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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

ODYSSEUS RETURNS TO ITHACA

[61] THE small island of Ithaca, of which Odysseus was king, lay on the western shore of Greece. His subjects deemed that their king was dead, for ten years had passed since Troy had been destroyed, and yet he had not come home.

But Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, would not believe that her lord was dead; she clung to the hope that he would yet return. Princes came to the palace to beg the queen to wed, but in vain did each urge his suit, for hope whispered in the heart of Penelope, "My lord is still alive."

Laertes, the father of Odysseus, was too old, her little son Telemachus was too young, to help the queen, when the princes rudely insisted on living in the palace and in wasting the goods of Odysseus. Again and again they entreated her to wed one among them. But the queen grew angry and rebuked them for their insolence in living in the palace. From day to day, from week to week, from month to month, even from year to year, Penelope mocked at the impatience of her suitors.

For she set up in the hall of the palace a large loom and began to weave a beautiful robe. "Ye princely youths, my wooers," she said, "now that Odysseus is dead, as ye declare, do ye abide patiently, how eager soever on this marriage of mine, till I finish the robe."

The princes agreed to wait until the robe was finished, but little did they dream how long the queen would take to her task.

Day after day, day after day, they watched as Penelope [62] sat at her web weaving, ever weaving. But night after night, night after night, when the insolent princes had gone to bed, the queen carefully unraveled the work they had seen her do by day.

For three long years did Penelope mock her suitors in this way, but when the fourth year came, and the robe was still incomplete, one of the queen's serving-maids betrayed her secret to the princes.

Then the queen could no longer refuse to wed, yet still she tried to put off the day as long as might be. So she promised to marry him who could most easily bend the great bow of Odysseus, and hit the mark on which she should decide. There was now but a little while until the day would dawn on which the trial of strength and skill was to take place.

Telemachus meanwhile had grown into a tall lad, and, guided by Athene, he left the palace where the princes wasted his wealth to go in search of his father. It might be that Odysseus was a captive in some distant land.

But Odysseus was on his way to Ithaca, sailing in the ship of a king who had befriended him.

As the vessel glided into the harbour of the little island, Odysseus lay asleep on the deck. So the sailors lifted him in a rug on which he lay and put him down in his own kingdom by the side of the road.

When he awoke Odysseus did not at first know where he was, for Athene had covered the land with a thick mist.

"O woe is me now, unto what mortals' land am I now come?" cried the king, well-nigh in tears with desire for his own country.

Even as he spoke, Athene stood by his side disguised as a young man.

"What land is this?" asked Odysseus, not yet knowing that it was the goddess to whom he spoke, but thinking that it was one of the country folk.

"Thou art witless, stranger, or thou art come from afar, [63] if indeed thou askest of this land," said Athene. "Verily it is rough and not fit for the driving of horses, yet is it not a very sorry isle, though narrow withal. For herein is corn past telling, and herein, too, wine is found, and the rain is on it evermore and the fresh dew. And it is good for feeding goats and feeding kine; all manner of wood is here, and watering-places unfailing are herein. Wherefore stranger, the name of Ithaca hath reached even unto Troyland."

Then Odysseus knew that it was the grey-eyed goddess Athene who spoke to him, and he answered, "Methinks that thou speakest thus to mock me and beguile my mind. Tell me whether, in very deed, I am come to mine own country?"

The goddess did not answer, but silently she scattered the mist that the king might see that he was indeed in his own kingdom.

The Odysseus was glad and stooped to kiss the earth, knowing that at last his weary wanderings were at an end.


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