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Telemachus, Minerva, and Penelope

A story in slightly Ozzy language

From Samuel Butler's translation of THE ODYSSSEY,
which I have slightly condensed and edited, and made less sexist.

 

[ Young Telemachus was sad. His father Ulysses was missing and some rough men had moved into their house and were bullying him and his mother. Finally the gods decided to help the family, and Minerva set out to visit their house. ]

Minerva bound on her glittering golden sandals, imperishable, with which she can fly like the wind over land or sea; she grasped the redoubtable bronze-shod spear, so stout and sturdy and strong, wherewith she quells the ranks of heroes who have displeased her, and down she darted from the topmost summits of Olympus. Soon she was at the gateway of Ulysses' house, disguised as a nobleman, holding a bronze spear in her hand.

There she found the lordly suitors seated on hides of the oxen which they had killed and eaten, and playing draughts in front of the house. Men-servants and pages were bustling about to wait upon them, some mixing wine with water in the mixing-bowls, some cleaning down the tables with wet sponges and laying them out again, and some cutting up great quantities of meat.

  Telemachus saw her long before any one else did.

He was sitting moodily among the suitors thinking about his brave father, and how he would send them flying out of the house, if he were to come to his own again and be honoured as in days gone by.

When he caught sight of Minerva, he hurried straight to the gate, for he was vexed that a stranger should be kept waiting for admittance. He took her right hand in his own, and bade her give him her spear.

 "Welcome," said he, "to our house, and when you have partaken of food you shall tell us what you have come for."

  He led the way as he spoke, and Minerva followed him.

When they were within he took her spear and set it in the spear- stand against a strong bearing-post along with the many other spears of his unhappy father, and he conducted her to a richly decorated seat under which he threw a cloth of damask. There was a footstool also for her feet, and he set another seat near her for himself, away from the suitors, that she might not be annoyed while eating by their noise and insolence, and that he might ask her more freely about his father.

  A maid servant then brought them water in a beautiful golden ewer and poured it into a silver basin for them to wash their hands, and she drew a clean table beside them. An upper servant brought them bread, and offered them many good things of what there was in the house, the carver fetched them plates of all manner of meats and set cups of gold by their side, and a man-servant brought them wine and poured it out for them.

  Then the suitors came in and took their places on the benches and seats. Forthwith men servants poured water over their hands, maids went round with the bread-baskets, pages filled the mixing-bowls with wine and water, and they laid their hands upon the good things that were before them. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink they wanted music and dancing, which are the crowning embellishments of a banquet, so a servant brought a lyre to Phemius, whom they compelled perforce to sing to them.

As soon as the musician touched his lyre and began to sing, Telemachus spoke low to Minerva, with his head close to hers that no man might hear:

  "If these men were to see my father come back to Ithaca they would pray for longer legs rather than a longer purse, for money would not serve them; but he, alas, has fallen on an ill fate, and even when people do sometimes say that he is coming, we no longer heed them; we shall never see him again."

Minerva answered, "I assure you that he will not be away much longer; for he is a man of such resource that even though he were in chains of iron he would find some means of getting home again. But tell me, and tell me true, can Ulysses really have such a fine looking fellow for a son?"

  "My mother," answered Telemachus, tells me I am son to Ulysses, but it is a wise child that knows his own father. Would that I were son to one who had grown old upon his own estates, for, since you ask me, there is no more ill-starred man under heaven than he who they tell me is my father."

  Minerva said, "There is no fear of your race dying out yet, while Penelope has such a fine son as you are. But tell me, and tell me true, what is the meaning of all this feasting, and who are these people? What is it all about? Have you some banquet, or is there a wedding in the family- for no one seems to be bringing any provisions of his own? And the guests- how atrociously they are behaving; what riot they make over the whole house; it is enough to disgust any respectable person who comes near them."

  "Sir," said Telemachus, "so long as my father was here it was well with us and with the house. But now these rough men are eating up my house under the pretext of paying their court to my mother, who will neither point blank say that she will not marry, nor yet bring matters to an end; so they are making havoc of my estate, and before long will do so also with myself."

  "Is that so?" exclaimed Minerva, "then you do indeed want Ulysses home again. Give him his helmet, shield, and a couple lances, and if he is the man he was when I first knew him in our house, drinking and making merry, he would soon lay his hands about these rascally suitors, were he to stand once more upon his own threshold. If Ulysses is the man he then was these suitors will have a short shrift and a sorry wedding.

