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During the sacking of the city of Troy the Greeks, in the hour of victory, committed many acts of desecration and cruelty, which called down upon them the wrath of the {305} gods, for which reason their homeward voyage was beset with manifold dangers and disasters, and many perished before they reached their native land.

Nestor, Diomedes, Philoctetes, and Neoptolemus were among those who arrived safely in Greece after a prosperous voyage. The vessel which carried Menelaus and Helen was driven by violent tempests to the coast of Egypt, and only after many years of weary wanderings and vicissitudes did they succeed in reaching their home at Sparta.

Ajax the Lesser having offended Pallas-Athene by desecrating her temple on the night of the destruction of Troy, was shipwrecked off Cape Caphareus. He succeeded, however, in clinging to a rock, and his life might have been spared but for his impious boast that he needed not the help of the gods. No sooner had he uttered the sacrilegious words than Poseidon, enraged at his audacity, split with his trident the rock to which the hero was clinging, and the unfortunate Ajax was overwhelmed by the waves.

FATE OF AGAMEMNON.--The homeward voyage of Agamemnon was tolerably uneventful and prosperous; but on his arrival at Mycenæ misfortune and ruin awaited him.

His wife Clytemnestra, in revenge for the sacrifice of her beloved daughter Iphigenia, had formed a secret alliance during his absence with Ægisthus, the son of Thyestes, and on the return of Agamemnon they both conspired to compass his destruction. Clytemnestra feigned the greatest joy on beholding her husband, and in spite of the urgent warnings of Cassandra, who was now a captive in his train, he received her protestations of affection with the most trusting confidence. In her well-assumed anxiety for the comfort of the weary traveller, she prepared a warm bath for his refreshment, and at a given signal from the treacherous queen, Ægisthus, who was concealed in an adjoining chamber, rushed upon the defenceless hero and slew him. {306}

During the massacre of the retainers of Agamemnon which followed, his daughter Electra, with great presence of mind, contrived to save her young brother Orestes. He fled for refuge to his uncle Strophius, king of Phocis, who educated him with his own son Pylades, and an ardent friendship sprung up between the youths, which, from its constancy and disinterestedness, has become proverbial.

As Orestes grew up to manhood, his one great all-absorbing desire was to avenge the death of his father. Accompanied by his faithful friend Pylades, he repaired in disguise to Mycenæ, where Ægisthus and Clytemnestra reigned conjointly over the kingdom of Argos. In order to disarm suspicion he had taken the precaution to despatch a messenger to Clytemnestra, purporting to be sent by king Strophius, to announce to her the untimely death of her son Orestes through an accident during a chariot-race at Delphi.

Arrived at Mycenæ, he found his sister Electra so overwhelmed with grief at the news of her brother's death that to her he revealed his identity. When he heard from her lips how cruelly she had been treated by her mother, and how joyfully the news of his demise had been received, his long pent-up passion completely overpowered him, and rushing into the presence of the king and queen, he first pierced Clytemnestra to the heart, and afterwards her guilty partner.

But the crime of murdering his own mother was not long unavenged by the gods. Hardly was the fatal act committed when the Furies appeared and unceasingly pursued the unfortunate Orestes wherever he went. In this wretched plight he sought refuge in the temple of Delphi, where he earnestly besought Apollo to release him from his cruel tormentors. The god commanded him, in expiation of his crime, to repair to Taurica-Chersonnesus and convey the statue of Artemis from thence to the kingdom of Attica, an expedition fraught with extreme peril. We have already seen in a former chapter how Orestes escaped the fate which befell all strangers {307} who landed on the Taurian coast, and how, with the aid of his sister Iphigenia, the priestess of the temple, he succeeded in conveying the statue of the goddess to his native country.

