AS soon as it was dawn Telemachus rose from his bed. He put on his raiment, bound his sandals on his feet, hung his sharp sword across his shoulder, and took in his hand a spear of bronze. Then he went forth to where the Council was being held in the open air, and two swift hounds went beside him.
The chief men of the land of Ithaka had been gathered already for the council. When it was plain that all were there, the man who was oldest amongst them, the lord Ægyptus, rose up and spoke. He had sons, and two of them were with him yet, tending his fields. But one, Eurynomous by name, kept company with the wooers of Telemachus mother. And Ægyptus had had another son; he had gone in Odysseus ship to the war of Troy, and Ægyptus knew he had perished on his way back. He constantly mourned for this son, and thinking upon him as he spoke, Ægyptus had tears in his eyes.
Telemachus was glad because of the kindly speech of the old man. He rose up to speak and the herald put a staff into his hands as a sign that he was to be listened to with reverence. Telemachus them spoke, addressing the old lord Ægyptus.
I will tell you who it is, he said, who has called the men of Ithaka together in council, and for what purpose. Revered lord Ægyptus, I have called you together, but not because I have had tidings of the return of my father, the renowned Odysseus, nor because I would speak to you about some affair of our country. No. I would speak to you all because I suffer and because I am at a loss--I, whose father was King over you, praised by you all. Odysseus is long away from Ithaka, and I deem that he will never return. You have lost your King. But you can put another King to rule over you. I have lost my father, and I can have no other father in all my days. And that is not all my loss, as I will show you now, men of Ithaka.
For three years now my mother has been beset by men who come to woo her to be wife for one of them. Day after day they come to our house and kill and devour our beasts and waste the wine that was laid up against my fathers return. They waste our goods and our wealth. If I were nearer manhood I would defend my house against them. But as yet I am not able to do it, and so I have to stand by and see our house and substance being destroyed.
So Telemachus spoke, and when his speech was ended Antinous, who was one of the wooers, rose up.
Telemachus, said he, why do you try to put us to shame in this way? I tell all here that it is not we but your mother who is to blame. We, knowing her husband Odysseus is no longer in life, have asked her to become the wife of one of us. She gives us no honest answer. Instead she has given her mind to a device to keep us still waiting.
I will tell you of the council what this device is. The lady Penelope set up a great loom in her house and began to weave a wide web of cloth. To each of us she sent a message saying that when the web she was working at was woven, she would choose a husband from amongst us. "Laertes, the father of Odysseus, is alone with none to care for him living or dead," said she to us. "I must weave a shroud for him against the time which cannot now be far off when old Laertes dies. Trouble me not while I do this. For if he should die and there be no winding-sheet to wrap him round all the women of the land would blame me greatly."
We were not oppressive and we left the lady Penelope to weave the web, and the months have gone by and still the web is not woven. But even now we have heard from one of her maids how Penelope tries to finish her task. What she weaves in the daytime she unravels at night. Never, then, can the web be finished and so does she try to cheat us.
She has gained praise from the people for doing this. "How wise is Penelope," they say, "with her devices." Let her be satisfied with their praise then, and leave us alone. We too have our devices. We will live at her house and eat and drink there and give orders to her servants and we shall see which will satisfy her best--to give an answer or to let the wealth of her house be wasted.
As for you, Telemachus, I have these words to say to you. Lead your mother from your fathers house and to the house of her father, Icarius. Tell Icarius to give her in marriage to the one she chooses from amongst us. Do this and no more goods will be wasted in the house that will be yours.
Then Telemachus rose and said, Never will I lead my mother out of a house that my father brought her into. Quit my fathers house, or, as I tell you now, the day may come when a doom will fall upon you there for your insolence in it.
And even as Telemachus spoke, two eagles from a mountain crest flew over the place where the council was being held. They wheeled above and flapped their wings and looked down upon the crowd with destruction in their gaze. They tore each other with their talons, and then flew away across the City.
An old man who was there, Halitherses by name, a man skilled in the signs made by birds, told those who were around what was foreshown by the combat of the eagles in the air. Odysseus, he said, is not far from his friends. He will return, and his return will mean affliction for those who insult his house. Now let them make an end of their mischief. But the wooers only laughed at the old man, telling him he should go home and prophesy to his children.
Then arose another old man whose name was Mentor, and he was one who had been a friend and companion of Odysseus. He spoke to the council saying:
Never again need a King be gentle in his heart. For kind and gentle to you all was your King, Odysseus. And now his son asks you for help and you do not hurry to give it him. It is not so much an affliction to me that these wooers waste his goods as that you do not rise up to forbid it. But let them persist in doing it on the hazard of their own heads. For a doom will come on them, I say. And I say again to you of the council: you are many and the wooers are few: Why then do you not put them away from the house of Odysseus?
But no one in the council took the side of Telemachus and Halitherses and Mentor--so powerful were the wooers and so fearful of them were the men of the council. The wooers looked at Telemachus and his friends with mockery. Then for the last time Telemachus rose up and spoke to the council.
I have spoken in the council, and the men of Ithaka know, and the gods know, the rights and wrongs of my case. All I ask of you now is that you give me a swift ship with twenty youths to be my crew so that I may go to Pylos and to Sparta to seek tidings of my father. If I find he is alive and that he is returning, then I can endure to wait another year in the house and submit to what you do there.
Even at this speech they mocked. Said one of them, Leocritus by name, Though Odysseus be alive and should one day come into his own hall, that would not affright us. He is one, and we are many, and if he should strive with those who outnumber him, why then, let his doom be on his own head. And now, men of the council, scatter yourselves and go each to his own home, and let Mentor and Halitherses help Telemachus to get a ship and a crew.
Leocritus said that knowing that Mentor and Halitherses were old and had few friends, and that they could do nothing to help Telemachus to get a ship. The council broke up and those who were in it scattered. But the wooers went together back to the house of Odysseus.