  "I would, however, urge you to set about trying to get rid of these suitors at once. Take my advice, call the Achaean heroes in assembly to-morrow -lay your case before them, and call heaven to bear you witness. Bid the suitors take themselves off, each to his own place, and if your mother's mind is set on marrying again, let her go back to her father, who will find her a husband and provide her with all the marriage gifts that so dear a daughter may expect. As for yourself, let me prevail upon you to take the best ship you can get, with a crew of twenty men, and go in quest of your father who has so long been missing. Some one may tell you something, or (and people often hear things in this way) some heaven-sent message may direct you.”

Telemachus felt a wild hope, but said, “I would not know where to start.”

“First go to Pylos and ask Nestor; thence go on to Sparta and visit Menelaus, for he got home last of all the Achaeans.”  With these words Minerva flew away like a bird into the air.

But she had given Telemachus courage, and had made him think more than ever about his father. He felt the change, wondered at it, and knew that the stranger had been a god!

So he went straight toward where the suitors were sitting.

  The singer was still singing, and his hearers sat rapt in silence as he told the sad tale of the return from Troy.

Penelope, Telemachus’s mother, heard the song from her room upstairs, and came down by the great staircase, not alone, but attended by two of her handmaids. When she reached the suitors she stood by one of the bearing posts that supported the roof of the cloisters with a staid maiden on either side of her. She held a veil, moreover, before her face, and was weeping bitterly.

  "O singer," she cried, "you know many another feat of gods and heroes, such as poets love to celebrate. Sing the suitors some one of these, and let them drink their wine in silence, but cease this sad tale, for it breaks my sorrowful heart, and reminds me of my lost husband whom I mourn ever without ceasing, and whose name was great over all Hellas and middle Argos."

The singer looked up but did not change his song. The rough men sniggered.

Telemachus ran up the stair and stood by his mother. “Stop that song!” he shouted, in such a voice that all fell silent. “My mother is the mistress of this house. You must do as she says, or leave!

The singer changed his song. Penelope stared at Telemachus for a long moment, then smiled in pride. “Good for you!” she said – and hurried back to her rooms.

  Then Telemachus spoke, "Shameless," he cried, "and insolent suitors, let us feast at our pleasure now, and let there be no brawling, for it is a rare thing to hear a man with such a divine voice as Phemius has; but in the morning meet me in full assembly that I may give you formal notice to depart, and feast at one another's houses, turn and turn about, at your own cost. If on the other hand you choose to persist in spunging upon one man, heaven help me, but Jove shall reckon with you in full, and when you fall in my father's house there shall be no man to avenge you."

  The suitors bit their lips as they heard him, and marvelled at the boldness of his speech. One of them said, "The gods seem to have given you lessons in bluster and tall talking; may Jove never grant you to be chief in Ithaca as your father was before you."

  Telemachus answered, "Gods willing, I will be chief too if I can. Is this the worst fate you can think of for me? It is no bad thing to be a chief, for it brings both riches and honour. Still, now that Ulysses is dead there are many great men in Ithaca both old and young, and some other may take the lead among them; nevertheless I will be chief in my mother’s house, and will rule those whom Ulysses has won for me."

  Then an old man said, "It rests with heaven to decide who shall be chief among us, but you shall be master in your own house and over your own possessions; no one while there is a man in Ithaca shall do you violence nor rob you.”

*********

  The suitors then returned to their singing and dancing until the evening; but when night fell upon their pleasuring they went home to bed each in his own abode.

Telemachus's room was high up in a tower adjoining the outer court. He climbed the stairs slowly, brooding and full of thought. A good old servant woman, Euryclea, went before him with a couple of blazing torches – an old woman who loved him, for she had nursed him when he was a baby.

Telemachus opened the door of his bed room and sat down upon the bed. Taking off his shirt, he gave it to the good old woman, who folded it tidily up, and hung it for him over a peg by his bed side. Then she went out, pulled the door to by a silver catch, and drew the bolt home by means of the strap, so that no one might disturb him.

But Telemachus lay awake all night under his woolen fleece blanket, thinking of his intended voyage amd of the counsel that Minerva had given him.

TO BE CONTINUED

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