But the Furies did not so easily relinquish their prey, and only by means of the interposition of the just and powerful goddess Pallas-Athene was Orestes finally liberated from their persecution. His peace of mind being at length restored, Orestes assumed the government of the kingdom of Argos, and became united to the beautiful Hermione, daughter of Helen and Menelaus. On his faithful friend Pylades he bestowed the hand of his beloved sister, the good and faithful Electra.

HOMEWARD VOYAGE OF ODYSSEUS.--With his twelve ships laden with enormous treasures, captured during the sacking of Troy, Odysseus set sail with a light heart for his rocky island home of Ithaca. At length the happy hour had arrived which for ten long years the hero had so anxiously awaited, and he little dreamt that ten more must elapse before he would be permitted by the Fates to clasp to his heart his beloved wife and child.

During his homeward voyage his little fleet was driven by stress of weather to a land whose inhabitants subsisted entirely on a curious plant called the lotus, which was sweet as honey to the taste, but had the effect of causing utter oblivion of home and country, and of creating an irresistible longing to remain for ever in the land of the lotus-eaters. Odysseus and his companions were hospitably received by the inhabitants, who regaled them freely with their peculiar and very delicious food; after partaking of which, however, the comrades of the hero refused to leave the country, and it was only by sheer force that he at length succeeded in bringing them back to their ships.

POLYPHEMUS.--Continuing their journey, they next arrived at the country of the Cyclops, a race of giants remarkable for having only one eye, which was placed in the centre of their foreheads. Here Odysseus, whose love of adventure overcame more prudent considerations, {308} left his fleet safely anchored in the bay of a neighbouring island, and with twelve chosen companions set out to explore the country.

Near the shore they found a vast cave, into which they boldly entered. In the interior they saw to their surprise huge piles of cheese and great pails of milk ranged round the walls. After partaking freely of these provisions his companions endeavoured to persuade Odysseus to return to the ship; but the hero being curious to make the acquaintance of the owner of this extraordinary abode, ordered them to remain and await his pleasure.

Towards evening a fierce giant made his appearance, bearing an enormous load of wood upon his shoulders, and driving before him a large flock of sheep. This was Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon, the owner of the cave. After all his sheep had entered, the giant rolled before the entrance to the cave an enormous rock, which the combined strength of a hundred men would have been powerless to move.

Having kindled a fire of great logs of pine-wood he was about to prepare his supper when the flames revealed to him, in a corner of the cavern, its new occupants, who now came forward and informed him that they were shipwrecked mariners, and claimed his hospitality in the name of Zeus. But the fierce monster railed at the great ruler of Olympus--for the lawless Cyclops knew no fear of the gods--and hardly vouchsafed a reply to the demand of the hero. To the consternation of Odysseus the giant seized two of his companions, and, after dashing them to the ground, consumed their remains, washing down the ghastly meal with huge draughts of milk. He then stretched his gigantic limbs on the ground, and soon fell fast asleep beside the fire.

Thinking the opportunity a favourable one to rid himself and his companions of their terrible enemy, Odysseus drew his sword, and, creeping stealthily forward, was about to slay the giant when he suddenly remembered that the aperture of the cave was effectually closed by the immense rock, which rendered egress impossible. He {309} therefore wisely determined to wait until the following day, and set his wits to work in the meantime to devise a scheme by which he and his companions might make their escape.

When, early next morning, the giant awoke, two more unfortunate companions of the hero were seized by him and devoured; after which Polyphemus leisurely drove out his flock, taking care to secure the entrance of the cave as before.

Next evening the giant devoured two more of his victims, and when he had finished his revolting meal Odysseus stepped forward and presented him with a large measure of wine which he had brought with him from his ship in a goat's skin. Delighted with the delicious beverage the giant inquired the name of the donor. Odysseus replied that his name was Noman, whereupon Polyphemus, graciously announced that he would evince his gratitude by eating him the last.

The monster, thoroughly overcome with the powerful old liquor, soon fell into a heavy sleep, and Odysseus lost no time in putting his plans into execution. He had cut during the day a large piece of the giant's own olive-staff, which he now heated in the fire, and, aided by his companions, thrust it into the eye-ball of Polyphemus, and in this manner effectually blinded him.

