2.IX FATHER AND SON ARE REUNITED

                                 IX

 

In the morning of his fourth day in Ithaka, as he and the swineherd were eating a meal together, Odysseus heard the sound of footsteps approaching the hut. The fierce dogs were outside and he expected to hear them snarling at the stranger’s approach. No sound came from them. Then he saw a young man come to the entrance of the courtyard and the swineherd’s dogs were pleased to see him.

When Eumæus saw this young man he dropped the plate he was carrying, and running to him, kissed his head and his eyes and his hands. While he was kissing and weeping over him, Odysseus heard the swineherd saying, ‘Telemachus, have you come back to us? Like a light in the darkness you have appeared! I never thought that we should see you again when I heard that you had taken a ship to Pylos! Come in, dear son; come in, so that I can see you once again in my house.’

Odysseus raised his head and looked at his son. But neither the swineherd nor Telemachus were aware of Odysseus’ gaze.

‘I have come to see you, my friend,’ said Telemachus, ‘for before I go into the City I want to know whether my mother is still in the house of Odysseus, or whether one of the suitors has at last taken her as a wife to his own house.’

‘Your mother is still in your father’s house,’ Eumæus answered. Then Telemachus came into the courtyard. Odysseus in the guise of the old beggar rose from his seat, but the young man said to him courteously: ‘Be seated, friend. Another seat can be found for me.’

Telemachus seated himself. Next Eumæus fetched a meal for him—oaten cakes and meat and wine. While they were eating, the swineherd said,’We have here a stranger who has wandered through many countries, and who has come to my house as a guest. Can you find a job for him, Telemachus?’

Telemachus said, ‘How can I support any man? I have not the strength to defend my own house. But I will do what I can for this stranger. I will give him clothes, shoes and a sword to defend himself, and I will send him on whatever way he wants to go. But, Eumæus, I would not let him go near my father’s house. The suitors grow more insolent each day, and they might mock the stranger if he went amongst them.’

Then Odysseus said, speaking for the first time, ‘Young sir, what you have said seems strange to me. Do you willingly accept insolence in your own father’s house? But perhaps the people of the City hate you and will not help you against your enemies. Ah, if I had such youth as I have spirit, or if I were the son of Odysseus, I should go to them this very day, and make myself the curse of each of them. I would rather die in my own halls than see such shame—strangers mocked at, and servants injured, and wine and food wasted.’

Telemachus said, ‘The people of the City do not hate me, and they would help me if they could. But the suitors of my mother are powerful men—men to make the City people afraid. If I opposed them I would certainly be killed in my father’s house, for how could I hope to overcome so many?’

‘What do you want me to do for you, Telemachus?’ said the swineherd.

‘I want you to go to my mother, friend Eumæus,’ Telemachus said, ‘and let her know that I have safely returned from Pylos.’

Eumæus at once put sandals upon his feet and took his staff in his hands. He begged Telemachus to rest himself in the hut, and then he left the courtyard and went towards the City.

Telemachus lay down on his seat and closed his eyes in weariness. He saw, while thinking that he only dreamt it, a woman come to the gate of the courtyard. She was fair and tall and splendid, and the dogs shrank away from her presence with a whine. She touched the beggar with a golden wand. As she did, the marks of age fell from him and the man stood up tall and noble looking.

‘Who are you?’ cried Telemachus, starting up. ‘Even a moment ago you looked old and a beggar! Now you look like a leader of men! Are you one of the gods?’

Odysseus looked at him and said. I am Odysseus, your father. After much suffering and much wandering I have come to my own country.’ He kissed his son with tears flowing down his cheeks, and Telemachus threw his arms around his father’s neck, but scarcely believing that the father he had searched for was indeed before him.

But no doubt was left as Odysseus talked to him, and told him how he had come to Ithaka on a ship given to him by the Phæacians, and how he had brought with him gifts of bronze and robes that were hidden in the cave, and told him, too, how Pallas Athene had changed his appearance into that of an old beggar.

When his own story was finished he said, ‘Come, my son, tell me about the suitors who waste the wealth of our house—tell me how many they are, and who they are, so that we may prepare a way of dealing with them.’

‘Even though you are a great warrior, my father, you and I cannot hope to deal with them. They have come, not from Ithaka alone, but from all the islands around—from Dulichium and Same and Zacynthus. We two cannot deal with such a crowd.’

Odysseus said, ‘I shall make a plan to deal with them. Go home, and stay with the suitors. Later in the day the swineherd will lead me into the city, and I shall go into the house in the likeness of an old beggar. If you should see any of the suitors ill-treat me, harden your heart to endure it—even if they drag me by the feet to the door of the house, keep quiet. And let no one—not even your mother, Penelope, nor my father Laertes, know that Odysseus has returned.’

Telemachus said, ‘My father, you will soon learn what spirit is in me and what wisdom I have.’

While they talked together the ship that Antinous had taken, when he went to lie in wait for Telemachus, returned. The suitors assembled and debated whether they should kill Telemachus, for now there was danger that he would draw the people to his side, and so make up a force that could drive the suitors out of Ithaka. But they did not agree to kill him then, for there was one amongst them who was against the idea.

Eumæus brought the news to Telemachus and Odysseus of the return of Antinous’ ship. He came back to the hut in the afternoon. Pallas Athene had again given Odysseus the appearance of an elderly beggar and the swineherd saw no change in his guest.