Sacred Texts  Classics  Homer  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Authoress of the Odyssey, by Samuel Butler, [1922], at

Book XIX


Ulysses and Telemachus were left alone in the cloister, and Ulysses said, "We must take the armour down from the walls; if the suitors are surprised, say what I told you when we were in Eumæus's hut."

15 Telemachus called Euryclea, and bade her shut the women up in their room, for he was going to take the armour down into the store room. "Who," asked Euryclea, "will show you

p. 79

a light if the women are all shut up?" "The stranger," answered Telemachus; "I will not have people doing nothing about my premises."

He and Ulysses then began removing the armour, and 31 Minerva went before them, shedding a strange lambent light that played on walls and rafters. Telemachus was lost in wonder, but Ulysses said, "Hush, this is the manner of the gods. Get you to bed, and leave me to talk with your mother and the maids." So Telemachus crossed the court and went to the room in which he always slept, leaving Ulysses in the cloister.

Penelope now came down, and they set a seat for her by 53 the fire; the maids also were let out, and came to take away the meats on which the suitors had been feasting, and to heap fresh wood upon the braziers after they had emptied the ashes on to the ground. * Melantho again began scolding at Ulysses for stopping in the house to spy on the women. Penelope heard her and said, "Bold hussy, I hear you, and you shall smart for it; I have already told you that I wish to see the stranger and enquire from him about my husband. Eurynome, bring a seat for him, and spread a fleece on it."

Eurynome did as she was told, and when Ulysses had sat 100 down Penelope wanted to know who he was. Ulysses implored her not to ask this, for it would make him weep, and she or the servants might then think he had been drinking.

"Stranger," answered Penelope, "heaven robbed me of all 123 my beauty when the Argives set out for Troy and Ulysses with them." She then told about the suitors, and her web, and said that she was now at the very end of her resources. Her parents were urging her to marry again, and so also was her son, who chafed under the heavy burden of expense which her long courtship had caused him. "In spite of all this, however," she continued, "I want to know who you are; for you cannot be the son of a rock or of an oak."

Thus pressed, Ulysses said that his name was Æthon and 164

p. 80

that he came from Crete, where he had entertained Ulysses and his men for many days when they were on their way to Troy. Penelope wept bitterly as she listened, and it was all Ulysses could do to restrain his own tears—but he succeeded. "I will now prove you," said she; "tell me how my husband was dressed. Tell me also what manner of man he was, and about the men who were with him."

220 "I will tell you," replied Ulysses, "as nearly as I can remember after so long a time. He wore a mantle of purple wool, double lined, and it was fastened by a gold brooch with two catches for the pin. On the face of this there was a device that shewed a dog holding a spotted fawn between its fore paws, and watching it as it lay panting on the ground. Every one marvelled at the way in which these things had been done in gold—the dog looking at the fawn and strangling 231 it, while the fawn was struggling convulsively to escape. As for his shirt, it fitted him like the skin of an onion, and glistened in the sunlight to the admiration of all the women who beheld it. He had a servant with him, a little older than 246 himself, whose shoulders were hunched; he was dark, and had thick curly hair. His name was Eurybates."

249 Penelope was deeply moved. "You shall want for nothing," she said, "It was I who gave him the clothes and the brooch you speak of, but I shall never see him again."

261 "Be not too dejected, Madam," answered Ulysses; "when I was with the Thesprotians I heard for certain that he was alive and well. Indeed he would have been here ere now, had he not deemed it better to amass great wealth before returning. Before this month is out I swear most solemnly that he will be here."

308 "If you say truly," replied Penelope, "you shall indeed be rewarded richly, but he will not come. Still, you women, take the stranger and wash him; make him a comfortable bed, and in the morning wash him again and anoint him, that he may sit at the same table with Telemachus; if any of the suitors 322 molest him, he shall rue it, for fume as he may, he shall have no more to do in this house. How indeed, Sir, can you know how much I surpass all other women in goodness and discretion unless I see that you are well clothed and fed?"

p. 81

"Make me no bed, Madam," said Ulysses, "I will lie on the 336 bare ground as I am wont to do. Nor do I like having my feet washed. I will not allow any of your serving women to touch my feet; but if you have any respectable old woman who has gone through as much as I have, I will let her wash them."