The giant made the cave resound with his howls of pain and rage. His cries being heard by his brother Cyclops, who lived in caves not far distant from his own, they soon came trooping over the hills from all sides, and assailed the door of the cave with inquiries concerning the cause of his cries and groans. But as his only reply was, "Noman has injured me," they concluded that he had been playing them a trick, and therefore abandoned him to his fate.

The blinded giant now groped vainly round his cave in hopes of laying hands on some of his tormentors; but wearied at length of these fruitless exertions he rolled away the rock which closed the aperture, thinking that his victims would rush out with the sheep, when it would {310} be an easy matter to capture them. But in the meantime Odysseus had not been idle, and the subtlety of the hero was now brought into play, and proved more than a match for the giant's strength. The sheep were very large, and Odysseus, with bands of willow taken from the bed of Polyphemus, had cleverly linked them together three abreast, and under each centre one had secured one of his comrades. After providing for the safety of his companions, Odysseus himself selected the finest ram of the flock, and, by clinging to the wool of the animal, made his escape. As the sheep passed out of the cave the giant felt carefully among them for his victims, but not finding them on the backs of the animals he let them pass, and thus they all escaped.

They now hastened on board their vessel, and Odysseus, thinking himself at a safe distance, shouted out his real name and mockingly defied the giant; whereupon Polyphemus seized a huge rock, and, following the direction of the voice, hurled it towards the ship, which narrowly escaped destruction. He then called upon his father Poseidon to avenge him, entreating him to curse Odysseus with a long and tedious voyage, to destroy all his ships and all his companions, and to make his return as late, as unhappy, and as desolate as possible.

FURTHER ADVENTURES.--After sailing about over unknown seas for some time the hero and his followers cast anchor at the island of Æolus, king of the Winds, who welcomed them cordially, and sumptuously entertained them for a whole month.

When they took their leave he gave Odysseus the skin of an ox, into which he had placed all the contrary winds in order to insure to them a safe and speedy voyage, and then, having cautioned him on no account to open it, caused the gentle Zephyrus to blow so that he might waft them to the shores of Greece.

On the evening of the tenth day after their departure they arrived in sight of the watch-fires of Ithaca. But here, unfortunately, Odysseus, being completely wearied {311} out, fell asleep, and his comrades, thinking Æolus had given him a treasure in the bag which he so sedulously guarded, seized this opportunity of opening it, whereupon all the adverse winds rushed out, and drove them back to the Æolian island. This time, however, Æolus did not welcome them as before, but dismissed them with bitter reproaches and upbraidings for their disregard of his injunctions.

After a six days' voyage they at length sighted land. Observing what appeared to be the smoke from a large town, Odysseus despatched a herald, accompanied by two of his comrades, in order to procure provisions. When they arrived in the city they discovered to their consternation that they had set foot in the land of the Læstrygones, a race of fierce and gigantic cannibals, governed by their king Antiphates. The unfortunate herald was seized and killed by the king; but his two companions, who took to flight, succeeded in reaching their ship in safety, and urgently entreated their chief to put to sea without delay.

But Antiphates and his fellow-giants pursued the fugitives to the sea-shore, where they now appeared in large numbers. They seized huge rocks, which they hurled upon the fleet, sinking eleven of the ships with all hands, on board; the vessel under the immediate command of Odysseus being the only one which escaped destruction. In this ship, with his few remaining followers, Odysseus now set sail, but was driven by adverse winds to an island called Ææa.

CIRCE.--The hero and his companions were in sore need of provisions, but, warned by previous disasters, Odysseus resolved that only a certain number of the ship's crew should be despatched to reconnoitre the country; and on lots being drawn by Odysseus and Eurylochus, it fell to the share of the latter to fill the office of conductor to the little band selected for this purpose.

