I am gone until she misses me.
For I do not wish to mar her fair face with
The nurse promised, and began to make
ready all that Telemachus wished.
Meantime Athene, in the likeness of
Telemachus, found a swift-sailing ship, and men
to sail it. When darkness fell, she sent sleep
on the wooers and led Telemachus down to
the shore where his men sat by their oars.
To the palace, where every one slept and all
was still and quiet, Telemachus brought his
men. None but the old nurse knew he was
going away, but they found the food and wine
that she had got ready and carried it down to
the ship. Then Athene went on board, and
 Telemachus sat beside her. A fresh west
wind filled the sails and went singing over
the waves. The dark water surged up at the
bow as the ship cut through it. And all night
long and till the dawn, the ship sailed happily
on her way.
At sunrise they came to land, and Athene
and Telemachus went on shore. The
rulers of the country welcomed them and
treated them well, but could tell nothing of
Odysseus after the siege of Troy was over.
Athene gave Telemachus into their care,
then, turning herself into a sea-eagle, she
flew swiftly away, leaving them amazed because
they knew she must be one of the gods.
While Telemachus sought for news of his
father in this kingdom, and the kingdoms near
it, the wooers began to miss him at their
feasts. They fancied he was away hunting,
until, one day, as they played games in front
of the palace, the man whose ship Athene had
borrowed came to them.
'When will Telemachus return with my
ship?' he asked. 'I need it that I may cross
 over to where I keep my horses. I wish to
catch one and break him in.'
When the wooers heard from him that
Telemachus had sailed away with twenty brave
youths, in the swiftest ship in Ithaca, they
were filled with rage.
At once they got a ship and sailed to where
they might meet Telemachus in a strait
between Ithaca and another rocky island.
'We will slay him there,' said they. 'We
will give him a woful end to his voyage in
search of his father.'
When Penelope heard this, and knew that
her son was perhaps sailing to his doom, her
heart wellnigh broke. She wept bitterly, and
reproached her maidens with not having told
her that Telemachus had gone.
'Slay me if thou wilt,' said the old nurse,
'but I alone knew it. Telemachus made me
promise not to tell thee, that thy fair face
might not be marred by weeping. Do not fear,
the goddess Athene will take care of him.'
Thus she comforted her mistress, and
although she lay long awake that night,
Penelope fell asleep at last. In her dreams Athene
 came to her and told her that Telemachus
would come safely home, and so Penelope's
sad heart was cheered.
While she slept the wooers sailed away in
a swift, black ship, with spears in their hands
and murder in their hearts. On a little rocky
isle they landed until the ship of Telemachus
should pass, and there they waited, that they
might slay him when he came.
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