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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

ARGUS THE HOUND DIES

[64] ATHENE knew that if Odysseus went to the palace, the princes would pretend that he was not the king, and would perhaps even slay him. So she bade him go, not to the palace, but to the hut of his swineherd Eumaeus, who had remained loyal to him and to his house.

That no one, not even the swineherd, might recognise the king, Athene changed him into an old beggar man, with dirty, tattered garments.

In this miserable guise Odysseus reached the hut of Eumaeus. Now Eumaeus believed that strangers were sent by Zeus, so he welcomed the beggar and gave him food.

As he ate, the swineherd sat beside him, bewailing the absence of his king, who had never returned from the Trojan War.

"His name," said Eumaeus, "even though he is not here, it shameth me to speak, for he loved me exceedingly, and cared for me at heart; nay I call him 'worshipful,' albeit he is far from hence."

Much, too, did the swineherd tell of Penelope, of Telemachus, and of how the insolent suitors lived at the palace and wasted the king's goods. As Odysseus listened, he longed to go at once to the palace to avenge his wrongs.

That night the king spent in the hut of his swineherd, lying before the fire, while over him the swineherd flung a covering of goatskins. But Eumaeus did not sleep. He cast over his shoulders a rough mantle, and taking with him a sharp sword he went out to guard his herd of swine. And [65] the king was glad when he saw how well the swineherd cared for the flocks of his absent lord.

In the morning, as Eumaeus kindled a fire and prepared breakfast for the stranger, footsteps were heard without. Telemachus had returned to Ithaca, having sought for his father in vain.

Eumaeus hastened to welcome his master's son and "kissed him all over as one escaped from death." Then he set before the prince the best that his hut could provide.

When Telemachus had eaten and had drunk sweet wine out of a wooden goblet, he bade Eumaeus hasten to the palace to tell his mother that he had come safely home. So the swineherd took his sandals, bound them on his feet and set out for the city. Odysseus and Telemachus were left alone.

Then Athene came to the hut unseen, and changed Odysseus into his own goodly form, bidding him tell Telemachus who he was.

At first the prince could not believe that this stranger, so strong, so fair, was Odysseus. But when at length he knew that it was indeed his father he embraced him, while tears of joy fell down his cheeks.

Then Athene bade them determine how the king should make himself known to Penelope, and how the greedy and insolent suitors should be punished.

The father and son talked long together and they agreed that on the morrow Telemachus should go to the palace, but to none, no, not even to Penelope, was he to tell that Odysseus had returned.

The arms that hung in the hall of the palace the prince was to hide in his own room, so that when the time for the king's revenge should come the suitors might find neither sword nor shield with which to defend themselves. Odysseus was to follow his son to the palace when a few hours had passed, disguised once more as a beggar.

So, on the morrow, Telemachus set out for the palace. As he entered the hall the first to see him was his father's [66] old nurse Eurycleia. She was busy spreading the skins upon the oaken chairs, but she left her work and ran to greet the prince, "kissing him lovingly on the head and shoulders."

Penelope, too, coming from her chamber, saw him, and cast her arms about her dear son and fell a-weeping, and kissed his face and both his beautiful eyes. "Thou art come, Telemachus," she said, "a sweet light in the dark. Methought I should never see thee again."

While Telemachus was still telling his lady-mother all that had befallen him in his search for his father, the beggar with Eumaeus by his side, entered the court of the palace.

In the court lay Argus, the great hound that Odysseus himself had trained ere he went to Troy. Old was he now and despised, for no longer could he run in the hunt, swift as the wind. The princes had banished him from the hall, while by the servants he was spurned.

As the beggar drew near, Argus raised his head, looked at the stranger, and began to wag his tail to show his joy. For rags could not hide his master from the faithful hound.

Odysseus turned his head away, that Eumaeus might not see his tears.

"Surely a hound so noble as this should not lie thus neglected in the yard," he said to the swineherd.

"In very truth," answered Eumaeus, "this is the dog of a man that has died in a far land. If he were what once he was in limb and in the feats of the chase, when Odysseus left him to go to Troy, soon wouldst thou marvel at the sight of his swiftness and his strength. There was no beast that could flee from him in the deep places of the wood when he was in pursuit of prey."

As the king and the swineherd passed on into the palace, Argus fell back content to die, for after watching and waiting for twenty years he had seen his master once again.


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