They soon came to a magnificent marble palace, which was situated in a charming and fertile valley. Here {312} dwelt a beautiful enchantress called Circe, daughter of the sun-god and the sea-nymph Perse. The entrance to her abode was guarded by wolves and lions, who, however, to the great surprise of the strangers, were tame and harmless as lambs. These were, in fact, human beings who, by the wicked arts of the sorceress, had been thus transformed. From within they heard the enchanting voice of the goddess, who was singing a sweet melody as she sat at her work, weaving a web such as immortals alone could produce. She graciously invited them to enter, and all save the prudent and cautious Eurylochus accepted the invitation.

As they trod the wide and spacious halls of tesselated marble objects of wealth and beauty met their view on all sides. The soft and luxuriant couches on which she bade them be seated were studded with silver, and the banquet which she provided for their refreshment was served in vessels of pure gold. But while her unsuspecting guests were abandoning themselves to the pleasures of the table the wicked enchantress was secretly working their ruin; for the wine-cup which was presented to them was drugged with a potent draught, after partaking of which the sorceress touched them with her magic wand, and they were immediately transformed into swine, still, however, retaining their human senses.

When Odysseus heard from Eurylochus of the terrible fate which had befallen his companions he set out, regardless of personal danger, resolved to make an effort to rescue them. On his way to the palace of the sorceress he met a fair youth bearing a wand of gold, who revealed himself to him as Hermes, the divine messenger of the gods. He gently reproached the hero for his temerity in venturing to enter the abode of Circe unprovided with an antidote against her spells, and presented him with a peculiar herb called Moly, assuring him that it would inevitably counteract the baneful arts of the fell enchantress. Hermes warned Odysseus that Circe would offer him a draught of drugged wine with the intention of transforming him as she had done his companions. He bade him drink the wine, the effect of {313} which would be completely nullified by the herb which he had given him, and then rush boldly at the sorceress as though he would take her life, whereupon her power over him would cease, she would recognize her master, and grant him whatever he might desire.

Circe received the hero with all the grace and fascination at her command, and presented him with a draught of wine in a golden goblet. This he readily accepted, trusting to the efficacy of the antidote. Then, in obedience to the injunction of Hermes, he drew his sword from its scabbard and rushed upon the sorceress as though he would slay her.

When Circe found that her fell purpose was for the first time frustrated, and that a mortal had dared to attack her, she knew that it must be the great Odysseus who stood before her, whose visit to her abode had been foretold to her by Hermes. At his solicitation she restored to his companions their human form, promising at the same time that henceforth the hero and his comrades should be free from her enchantments.

But all warnings and past experience were forgotten by Odysseus when Circe commenced to exercise upon him her fascinations and blandishments. At her request his companions took up their abode in the island, and he himself became the guest and slave of the enchantress for a whole year; and it was only at the earnest admonition of his friends that he was at length induced to free himself from her toils.

Circe had become so attached to the gallant hero that it cost her a great effort to part with him, but having vowed not to exercise her magic spells against him she was powerless to detain him further. The goddess now warned him that his future would be beset with many dangers, and commanded him to consult the blind old seer Tiresias,[52] in the realm of Hades, concerning his future destiny. She then loaded his ship with provisions for the voyage, and reluctantly bade him farewell.


THE REALM OF SHADES.--Though somewhat appalled at the prospect of seeking the weird and gloomy realms inhabited by the spirits of the dead, Odysseus nevertheless obeyed the command of the goddess, who gave him full directions with regard to his course, and also certain injunctions which it was important that he should carry out with strict attention to detail.

He accordingly set sail with his companions for the dark and gloomy land of the Cimmerians, which lay at the furthermost end of the world, beyond the great stream Oceanus. Favoured by gentle breezes they soon reached their destination in the far west. On arriving at the spot indicated by Circe, where the turbid waters of the rivers Acheron and Cocytus mingled at the entrance to the lower world, Odysseus landed, unattended by his companions.

