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Ch. 23: The Odyssey (continued)


Ulysses clung to the raft while any of its timbers kept together,
and when it no longer yielded him support, binding the girdle
around him, he swam. Minerva smoothed the billows before him and
sent him a wind that rolled the waves towards the shore. The
surf beat high on the rocks and seemed to forbid approach; but at
length finding calm water at the mouth of a gentle stream, he
landed, spent with toil, breathless and speechless and almost
dead. After some time reviving, he kissed the soil, rejoicing,
yet at a loss what course to take. At a short distance he
perceived a wood, to which he turned his steps. There finding a
covert sheltered by intermingling branches alike from the sun and
the rain, he collected a pile of leaves and formed a bed, on
which he stretched himself, and heaping the leaves over him, fell

The land where he was thrown was Scheria, the country of the
Phaecians. These people dwelt originally near the Cyclopes; but
being oppressed by that savage race, they migrated to the isle of
Scheria, under the conduct of Nausithous their king. They were,
the poet tells us, a people akin to the gods, who appeared
manifestly and feasted among them when they offered sacrifices,
and did not conceal themselves from solitary wayfarers when they
met them. They had abundance of wealth and lived in the
enjoyment of it undisturbed by the alarms of war, for as they
dwelt remote from gain-seeking man, no enemy ever approached
their shores, and they did not even require to make use of bows
and quivers. Their chief employment was navigation. Their
ships, which went with the velocity of birds, were endued with
intelligence; they knew every port and needed no pilot.
Alcinous, the son of Nausithous, was now their king, a wise and
just sovereign, beloved by his people.

Now it happened that the very night on which Ulysses was cast
ashore on the Phaeacian island, and while he lay sleeping on his
bed of leaves, Nausicaa, the daughter of the king, had a dream
sent by Minerva, reminding her that her wedding-day was not far
distant, and that it would be but a prudent preparation for that
event to have a general washing of the clothes of the family.
This was no slight affair, for the fountains were at some
distance and the garments must be carried thither. On awaking,
the princess hastened to her parents to tell them what was on her
mind; not alluding to her wedding-day, but finding other reasons
equally good. Her father readily assented and ordered the grooms
to furnish forth a wagon for the purpose. The clothes were put
therein, and the queen mother placed in the wagon, likewise an
abundant supply of food and wine. The princess took her seat and
plied the lash, her attendant virgins following her on foot.
Arrived at the river side they turned out the mules to graze, and
unloading the carriage, bore the garments down to the water, and
working with cheerfulness and alacrity soon dispatched their
labor. Then having spread the garments on the shore to dry, and
having themselves bathed, they sat down to enjoy their meal;
after which they rose and amused themselves with a game of ball,
the princess singing to them while they played. But when they
had refolded the apparel and were about to resume their way to
the town, Minerva caused the ball thrown by the princess to fall
into the water, whereat they all screamed, and Ulysses awaked at
the sound.

Now we must picture to ourselves Ulysses, a shipwrecked mariner,
but just escaped from the waves, and utterly destitute of
clothing, awaking and discovering that only a few bushes were
interposed between him and a group of young maidens, whom, by
their deportment and attire, he discovered to be not mere peasant
girls, but of a higher class. Sadly needing help, how could he
yet venture, naked as he was, to discover himself and make his
wants known? It certainly was a case worthy of the interposition
of his patron goddess Minerva, who never failed him at a crisis.
Breaking off a leafy branch from a tree, he held it before him
and stepped out from the thicket. The virgins, at sight of him,
fled in all directions, Nausicaa alone excepted, for Minerva
aided and endowed her with courage and discernment. Ulysses,
standing respectfully aloof, told his sad case, and besought the
fair object (whether queen or goddess he professed he knew not)
for food and clothing. The princess replied courteously,
promising present relief and her father's hospitality when he
should become acquainted with the facts. She called back her
scattered maidens, chiding their alarm, and reminding them that
the Phaeacians had no enemies to fear. This man, she told them,
was an unhappy wanderer, whom it was a duty to cherish, for the
poor and stranger are from Jove. She bade them bring food and
clothing, for some of her brothers' garments were among the
contents of the wagon. When this was done, and Ulysses, retiring
to a sheltered place, had washed his body free from the sea-foam,
clothed and refreshed himself with food, Pallas dilated his form
and diffused grace over his ample chest and manly brows.

