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

Book IV


When the two young men reached Lacedæmon they drove straight to Menelaus's house [and found him celebrating

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the double marriage of his daughter Hermione and his son Megapenthes.] *

Menelaus (after a little demur on the part of his major 22 domo Eteoneus, for which he was severely reprimanded by his master) entertained his guests very hospitably, and overhearing Telemachus call his friend's attention to the splendour of the house, he explained to them how much toil and sorrow he had endured, especially through the murder of his brother Agamemnon, the plundering of his house by Paris when he carried off Helen, and the death of so many of his brave comrades at Troy. "There is one man, however," he added, "of whom I cannot even think without loathing both food and sleep. I mean Ulysses."

When Telemachus heard his father thus mentioned he could 112 not restrain his tears, and while Menelaus was in doubt what to say or not say, Helen came down (dinner being now half through) with her three attendant maidens, Adraste, Alcippe, and Phylo, who set a seat for her and brought her her famous work box which ran on wheels, that she might begin to spin.

"And who pray," said she to her husband, "may these two 138 gentlemen be who are honouring us with their presence? Shall I guess right or wrong, but I really must say what I think. I never saw such a likeness—neither in man nor woman. This young man can only be Telemachus, whom Ulysses left behind him a baby in arms when he set out for Troy."

"I too," answered Menelaus, "have observed the likeness. 147 It is unmistakeable."

On this Pisistratus explained that they were quite right, 155 whereon Menelaus told him all he had meant doing for Ulysses, and this was so affecting that all the four who were at table burst into tears. After a little while Pisistratus complimented Menelaus on his great sagacity (of which indeed his father Nestor had often told him), and said that he did not like weeping when he was getting his dinner; he therefore

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proposed that the remainder of their lamentation should be deferred until next morning. Menelaus assented to this, and 220 dinner was allowed to proceed. Helen mixed some Nepenthe with the wine, and cheerfulness was thus restored.

235 Helen then told how she had met Ulysses when he entered Troy as a spy, and explained that by that time she was already anxious to return home, and was lamenting the cruel calamity 261 which Venus had inflicted on her in separating her from her little girl and from her husband, who was really not deficient either in person or understanding.

265 Menelaus capped her story with an account of the adventures of the Achæans inside the wooden horse. "Do you not remember," said he, "how you walked all round it when we were inside, and patted it? You had Deiphobus with you, and 279 you kept on calling out our names and mimicking our wives, till Minerva came and took you away. It was Ulysses’ presence of mind that then saved us."

290 When he had told this, Telemachus said it was time to go to rest, so he and Pisistratus were shown to their room in the vestibule, while Menelaus and Helen retired to the interior of the house. *

306 When morning came Telemachus told Menelaus about the suitors, and asked for any information he could give him concerning the death of his father. Menelaus was greatly shocked, but could only tell him what he had heard from Proteus. He said that as he was coming from Egypt he had been detained some weeks, through the displeasure of the gods, in the island of Pharos, where he and his men would have been starved but for the assistance given him by a goddess Idothea, daughter to Proteus, who taught him how to ensnare her father, and compel him to say why heaven was detaining him.

440 "Idothea," said Menelaus, "disguised me and my three chosen comrades as seals; to this end she had brought four

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fresh-flayed seal-skins, under which she hid us. The strong smell of these skins was most distressing to us—Who would go to bed with a sea monster if he could help it? but Idothea 443 put some ambrosia under each man's nostrils, and this afforded us great relief. Other seals (Halosydne's chickens as they call them) now kept coming up by hundreds, and lay down to bask upon the beach.

"Towards noon Proteus himself came up. First he counted 450 all his seals to see that he had the right number, and he counted us in with the others; when he had so done he lay down in the midst of them, as a shepherd with his sheep, and as soon as he was asleep we pounced upon him and gripped him tight; at one moment he became a lion, the next he was running water, and then again he was a tree; but we never loosed hold, and in the end he grew weary, and told us what we would know.

"He told me also of the fate of Ajax, son of Oïleus, and of 499 my brother Agamemnon. Lastly he told me about Ulysses, who he said was in the island of the nymph Calypso, unable to get away inasmuch as he had neither ship nor crew.

"Then he disappeared under the sea, and I, after appeasing 570 heaven's anger as he had instructed me, returned quickly and safely to my own country."

Having finished his story Menelaus pressed Telemachus to 587 remain with him some ten or twelve days longer, and promised to give him a chariot and a pair of horses as a keepsake, but Telemachus said that he could not stay. "I could listen to you," said he, "for a whole twelve months, and never once think about my home and my parents; but my men, whom I have left at Pylos, are already impatient for me to return. As for any present you may make me, let it be a piece of plate. I cannot take horses to Ithaca; it contains no plains nor meadow lands, and is more fit for breeding goats than horses. None of our islands are suited for chariot races, and Ithaca least among them all."

Menelaus smiled, and said he could see that Telemachus 609 came of good family. He had a piece of plate, of very great value, which was just the thing, and Telemachus should have it.

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621 [Guests now kept coming to the king's house, bringing both wine and sheep, and their wives had put them up a provision of bread. Thus, then, did they set about cooking their dinner in the courts.] *

625 Meanwhile, the suitors in Ithaca were playing at quoits, aiming spears at a mark, and behaving with all their old insolence on the level ground in front of Ulysses’ house. While they were thus engaged Noëmon came up and asked Antinous if he could say when Telemachus was likely to be back from Pylos, for he wanted his ship. On this everything came out, and the suitors, who had no idea that Telemachus had really gone (for they thought he was only away on one of his farms in Ithaca), were very angry. They therefore determined to lie in wait for him on his return, and made ready to start.

695 Medon, a servant, overheard their plot, and told all to Penelope, who, like the suitors, learned for the first time that her son had left home and gone to Pylos. She bitterly upbraided her women for not having given her a call out of her bed when Telemachus was leaving, for she said she was sure they knew all about it. Presently, however, on being calmed by Euryclea, she went upstairs and offered sacrifice to Minerva. After a time she fell into a deep slumber, during which she was comforted by a vision of her sister Ipthime, which Minerva had sent to her bedside.

842 When night fell the suitors set sail, intending to way-lay Telemachus in the Strait between Same and Ithaca.


25:* For fuller translation and explanation why I have bracketed the passage, see Chapter vi.

26:* It is curious that the sleeping arrangements made by Helen for Telemachus and Pisistratus, as also those made for Ulysses by Queen Arēte (vii. 336, &c.), though taken almost verbatim from those made by Achilles for Priam and Idæus ("Il." xxiv. 643-47 and 673-76), should do so well for a building of such a different character as the house of Menelaus must have been from the quarters of Achilles before Troy.

28:* For explanation why I bracket this passage see Chapter vi.

Next: Book V. Ulysses in the Island of Calypso