Having dug a trench to receive the blood of the sacrifices he now offered a black ram and ewe to the powers of darkness, whereupon crowds of shades rose up from the yawning gulf, clustering round him, eager to quaff the blood of the sacrifice, which would restore to them for a time their mental vigour. But mindful of the injunction of Circe, Odysseus brandished his sword, and suffered none to approach until Tiresias had appeared. The great prophet now came slowly forward leaning on his golden staff, and after drinking of the sacrifice proceeded to impart to Odysseus the hidden secrets of his future fate. Tiresias also warned him of the numerous perils which would assail him, not only during his homeward voyage but also on his return to Ithaca, and then instructed him how to avoid them.

Meanwhile numbers of other shades had quaffed the sense-awakening draught of the sacrifice, among whom Odysseus recognized to his dismay his tenderly-loved mother Anticlea. From her he learned that she had died of grief at her son's protracted absence, and that his aged father Laertes was wearing his life away in vain and anxious longings for his return. He also conversed with the ill-fated Agamemnon, Patroclus, and Achilles. The latter {315} bemoaned his shadowy and unreal existence, and plaintively assured his former companion-in-arms that rather would he be the poorest day-labourer on earth than reign supreme as king over the realm of shades. Ajax alone, who still brooded over his wrongs, held aloof, refusing to converse with Odysseus, and sullenly retired when the hero addressed him.

But at last so many shades came swarming round him that the courage of Odysseus failed him, and he fled in terror back to his ship. Having rejoined his companions they once more put to sea, and proceeded on their homeward voyage.

THE SIRENS.--After some days' sail their course led them past the island of the Sirens.

Now Circe had warned Odysseus on no account to listen to the seductive melodies of these treacherous nymphs; for that all who gave ear to their enticing strains felt an unconquerable desire to leap overboard and join them, when they either perished at their hands, or were engulfed by the waves.

In order that his crew should not hear the song of the Sirens, Odysseus had filled their ears with melted wax; but the hero himself so dearly loved adventure that he could not resist the temptation of braving this new danger. By his own desire, therefore, he was lashed to the mast, and his comrades had strict orders on no account to release him until they were out of sight of the island, no matter how he might implore them to set him free.

As they neared the fatal shore they beheld the Sirens seated side by side on the verdant slopes of their island; and as their sweet and alluring strains fell upon his ear the hero became so powerfully affected by them, that, forgetful of all danger, he entreated his comrades to release him; but the sailors, obedient to their orders, refused to unbind him until the enchanted island had disappeared from view. The danger past, the hero gratefully acknowledged the firmness of his followers, which had been the means of saving his life. {316}

THE ISLAND OF HELIOS.--They now approached the terrible dangers of Scylla and Charybdis, between which Circe had desired them to pass. As Odysseus steered the vessel beneath the great rock, Scylla swooped down and seized six of his crew from the deck, and the cries of her wretched victims long rang in his ears. At length they reached the island of Trinacria (Sicily), whereon the sun-god pastured his flocks and herds, and Odysseus, calling to mind the warning of Tiresias to avoid this sacred island, would fain have steered the vessel past and left the country unexplored. But his crew became mutinous, and insisted on landing. Odysseus was therefore obliged to yield, but before allowing them to set foot on shore he made them take an oath not to touch the sacred herds of Helios, and to be ready to sail again on the following morning.

It happened, unfortunately, however, that stress of weather compelled them to remain a whole month at Trinacria, and the store of wine and food given to them by Circe at parting being completely exhausted, they were obliged to subsist on what fish and birds the island afforded. Frequently there was not sufficient to satisfy their hunger, and one evening when Odysseus, worn out with anxiety and fatigue, had fallen asleep, Eurylochus persuaded the hungry men to break their vows and kill some of the sacred oxen.