The princess, seeing him, was filled with admiration, and
scrupled not to say to her damsels that she wished the gods would
send her such a husband. To Ulysses she recommended that he
should repair to the city, following herself and train so far as
the way lay through the fields; but when they should approach the
city she desired that he would no longer be seen in her company,
for she feared the remarks which rude and vulgar people might
make on seeing her return accompanied by such a gallant stranger;
to avoid which she directed him to stop at a grove adjoining the
city, in which were a farm and garden belonging to the king.
After allowing time for the princess and her companions to reach
the city, he was then to pursue his way thither, and would be
easily guided by any he might meet to the royal abode.

Ulysses obeyed the directions, and in due time proceeded to the
city, on approaching which he met a young woman bearing a pitcher
forth for water. It was Minerva, who had assumed that form.
Ulysses accosted her, and desired to be directed to the palace of
Alcinous the king. The maiden replied respectfully, offering to
be his guide; for the palace, she informed him, stood near her
father's dwelling. Under the guidance of the goddess, and by her
power enveloped in a cloud which shielded him from observation,
Ulysses passed among the busy crowd, and with wonder observed
their harbor, their ships, their forum (the resort of heroes),
and their battlements, till they came to the palace, where the
goddess, having first given him some information of the country,
king, and people he was about to meet, left him. Ulysses, before
entering the courtyard of the palace, stood and surveyed the
scene. Its splendor astonished him. Brazen walls stretched from
the entrance to the interior house, of which the doors were gold,
the door-posts silver, the lintels silver ornamented with gold.
On either side were figures of mastiffs wrought in gold and
silver, standing in rows as if to guard the approach. Along the
walls were seats spread through all their length with mantles of
finest texture, the work of Phaeacian maidens. On these seats
the princes sat and feasted, while golden statues of graceful
youths held in their hands lighted torches, which shed radiance
over the scene. Full fifty female menials served in household
offices, some employed to grind the corn, others to wind off the
purple wool or ply the loom. For the Phaeacian women as far
exceeded all other women in household arts as the mariners of
that country did the rest of mankind in the management of ships.
Without the court a spacious garden lay, in which grew many a
lofty tree, pomegranate, pear, apple, fig, and olive. Neither
winter's cold nor summer's drought arrested their growth, but
they flourished in constant succession, some budding while others
were maturing. The vineyard was equally prolific. In one
quarter you might see the vines, some in blossom, some loaded
with ripe grapes, and in another observe the vintagers treading
the wine-press. On the garden's borders flowers of every hue
bloomed all the year round, arranged with neatest art. In the
midst two fountains poured forth their waters, one flowing by
artificial channels over all the garden, the other conducted
through the courtyard of the palace, whence every citizen might
draw his supplies.

Ulysses stood gazing in admiration, unobserved himself, for the
cloud which Minerva spread around him still shielded him. At
length, having sufficiently observed the scene, he advanced with
rapid step into the hall where the chiefs and senators were
assembled, pouring libation to Mercury, whose worship followed
the evening meal. Just then Minerva dissolved the cloud and
disclosed him to the assembled chiefs. Advancing toward the
queen, he knelt at her feet and implored her favor and assistance
to enable him to return to his native country. Then withdrawing,
he seated himself in the manner of suppliants, at the hearth-

For a time none spoke. At last an aged statesman, addressing the
king, said, "It is not fit that a stranger who asks our
hospitality should be kept waiting in suppliant guise, none
welcoming him. Let him therefore be led to a seat among us and
supplied with food and wine." At these words the king rising
gave his hand to Ulysses and led him to a seat, displacing thence
his own son to make room for the stranger. Food and wine were
set before him and he ate and refreshed himself.

The king then dismissed his guests, notifying them that the next
day he would call them to council to consider what had best be
done for the stranger.

When the guests had departed and Ulysses was left alone with the
king and queen, the queen asked him who he was and whence he
came, and (recognizing the clothes which he wore as those which
her maidens and herself had made) from whom he received his
garments. He told them of his residence in Calypso's isle and
his departure thence; of the wreck of his raft, his escape by
swimming, and of the relief afforded by the princess. The
parents heard approvingly, and the king promised to furnish him a
ship in which he might return to his own land.

The next day the assembled chiefs confirmed the promise of the
king. A bark was prepared and a crew of stout rowers selected,
and all betook themselves to the palace, where a bounteous repast
was provided. After the feast the king proposed that the young
men should show their guest their proficiency in manly sports,
and all went forth to the arena for games of running, wrestling,
and other exercises. After all had done their best, Ulysses
being challenged to show what he could do, at first declined, but
being taunted by one of the youths, seized a quoit of weight far
heavier than any the Phaeacians had thrown, and sent it farther
than the utmost throw of theirs. All were astonished, and viewed
their guest with greatly increased respect.

