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

Book XX


Ulysses made himself a bed of an untanned ox-hide in the vestibule and covered himself with sheep skins; then Eurynome threw a cloak over him. He saw the women who misbehaved themselves with the suitors go giggling out of the house, and 6 was sorely tempted to kill them then and there, but he restrained himself. He kept turning round and round, as a man turns a paunch full of blood and fat before a hot fire to cook it, and could get no rest till Minerva came to him and comforted him, by reminding him that he was now in Ithaca.

"That is all very well," replied Ulysses, "but suppose I do 36 kill these suitors, pray consider what is to become of me then? Where am I to fly to from the revenge their friends will take upon me?"

"One would think," answered Minerva, "that you might 44 trust even a feebler aid than mine; go to sleep; your troubles shall end shortly."

Ulysses then slept, but Penelope was still wakeful, and 54 lamented her impending marriage, and her inability to sleep, in such loud tones that Ulysses heard her, and thought she was close by him.

It was now morning and Ulysses rose, praying the while to 91 Jove. "Grant me," he cried, "a sign from one of the people who are now waking in the house, and another sign from outside it."

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102 Forthwith Jove thundered from a clear sky. There came also a miller woman from the mill-room, who, being weakly, 110 had not finished her appointed task as soon as the others had done; as she passed Ulysses he heard her curse the suitors and pray for their immediate death. Ulysses was thus assured that he should kill them.

122 The other women of the house now lit the fire, and Telemachus came down from his room.

129 "Nurse," said he, "I hope you have seen that the stranger has been duly fed and lodged. My mother, in spite of her many virtues, is apt to be too much impressed by inferior people, and to neglect those who are more deserving."

134 "Do not find fault, child," said Euryclea, "when there is no one to find fault with. The stranger sat and drank as much wine as he liked. Your mother asked him if he would take any more bread, but he said he did not want any. As for his bed, he would not have one, but slept in the vestibule on an untanned hide, and I threw a cloak over him myself."

144 Telemachus then went out to the place of assembly, and his two dogs with him. "Now, you women," said Euryclea, "be quick and clean the house down. Put the cloths on the seats, sponge down the tables; wash the cups and mixing bowls, and go at once, some of you, to fetch water from the fountain. It is a feast day, and the suitors will be here directly." So twenty of them went for water, and others busied themselves setting things straight about the house.

160 The men servants then came and chopped wood. The women came back from the fountain, and Eumæus with them, bringing three fine pigs, which he let feed about the yards. When he saw Ulysses he asked him how he was getting on, and Ulysses prayed that heaven might avenge him upon the suitors.

172 Then Melanthius came with the best goats he had, and made them fast in the gate-house. When he had done this he gibed at Ulysses, but Ulysses made him no answer.

185 Thirdly came Philœtius with a barren heifer and some fat goats for the suitors. These had been brought over for him by the boatman who plied for all corners. When he saw

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[paragraph continues] Ulysses, he asked Eumæus who he was, and said he was very like his lost master. Then he told Ulysses how well his old master had treated him, and how well also he had served his old master. Alas! that he was no longer living. "We are fallen," said he, "on evil times, and I often think that though it would not be right of me to drive my cattle off, and put both myself and them under some other master while Telemachus is still alive, yet even this would be better than leading the life I have to lead at present. Indeed I should have gone off with them long ago, if I did not cling to the hope that Ulysses may still return."

"I can see," said Ulysses, "that you are a very honest and 226 sensible person. Therefore I will swear you a solemn oath that Ulysses will be here immediately, and if you like you shall see him with you own eyes kill the suitors."

While they were thus conversing the suitors were again 240 plotting the murder of Telemachus, but there appeared an unfavourable omen, so Amphinomus said they had better go to the house and get dinner ready, which they accordingly did. When they were at table, Eumæus gave them their cups, Philœtius handed round the bread and Melantheus poured them out their wine. Telemachus purposely set Ulysses at a little table on the part of the cloister that was paved with stone, and told the suitors that it should be worse for any of them who molested him. "This," he said, "is not a public house, but it is mine, for it has come to me from Ulysses."

The suitors were very angry but Antinous checked them. 268 "Let us put up with it," said he; "if Jove had permitted, we should have been the death of him ere now." Meanwhile, it being the festival of Apollo, the people of the town were bearing his holy hecatomb about the streets.

The servants gave Ulysses an equal portion with what they 279 gave the others, for Telemachus had so bidden them. Presently one of the suitors named Ctesippus observed this and said, "I see the stranger has as good a portion as any one else. I will give him a better, that he may have something to give 296 the bath-woman or some other of the servants in the house"—and with this he flung a cow's heel at Ulysses’ head.

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302 Ulysses smiled with a grim Sardinian * smile, and bowed his head so that the heel passed over it and hit the wall. Telemachus rebuked Ctesippus very fiercely, and all were silent till Agelaus tried to calm them saying, "What Telemachus has said is just: let us not answer. Nevertheless I would urge him to talk quietly with his mother and tell her that as long as there was any chance of Ulysses coming back there was nothing unreasonable in her deferring a second marriage; but there is now no hope of his return, and if you would enjoy your own in peace, tell her to marry the best man among us and the one who will make her the most advantageous offer."

338 "Nay," answered Telemachus, "it is not I that delay her marriage. I urge her to it, but I cannot and will not force her."

345 Then Minerva made the suitors break out into a forced hysterical laughter, and the meats which they were eating became all smirched with blood. Their eyes were filled with tears and their hearts were oppressed with terrible forebodings. Theoclymenus saw that all was wrong, and said, "Unhappy men, what is it that ails you? There is a shroud of darkness drawn over you from head to foot, your cheeks are wet with tears; the air is alive with wailing voices; the walls and roof beams drip blood; the gate of the cloisters, and the yard beyond them are full of ghosts trooping down into the night of hell; the sun is blotted out from heaven, and a blighting gloom is over all the land."

358 The suitors laughed at him, and Eurymachus said, "If you find it so dark here, we had better send a man with you to take you out into the open."

363 "I have eyes," he answered, "that can guide, and feet that can take me from the doom that I see overhanging every single one of you." On this he left them and went back to the house of Piræus.

375 Then one of the suitors said, "Telemachus, you are very unfortunate in your guests. You had better ship both the

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stranger and this man off to the Sicels and sell them." Telemachus made no answer, but kept his eye on his father for any signal that he might make him.

Penelope had had a seat placed for her overlooking the 387 cloister, and heard all that had passed. The dinner had been good and plentiful and there had been much laughter, for they had slaughtered many victims, but little did they guess the terrible supper which the goddess and a strong man were preparing for them.


86:* This is the only reference to Sardinia in either "Iliad" or "Odyssey."

Next: Book XXI. The Trial of the Bow and of the Axes