Dreadful was the anger of Helios, who caused the hides of the slaughtered animals to creep and the joints on the spits to bellow like living cattle, and threatened that unless Zeus punished the impious crew he would withdraw his light from the heavens and shine only in Hades. Anxious to appease the enraged deity Zeus assured him that his cause should be avenged. When, therefore, after feasting for seven days Odysseus and his companions again set sail, the ruler of Olympus caused a terrible storm to overtake them, during which the ship was struck with lightning and went to pieces. All the crew were drowned except Odysseus, who, clinging to a mast, floated about in the open sea for nine days, when, after once more {317} escaping being sucked in by the whirlpool of Charybdis, he was cast ashore on the island of Ogygia.

CALYPSO.--Ogygia was an island covered with dense forests, where, in the midst of a grove of cypress and poplar, stood the charming grotto-palace of the nymph Calypso, daughter of the Titan Atlas. The entrance to the grotto was entwined with a leafy trellis-work of vine-branches, from which depended clusters of purple and golden grapes; the plashing of fountains gave a delicious sense of coolness to the air, which was filled with the songs of birds, and the ground was carpeted with violets and mosses.

Calypso cordially welcomed the forlorn and shipwrecked hero, and hospitably ministered to his wants. In the course of time she became so greatly attached to him that she offered him immortality and eternal youth if he would consent to remain with her for ever. But the heart of Odysseus turned yearningly towards his beloved wife Penelope and his young son. He therefore refused the boon, and earnestly entreated the gods to permit him to revisit his home. But the curse of Poseidon still followed the unfortunate hero, and for seven long years he was detained on the island by Calypso, sorely against his will.

At length Pallas-Athene interceded with her mighty father on his behalf, and Zeus, yielding to her request, forthwith despatched the fleet-footed Hermes to Calypso, commanding her to permit Odysseus to depart and to provide him with the means of transport.

The goddess, though loath to part with her guest, dared not disobey the commands of the mighty Zeus. She therefore instructed the hero how to construct a raft, for which she herself wove the sails. Odysseus now bade her farewell, and alone and unaided embarked on the frail little craft for his native land.

NAUSICAA.--For seventeen days Odysseus contrived to pilot the raft skilfully through all the perils of the deep, directing his course according to the directions {318} of Calypso, and guided by the stars of heaven. On the eighteenth day he joyfully hailed the distant outline of the Phæacian coast, and began to look forward hopefully to temporary rest and shelter. But Poseidon, still enraged with the hero who had blinded and insulted his son, caused an awful tempest to arise, during which the raft was swamped by the waves, and Odysseus only saved himself by clinging for bare life to a portion of the wreck.

For two days and nights he floated about, drifted hither and thither by the angry billows, till at last, after many a narrow escape of his life, the sea-goddess Leucothea came to his aid, and he was cast ashore on the coast of Scheria, the island of the luxurious Phæaces. Worn out with the hardships and dangers he had passed through he crept into a thicket for security, and, lying down on a bed of dried leaves, soon fell fast asleep.

It chanced that Nausicaa, the beautiful daughter of king Alcinous and his queen Arete, had come down to the shore, accompanied by her maidens, to wash the linen which was destined to form part of her marriage portion. When they had finished their task they bathed and sat down to a repast, after which they amused themselves with singing and playing at ball.

Their joyous shouts at last awoke Odysseus, who, rising from his hiding place, suddenly found himself in the midst of the happy group. Alarmed at his wild aspect the attendants of Nausicaa fled in terror; but the princess, pitying the forlorn condition of the stranger, addressed him with kind and sympathetic words. After hearing from him the account of his shipwreck and the terrible hardships he had undergone, Nausicaa called back her attendants, reproached them for their want of courtesy, and bade them supply the wanderer with food, drink, and suitable raiment. Odysseus then left the maidens to resume their games, whilst he bathed and clothed himself with the garments with which they had furnished him. Athene now appeared to the hero and endowed him with a commanding and magnificent stature, and with more than mortal beauty. When he reappeared, the young {319} princess was struck with admiration, and requested the hero to visit the palace of her father. She then desired her attendants to yoke the mules to the wagons and prepare to return home.

