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III. THE HOME-COMING
Now all these twenty years, in the island of Ithaca,
Penelope had watched for her husband's return. At first with
high hopes and then in doubt and sorrow (when news of the
came by some traveller), she had waited, eager and constant
as a young bride. But now the war was long past; her young
son Telemachus had come to manhood; and as for Odysseus, she
knew not whether he was alive or dead.
For years there had been trouble in Ithaca. It was
 left a kingdom without a king, and Penelope was fair and wise. So
suitors came from all the islands round about to beg her
hand in marriage, since many loved the queen and as many
more loved her possessions, and desired to rule over them.
Moreover, every one thought or said that King Odysseus must
be dead. Neither Penelope nor her aged father-in-law
Laertes could rid the place of these troublesome suitors.
Some were nobles and some were adventurers, but they all
thronged the palace like a pest of crickets, and devoured
the wealth of the kingdom with feasts in honor of Penelope
and themselves and everybody else; and they besought the
queen to choose a husband from their number.
For a long time she would hear none of this; but they grew
so clamorous in their suit that she had to put them off with
craft. For she saw that there would be danger to her
country, and her son, and herself, unless Odysseus came home
some day and turned the suitors out of doors.
She therefore spoke them fair, and gave them some hope of
her marriage, to make peace.
"Ye princely wooers," she said, "now
I believe that the king Odysseus, my husband, must long
since have perished in a strange land; and I have bethought
me once more of marriage. Have patience, therefore,
till I shall have finished the web that I am weaving. For
it is a royal shroud that I must make against the day that
Laertes may die (the father of my lord and husband). This is
the way of my people," said she; "and when the web
is done, I will choose another king for Ithaca."
She had set up in the hall a great loom, and day by day she
wrought there at the web, for she was a
 marvellous spinner,
patient as Arachne, and dear to Athena. All day long she
would weave, but every night in secret she would unravel
what she had wrought in the daytime, so that the web might
never be done. For although she believed her dear husband
to be dead, yet her hope would put forth buds again and
again, just as spring, that seems to die each year, will
come again. So she ever looked to see Odysseus coming.
Three years and more she held off the suitors with this
wile, and they never perceived it. For, being men, they knew
nothing of women's handicraft.
It was all alike a marvel to them, both the beauty
of the web and this endless toil in the making! As for
Penelope, all day long she wove; but at night she would
unravel her work and weep bitterly, because she had another
web to weave and another day to watch, all for nothing,
since Odysseus never came. In the fourth year, though, a
faithless servant betrayed this secret to the wooers, and
there came an end to peace and the web, too!
Matters grew worse and worse. Telemachus set out to find
his father, and the poor queen was left without husband or
son. But the suitors continued to live about the palace like
so many princes, and to make merry on the wealth of
Odysseus, while he was being driven from land
to land and wreck to wreck. So it came true, that
prophecy that, if the herds of the Sun were harmed, Odysseus
should reach his home alone in evil plight to find Sorrow in
his own household. But in the end he was to drive her forth.
Now, when Odysseus woke, he did not know his own country.
Gone were the Phæacians and their ship; only the gifts
beside him told him that he had
 not dreamed. While he looked
about, bewildered, Athena, in the guise of a young
countryman, came to his aid, and told him where he was.
Then, smiling upon his
amazement and joy, she shone forth in her own form, and
warned him not to hasten home, since the palace was filled
with the insolent suitors of Penelope, whose heart waited
empty for him as the nest for the bird.
Moreover, Athena changed his shape into that of an aged
pilgrim, and led him to the hut of a certain swineherd,
Eumæus, his old and faithful servant. This man received the
king kindly, taking him for a travel-worn wayfarer, and told
him all the news of the palace, and the suitors and the poor
queen, who was ever ready to hear the idle tales of any
traveller if he had aught to tell of King Odysseus.
Now who should come to the hut at this time but the prince
Telemachus, whom Athena had hastened safely home from his
quest! Eumæus received his young master with great joy, but
the heart of Odysseus was nigh to bursting, for he had never
seen his son since he left him, an infant, for the Trojan
War. When Eumæus left them together, he made himself known;
and for that moment Athena gave him back his kingly looks,
so that Telemachus saw him with exultation, and they two
wept over each other for joy.
By this time news of her son's return had come to Penelope,
and she was almost happy,
not knowing that the suitors were plotting to kill
Telemachus. Home he came, and he hastened to assure his
mother that he had heard good news of Odysseus; though, for
the safety of all, he did not tell her that Odysseus was in
Meanwhile Eumæus and his aged pilgrim came to
 the city
and the palace gates. They were talking to a goatherd there,
when an old hound that lay in the dust-heap near by pricked
up his ears and stirred his tail feebly as at a
well-known voice. He was the faithful Argus, named after a
monster of many eyes that once served Juno as a watchman.
Indeed, when the creature was slain, Juno had his eyes set
in the feathers of her pet peacocks, and there they glisten
to this day. But the end of this Argus was very different.
Once the pride of the king's heart, he was now so old and
infirm that he could barely move; but though his master had
come home in the guise of a strange beggar, he knew the
voice, and he
alone, after twenty years. Odysseus, seeing him, could
barely restrain his tears; but the poor old hound, as if he
had lived but to welcome his master home, died that very
Into the palace hall went the swineherd and the pilgrim,
among the suitors who were feasting there. Now how Odysseus
begged a portion of the meat and was shamefully insulted by
men, how he saw his own wife and hid his joy and sorrow,
but told her news of himself as any beggar might,—all these
things are better sung than spoken. It is a long story.
But the end was near. The suitors had demanded the
queen's choice, and once more the constant Penelope tried to
put it off. She took from her safe treasure-chamber the
great bow of Odysseus, and she promised that she would marry
that one of the suitors who should send his arrow through
twelve rings ranged in a line. All other weapons were taken
away by the care of Telemachus; there was nothing but the
great bow and quiver. And when all was ready, Penelope went
away to her chamber to weep.
 But, first of all, no one could string the bow. Suitor after
suitor tried and failed. The sturdy wood stood unbent
against the strongest. Last of all, Odysseus begged leave
to try, and was laughed to scorn. Telemachus, however, as if
for courtesy's sake, gave him the bow; and the strange
beggar bent it easily, adjusted the cord, and before any
could stay his hand he sped the arrow from the string.
Singing with triumph, it flew straight through the twelve
rings and quivered in the mark!
"Now for another mark!" cried Odysseus in the king's own
voice. He turned upon the most
evil-hearted suitor. Another arrow hissed and struck,
and the man fell pierced.
Telemachus sprang to his father's side, Eumæus stood by him,
and the fighting was short and bitter. One by one they slew
those insolent suitors; for the right was theirs, and Athena
stood by them, and the time was come. Every one of the
false-hearted wooers they laid low, and every corrupt
servant in that house; then they made the place clean and
But the old nurse Eurycleia hastened up to Queen Penelope,
where she sat in fear and wonder, crying, "Odysseus is
returned! Come and see with thine own eyes!"
After twenty years of false tales, the poor queen could not
believe her ears. She came down into the hall bewildered,
and looked at the stranger as one walking in a dream. Even
when Athena had given him back his youth and kingly looks,
she stood in doubt, so that her own son reproached her and
Odysseus was grieved in spirit.
But when he drew near and called her by her name,
her by all the tokens that she alone knew, her heart woke up
and sang like a brook set free in spring! She knew him then
for her husband Odysseus, come home at last.
Surely that was happiness enough to last them ever after.