After the games they returned to the hall, and the herald led in
Demodocus, the blind bard,

"Dear to the Muse,
Who yet appointed him both good and ill,
Took from him sight, but gave him strains divine."

He took for his theme the wooden horse, by means of which the
Greeks found entrance into Troy. Apollo inspired him, and he
sang so feelingly of the terrors and the exploits of that
eventful time that all were delighted, but Ulysses was moved to
tears. Observing which, Alcinous, when the song was done,
demanded of him why at the mention of troy his sorrows awaked.
Had he lost there a father or brother, or any dear friend?
Ulysses in reply announced himself by his true name, and at their
request, recounted the adventures which had befallen him since
his departure from Troy. This narrative raised the sympathy and
admiration of the Phaeacians for their guest to the highest
pitch. The king proposed that each chief should present him with
a gift, himself setting the example. They obeyed, and vied with
one another in loading the illustrious stranger with costly

The next day Ulysses set sail in the Phaeacian vessel, and in a
short time arrived safe at Ithaca, his own island. When the
vessel touched the strand he was asleep. The mariners, without
waking him, carried him on shore, and landed with him the chest
containing his presents, and then sailed away.

But Neptune was displeased at the conduct of the Phaeacians in
thus rescuing Ulysses from his hands. In revenge, on the return
of the vessel to port, he transformed it into a rock, right
opposite the mouth of the harbor.

Homer's description of the ships of the Phaeacians has been
thought to look like an anticipation of the wonders of modern
steam navigation. Alcinous says to Ulysses,

"Say from what city, from what regions tossed,
And what inhabitants those regions boast?
So shalt thou quickly reach the realm assigned,
In wondrous ships, self-moved, instinct with mind;
No helm secures their course, no pilot guides;
Like man intelligent they plough the tides,
Conscious of every coast and every bay
That lies beneath the sun's all-seeing ray."
Odyssey, Book VIII

Lord Carlisle, in his Diary in the Turkish and Greek Waters, thus
speaks of Corfu, which he considers to be the ancient Phaeacian

"The sites explain the Odyssey. The temple of the sea-god could
not have been more fitly placed, upon a grassy platform of the
most elastic turf, on the brow of a crag commanding harbor, and
channel, and ocean. Just at the entrance of the inner harbor
there is a picturesque rock with a small convent perched atop it,
which by one legend is the transformed pinnace of Ulysses.

"Almost the only river in the island is just at the proper
distance from the probable site of the city and palace of the
king, to justify the princess Nausicaa having had resort to her
chariot and to luncheon when she went with the maidens of the
court to wash their garments."


It was now twenty years that Ulysses had been away from Ithaca,
and when he awoke he did not recognize his native land. But
Minerva, appearing to him in the form of a young shepherd,
informed him where he was, and told him the state of things at
his palace. More than a hundred nobles of Ithaca and of the
neighboring islands had been for years suing for the hand of
Penelope, his wife, imagining him dead, and lording it over his
palace and people, as if they were owners of both. That he might
be able to take vengeance upon them, it was important that he
should not be recognized. Minerva accordingly metamorphosed him
into an unsightly beggar, and as such he was kindly received by
Eumaeus, the swine-herd, a faithful servant of his house.

Telemachus, his son, was absent in quest of his father. He had
gone to the courts of the other kings, who had returned from the
Trojan expedition. While on the search, he received counsel from
Minerva to return home. Arriving at Ithaca, he sought Eumaeus to
learn something of the state of affairs at the palace before
presenting himself among the suitors. Finding a stranger with
Eumaeus, he treated him courteously, though in the garb of a
beggar, and promised him assistance. Eumaeus was sent to the
palace to inform Penelope privately of her son's arrival, for
caution was necessary with regard to the suitors, who, as
Telemachus had learned, were plotting to intercept and kill him.
When Eumaeus was gone, Minerva presented herself to Ulysses, and
directed him to make himself known to his son. At the same time
she touched him, removed at once from him the appearance of age
and penury, and gave him the aspect of vigorous manhood that
belonged to him. Telemachus viewed him with astonishment, and at
first thought he must be more than mortal. But Ulysses announced
himself as his father, and accounted for the change of appearance
by explaining that it was Minerva's doing.

"Then threw Telemachus
His arms around his father's neck and wept,
Desire intense of lamentation seized
On both; soft murmurs uttering, each indulged
His grief."