Odysseus was cordially received by the king and queen, who entertained him with magnificent hospitality, and in return for their kindness the hero related to them the history of his long and eventful voyage, and the many extraordinary adventures and miraculous escapes which had befallen him since his departure from the coast of Ilion.

When he at last took leave of his royal entertainers Alcinous loaded him with rich gifts, and ordered him to be conveyed in one of his own ships to Ithaca.

ARRIVAL AT ITHACA.--The voyage was a short and prosperous one. By the direction of king Alcinous rich furs had been laid on deck for the comfort of his guest, on which the hero, leaving the guidance of the ship to the Phæacian sailors, soon fell into a deep sleep. When next morning the vessel arrived in the harbour of Ithaca the sailors, concluding that so unusually profound a slumber must be sent by the gods, conveyed him on shore without disturbing him, where they gently placed him beneath the cool shade of an olive-tree.

When Odysseus awoke he knew not where he was, for his ever-watchful protectress Pallas-Athene had enveloped him in a thick cloud in order to conceal him from view. She now appeared to him in the disguise of a shepherd, and informed him that he was in his native land; that his father Laertes, bent with sorrow and old age, had withdrawn from the court; that his son Telemachus had grown to manhood, and was gone to seek for tidings of his father; and that his wife Penelope was harassed by the importunities of numerous suitors, who had taken possession of his home and devoured his substance. In order to gain time Penelope had promised to marry one of her lovers as soon as she had finished weaving a robe for the aged Laertes; but by secretly undoing at night {320} what she had done in the day she effectually retarded the completion of the work, and thus deferred her final reply. Just as Odysseus had set foot in Ithaca the angry suitors had discovered her stratagem, and had become in consequence more clamorous than ever. When the hero heard that this was indeed his native land, which, after an absence of twenty years, the gods had at length permitted him to behold once more, he threw himself on the ground, and kissed it in an ecstacy of joy.

The goddess, who had meanwhile revealed her identity to Odysseus, now assisted him to conceal in a neighbouring cave the valuable gifts of the Phæacian king. Then seating herself beside him she consulted with him as to the best means of ridding his palace of its shameless occupants.

In order to prevent his being recognized she caused him to assume the form of an aged mendicant. His limbs became decrepid, his brown locks vanished, his eyes grew dim and bleared, and the regal robes given to him by king Alcinous were replaced by a tattered garb of dingy hue, which hung loosely round his shrunken form. Athene then desired him to seek shelter in the hut of Eumæus his own swine-herd.

Eumæus received the old beggar hospitably, kindly ministered to his wants, and even confided to him his distress at the long continued absence of his beloved old master, and his regrets at being compelled by the unruly invaders of his house, to slaughter for their use all the finest and fattest of the herd.

It chanced that the following morning Telemachus returned from his long and fruitless search for his father, and going first to the hut of Eumæus, heard from him the story of the seeming beggar whom he promised to befriend. Athene now urged Odysseus to make himself known to his son; and at her touch his beggar's rags disappeared, and he stood before Telemachus arrayed in royal robes and in the full strength and vigour of manhood. So imposing was the appearance of the hero that at first the young prince thought he must be a god; but when {321} he was convinced that it was indeed his beloved father, whose prolonged absence had caused him so much grief, he fell upon his neck and embraced him with every expression of dutiful affection.

Odysseus charged Telemachus to keep his return a secret, and concerted with him a plan whereby they might rid themselves of the detested suitors. In order to carry it into effect Telemachus was to induce his mother to promise her hand to the one who could conquer in shooting with the famous bow of Odysseus, which the hero had left behind when he went to Troy, deeming it too precious a treasure to be taken with him. Odysseus now resumed his beggar's dress and appearance and accompanied his son to the palace, before the door of which lay his faithful dog Argo, who, though worn and feeble with age and neglect, instantly recognized his master. In his delight the poor animal made a last effort to welcome him; but his strength was exhausted, and he expired at his feet.