"Stranger," answered Penelope, "your sense of propriety 349 exceeds that of any foreigner who has ever come here. I have exactly the kind of person you describe; she was Ulysses’ nurse from the day of his birth, and is now very old and feeble, but she shall wash your feet. Euryclea, come and wash the stranger's feet. He is about the same age as your master would be."

Euryclea spoke compassionately to Ulysses, and ended by 361 saying that he was very like her master. To which Ulysses replied that many other people had observed the likeness.

Then the old woman got a large foot bath and put some 386 cold water into it, adding hot water until it was the right heat. As soon, however, as she got Ulysses’ leg in her hands, she recognised a scar on it as one which her master had got from being ripped by a boar when he was hunting on Mt. Parnassus with his mother's father Autolycus, whom 394 Mercury had endowed with the gift of being the most accomplished thief and perjurer in the whole world, for he was very fond of him. She immediately dropped the leg, which 468 made a loud noise against the side of the bath and upset all the water. Her eyes filled with tears, and she caught Ulysses by the beard and told him that she knew him.

She looked towards Penelope to tell her; but Minerva 476 had directed Penelope's attention elsewhere, so that she had observed nothing of what had been going on. Ulysses gripped Euryclea's throat, and swore he would kill her, nurse to him though she had been, unless she kept his return secret—which she promised to do. She also said that if heaven delivered the suitors into his hands, she would give him a list of all the women in the house who had misconducted themselves.

"You have no need," said Ulysses, "I shall find that out 499 for myself. See that you keep my counsel and leave the rest to heaven."

p. 82

503 Euryclea now went to fetch some more water, for the first had been all spilt. When she had brought it, and had washed Ulysses, he turned his seat round to the fire to dry himself, and drew his rags over the scar that Penelope might not see it.

508 Then Penelope detailed her sorrows to Ulysses. Others, she said, could sleep, but she could not do so, neither night nor day. She could not rest for thinking what her duty might be. Ought she to stay where she was and stand guard over her son's estate, or ought she to marry one of the suitors and 530 go elsewhere? Her son, while he was a boy, would not hear of her doing this, but now that he was grown up and realised the havoc that the suitors were making of his property, he was continually urging her to go. Besides, she had had a strange 538 dream about an eagle that had come from a mountain and swooped down on her favourite geese as they were eating mash out of a tub, * and had killed them all. Then the eagle came back and told her he was Ulysses, while the geese were the suitors; but when she woke the geese were still feeding at the mash tub. Now, what did all this mean?

554 Ulysses said it could only mean the immediate return of her husband, and his revenge upon the suitors.

559 But Penelope would not believe him. "Dreams," she said, "are very curious things. They come through two gates, one of horn, and the other of ivory. Those that come through the gate of ivory have no significance. It is the others that alone are true, and my dream came through the gate of ivory. Tomorrow, therefore, I shall set Ulysses’ bow before the suitors, and I will leave this house with him who can draw it most easily and send an arrow through the twelve holes whereby twelve axeheads are fitted into their handles."

582 "You need not defer this competition," said Ulysses, "for your husband will be here before any one of them can draw the bow and shoot through the axes."

588 "Stranger," replied Penelope, "I could stay talking with you the whole night through, but there is a time for everything,

p. 83

and I will now go to lie down upon that couch which I have never ceased to water with my tears from the day my husband set out for the city with an ill-omened name. You can sleep within the house, either on the ground or on a bedstead, whichever you may prefer."

Then she went upstairs and mourned her dear husband till 600 Minerva shed sweet sleep over her eyes.


79:* There is no indication as though they went out to do this; they seem to have emptied the ashes on to the open part of the court.

82:* I have repeatedly seen geese so feeding at Trapani and in the neighbourhood. In summer the grass is all burned up so that they cannot graze as in England.

Next: Book XX. Theoclymenus Foretells the Suitors' Doom