SAID Menelaus, Over against the river that flows out of Egypt there is an Island that men call Pharos, and to that island I came with my ships when we, the heroes who had fought at Troy, were separated one from the other. There I was held, day after day, by the will of the gods. Our provision of corn was spent and my men were in danger of perishing of hunger. Then one day while my companions were striving desperately to get fish out of the sea, I met on the shore one who had pity for our plight.
She was an immortal, Eidothëe, a daughter of the Ancient One of the Sea. I craved of her to tell me how we might get away from that place, and she counselled me to take by an ambush her father, the Ancient One of the Sea, who is also called Proteus. "You can make him tell you," said she, "for he knows all things, what you must do to get away from this island of Pharos.
Then said I to that kind nymph Eidothëe, "Show me how I may take by an ambush your immortal father, the Ancient One of the Sea."
Said Eidothëe, "My father, Proteus, comes out of the sea when the sun is highest in the heavens. Then would he lie down to sleep in the caves that are alone the shore. But before he goes to sleep he counts, as a shepherd counts his flock, the seals that come up out of the ocean and lie round where he lies. If there be one too many, or one less than there should be, he will not go to sleep in the cave. But I will show you how you and certain of your companions may be near without the Ancient One of the Sea being aware of your presence. Take three of your men--the three you trust above all the others--and as soon as it is dawn to-morrow meet me by the edge of the sea."
So saying the nymph Eidothëe plunged into the sea and I went from that place anxious, but with hope in my heart.
Now as soon as the dawn had come I walked by the seashore and with me came the three that I trusted above all my companions. The daughter of the Ancient One of the Sea, Eidothëe, came to us. In her arms she had the skins of seals newly-slain, one for each of us. And at the cave where the seals lay she scooped holes in the sand and bade us lie there, covering ourselves with the skins. Then she spoke to me and said:
"When my father, the Ancient One of the Sea, comes here to sleep, lay hands upon him and hold him with all the strength you have. He will change himself into many shapes, but do not you let go your hold upon him. When he changes back into the shape he had at first you may let go your holds. Question him then as to how you may leave this place, or question him as to any other matter that may be on your mind, and he will answer you, speaking the truth."
We lay down in the holes she had scooped in the sand and she covered each of us with one of the skins she had brought. Then the seals came out of the sea and lay all around us. The smell that came from those beasts of the sea afflicted us, and it was then that our adventure became terrible. We could not have endured it if Eidothëe had not helped us in this also. She took ambrosia and set it beneath each mans nostril, so that what came to us was not the smell of the sea-beasts but a divine savour. Then the nymph went back to the sea.
We lay there with steadfast hearts amongst the herd of seals until the sun was at its highest in the heavens. The Ancient One of the Sea came out of the ocean depths. He went amongst the seals and counted them, and us four men he reckoned amongst his herd. Then in great contentment he laid himself down to sleep.
We rushed upon him with a cry and laid hold on him with all the strength of our hands. But we had no sooner grasped him than his shape changed. He became a lion and faced us. Yet we did not let go of our grasp. He became a serpent, yet we still held him. He became a leopard and then a mighty board; he became a stream of water and then a flowering tree. Yet still we held to him with all our might and our hearts were not daunted by the shapes he changed to before our eyes. Then, seeing that he could not make us loose our hold, the Ancient One of the Sea, who was called Proteus, ceased in his changes and became as we had seen him first.
"Son of Atreus," said he, speaking to me, "who was it showed you how to lay this ambush for me?"
"It is for you who know all things," said I, "to make answer to us. Tell me now why it is that I am held on this island? Which of the gods holds me here and for what reason?"
Then the Ancient One of the Sea answered me, speaking truth, "Zeus, the greatest of all the gods holds you here. You neglected to make sacrifice to the gods and for that reason you are held on this island."
"Then," said I, "what must I do to win back the favor of the gods?"
He told me, speaking truth, "Before setting sail for you own land," he said, "you must return to the river Ægyptus that flows out of Africa, and offer sacrifice there to the gods."
When he said this my spirit was broken with grief. A long and a grievous way would I have to sail to make that sacrifice, turning back from my own land. Yet the will of the gods would have to be done. Again I was moved to question the Ancient One of the Sea, and to ask him for tidings of the men who were my companions in the wars of Troy.
Ah, son of Odysseus, more broken than ever was my spirit with grief when he told me of their fates. Then I heard how my brother, great Agamemnon, reached his own land and was glad in his heart. But his wife had hatred for him, and in his own hall she and Ægisthus had him slain. I sat and wept on the sands, but still I questioned the Ancient One of the Sea. And he told me of strong Aias and how he was killed by the falling rock after he had boasted that Poseidon, the god of the Sea, could afflict him no more. And of your father, the renowned Odysseus, the Ancient One had a tale to tell.
Then, and even now it may be, Odysseus was on an island away from all mankind. "There he abides in the hall of the nymph Calypso," the Ancient One of the Sea told me. "I saw him shed great tears because he could not go from that place. But he has no ship and no companions and the nymph Calypso holds him there. And always he longs to return to his own country, to the land of Ithaka." And after he had spoken to me of Odysseus, he went from us and plunged into the sea.
Thereafter I went back to the river Ægyptus and moored my ships and made pious sacrifice to the gods. A fair wind came to us and we set out for our own country. Swiftly we came to it, and now you see me the happiest of all those who set out to wage war against Troy. And now, dear son of Odysseus, you know what an immortal told of your father--how he is still in life, but how he is held from returning to his own home.
Thus from Menelaus the youth Telemachus got tiding of his father. When the King ceased to speak they went from the hall with torches in their hands and came to the vestibule where Helens handmaids had prepared beds for Telemachus and Peisistratus. And as he lay there under purple blankets and soft coverlets, the son of Odysseus thought upon his father, still in life, but held in that unknown island by the nymph Calypso.