The father and son took counsel together how they should get the
better of the suitors and punish them for their outrages. It was
arranged that Telemachus should proceed to the palace and mingle
with the suitors as formerly; that Ulysses should go also, as a
beggar, a character which in the rude old times had different
privileges from those we concede to it now. As traveller and
story-teller, the beggar was admitted in the halls of chieftains,
and often treated like a guest; though sometimes, also, no doubt,
with contumely. Ulysses charged his son not to betray, by any
display of unusual interest in him, that he knew him to be other
than he seemed, and even if he saw him insulted, or beaten, not
to interpose otherwise than he might do for any stranger.

At the palace they found the usual scene of feasting and riot
going on. The suitors pretended to receive Telemachus with joy
at his return, though secretly mortified at the failure of their
plots to take his life. The old beggar was permitted to enter,
and provided with a portion from the table. A touching incident
occurred as Ulysses entered the court-yard of the palace. An old
dog lay in the yard almost dead with age, and seeing a stranger
enter, raised his head, with ears erect. It was Argus, Ulysses'
own dog, that he had in other days often led to the chase.

"Soon he perceived
Long-lost Ulysses nigh, down fell his ears
Clapped close, and with his tail glad signs he gave
Of gratulation, impotent to rise,
And to approach his master as of old.
Ulysses, noting him, wiped off a tear
. . . Then his destiny released
Old Argus, soon as he had lived to see
Ulysses in the twentieth year restored."

As Ulysses sat eating his portion in the hall, the suitors soon
began to exhibit their insolence to him. When he mildly
remonstrated, one of them raised a stool and with it gave him a
blow. Telemachus had hard work to restrain his indignation at
seeing his father so treated in his own hall, but remembering his
father's injunctions, said no more than what became him as master
of the house and protector of his guests.

Penelope had protracted her decision in favor of any one of her
suitors so long, that there seemed to be no further pretence for
delay. The continued absence of her husband seemed to prove that
his return was no longer to be expected. Meanwhile her son had
grown up, and was able to manage his own affairs. She therefore
consented to submit the question of her choice to a trial of
skill among the suitors. The test selected was shooting with the
bow. Twelve rings were arranged in a line, and he whose arrow
was sent through the whole twelve, was to have the queen for his
prize. A bow that one of his brother heroes had given to Ulysses
in former times, was brought from the armory, and with its quiver
full of arrows was laid in the hall. Telemachus had taken care
that all other weapons should be removed, under pretence that in
the heat of competition, there was danger, in some rash moment,
of putting them to an improper use.

All things being prepared for the trial, the first thing to be
done was to bend the bow in order to attach the string.
Telemachus endeavored to do it, but found all his efforts
fruitless; and modestly confessing that he had attempted a task
beyond his strength, he yielded the bow to another. HE tried it
with no better success, and, amidst the laughter and jeers of his
companions, gave it up. Another tried it and another; they
rubbed the bow with tallow, but all to no purpose; it would not
bend. Then spoke Ulysses, humbly suggesting that he should be
permitted to try; for, said he, "beggar as I am, I was once a
soldier, and there is still some strength in these old limbs of
mine." The suitors hooted with derision, and commanded to turn
him out of the hall for his insolence. But Telemachus spoke up
for him, and merely to gratify the old man, bade him try.
Ulysses took the bow, and handled it with the hand of a master.
With ease he adjusted the cord to its notch, then fitting an
arrow to the bow he drew the string and sped the arrow unerring
through the rings.

Without allowing them time to express their astonishment, he
said, "Now for another mark!" and aimed direct at the most
insolent one of the suitors. The arrow pierced through his throat
and he fell dead. Telemachus, Eumaeus, and another faithful
follower, well armed, now sprang to the side of Ulysses. The
suitors, in amazement, looked round for arms but found none,
neither was there any way of escape, for Eumaeus had secured the
door. Ulysses left them not long in uncertainty; he announced
himself as the long-lost chief, whose house they had invaded,
whose substance they had squandered, whose wife and son they had
persecuted for ten long years; and told them he meant to have
ample vengeance. All the suitors were slain, except Phemius the
bard and Medon the herald, and Ulysses was left master of his own
palace and possessor of his kingdom and his wife.

Among Schiller's works is the following epigram on Ulysses:

"To gain his home all oceans he explored;
Here Scylla frowned, and there Charybdis roared;
Horror on sea, and horror on the land,
In hell's dark boat he sought the spectre land,
Till borne a slumberer to his native spot,
He woke, and sorrowing, knew his country not."
Sir Edward Bulwer"s translation

Tennyson's poem of Ulysses represents the old hero, after his
dangers past and nothing left but to stay at home and be happy,
growing tired of inaction and resolving to set forth again in
quest of new adventures.

"Come my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles whom we knew,
Tho'much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Thomas Bulfinch

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