When Odysseus entered his ancestral halls he was mocked and reviled by the riotous suitors, and Antinous, the most shameless of them all, ridiculed his abject appearance, and insolently bade him depart; but Penelope hearing of their cruel conduct, was touched with compassion, and desired her maidens to bring the poor mendicant into her presence. She spoke kindly to him, inquiring who he was and whence he came. He told her that he was the brother of the king of Crete, in whose palace he had seen Odysseus, who was about starting for Ithaca, and had declared his intention of arriving there before the year was out. The queen, overjoyed at the happy tidings, ordered her maidens to prepare a bed for the stranger, and to treat him as an honoured guest. She then desired the old nurse Euryclea to provide him with suitable raiment and to attend to all his wants.

As the old servant was bathing his feet her eyes fell upon a scar which Odysseus had received in his youth from the tusks of a wild boar; and instantly recognizing the beloved master whom she had nursed as a babe, she {322} would have cried aloud in her joy, but the hero placing his hand upon her mouth, implored her not to betray him.

The next day was a festival of Apollo, and the suitors in honour of the occasion feasted with more than their accustomed revelry. After the banquet was over Penelope, taking down the great bow of Odysseus from its place, entered the hall and declared that whosoever of her lovers could bend it and send an arrow through twelve rings (a feat which she had often seen Odysseus perform) should be chosen by her as her husband.

All the suitors tried their skill, but in vain; not one possessed the strength required to draw the bow. Odysseus now stepped forward and asked permission to be allowed to try, but the haughty nobles mocked at his audacity, and would not have permitted it had not Telemachus interfered. The pretended beggar took up the bow, and with the greatest ease sent an arrow whizzing through the rings; then turning to Antinous, who was just raising a goblet of wine to his lips, he pierced him to the heart. At this the suitors sprang to their feet and looked round for their arms; but in obedience to the instructions of Odysseus Telemachus had previously removed them. He and his father now attacked the riotous revellers, and after a desperate encounter not one of the whole crew remained alive.

The joyful intelligence of the return of Odysseus being conveyed to Penelope she descended to the hall, but refused to recognize, in the aged beggar, her gallant husband; whereupon he retired to the bath, from which he emerged in all the vigour and beauty with which Athene had endowed him at the court of Alcinous. But Penelope, still incredulous, determined to put him to a sure test. She therefore commanded in his hearing that his own bed should be brought from his chamber. Now the foot of this bed had been fashioned by Odysseus himself out of the stem of an olive-tree which was still rooted in the ground, and round it he had built the walls of the chamber. Knowing therefore that the bed could not be moved, he exclaimed that the errand was useless, for that no {323} mortal could stir it from its place. Then Penelope knew that it must be Odysseus himself who stood before her, and a most touching and affectionate meeting took place between the long-separated husband and wife.

The following day the hero set out to seek his old father Laertes, whom he found on one of his estates in the country engaged in digging up a young olive-tree. The poor old man, who was dressed in the humble garb of a labourer, bore the traces of deep grief on his furrowed countenance, and so shocked was his son at the change in his appearance that for a moment he turned aside to conceal his tears.

When Odysseus revealed himself to his father as the son whom he had so long mourned as lost, the joy of the poor old man was almost greater than he could bear. With loving care Odysseus led him into the house, where at length, for the first time since the departure of his son, Laertes once more resumed his regal robes, and piously thanked the gods for this great and unlooked-for happiness.

But not yet was the hero permitted to enjoy his well-earned repose, for the friends and relatives of the suitors now rose in rebellion against him and pursued him to the abode of his father. The struggle, however, was but a short one. After a brief contest negotiations of a peaceful nature were entered into between Odysseus and his subjects. Recognizing the justice of his cause, they became reconciled to their chief, who for many years continued to reign over them.

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