2.VII ODYSSEUS REACHES ITHAKA

                                             VII

 

Odysseus finished, and everyone in the hall sat silent, like men enchanted. Then King Alcinous spoke and said, ‘Never, as far as we Phæacians are concerned, will you, Odysseus, be driven further from your home. Tomorrow we will give you a ship and and crew, and we will land you in Ithaka, your own country.’ The Princes, Captains and Councillors, marvelling that they had met the renowned Odysseus, went home. At dawn, each carried gifts down to the ship on which Odysseus was to sail.

When the sun had nearly set they all came back to the King’s hall to say farewell to him. The King poured out a great bowl of wine as an offering to the gods. Then Odysseus stood up and placed in the Queen’s hands a two-handled cup, and said, ‘Farewell to you, Oh Queen! May you long rejoice in your house and your children, and in your husband, Alcinous, the renowned King.’

He left the King’s house, and went down to the ship. He went aboard and lay down on the deck on a sheet and rug that had been spread for him. Straightway the mariners took to their oars, and hoisted their sails, and the ship sped away. Odysseus slept. The ship sped on, carrying that man who had suffered so much sorrow in passing through wars of men and through troubled seas—the ship sped on, and he slept, and forget all he had passed through.

When the dawn came the ship was near to the Island of Ithaka. The mariners sailed to a harbour near which there was a great cave. They ran the ship ashore and lifted out Odysseus, wrapped in the sheet and the rugs, and still sleeping. They left him on the sandy shore of his own land. Then they took the gifts which the King and Queen, the Princes, Captains and Councillors of the Phæacians had given him, and they set them by an olive tree, a little apart from the road, so that no wandering person might come upon them before Odysseus had awakened. Then they went back to their ship and departed from Ithaka for their own land.

Odysseus awakened on the beach of his own land. A mist lay over everything, and he did not know what land he had come to. He thought that the Phæacians had left him on a strange shore. As he looked around him in his bewilderment he saw someone who looked like a King’s son approaching.

The person who came near him was not a young man, but the goddess, Pallas Athene, who had made herself look like a young man. Odysseus stood, and asked her where he was. The goddess answered him and said, ‘This is Ithaka, a land good for goats and cattle, a land of woods and wells,’

Even as she spoke she changed from the semblance of a young man into a tall and fair woman. ‘Don’t you know me, Pallas Athene, the daughter of Zeus, who has always helped you?’ the goddess said. ‘I would have helped you more but I did not want to go openly against my brother, Poseidon, the god of the sea, whose son, Polyphemus, you blinded.’

As the goddess spoke the mist that lay on the land lifted and Odysseus saw that he was indeed in Ithaka, his own country—he knew the harbour and the cave, and the hill Neriton all covered with its forest. He knelt down on the ground and kissed the earth of his country.

Then the goddess helped him to put his gifts inside the cave—the gold and the bronze and the woven garments that the Phæacians had given him. She made him sit beside her under the olive tree while she told him what was happening in his house.

‘There is trouble in your home, Odysseus,’ she said, ‘and it would be better for you not to make yourself known for a while. Harden thy heart, so that you can endure for a while longer ill treatment at the hands of men.’ She told him about the suitors of his wife, who filled his halls all day, and wasted his wealth, and who would kill him, so that he could not punish them for their insolence. ‘So that what happened to Agamemnon does not happen to you—your death in your own home—I will change your appearance so that no one will know you,’ the goddess said.

Then she made a change in his appearance that would have been evil but it was to last for a while only. She made his skin wither, and she dimmed his shining eyes. She made his yellow hair grey. Then she changed his clothes to a beggar’s rags, torn and stained with smoke. Over his shoulder she placed the hide of a deer, and she put into his hands a beggar’s staff, with a tattered bag and a cord to hang it by. And when she had made this change in his appearance the goddess left Odysseus and Ithaka.

Then she came to Telemachus in Sparta and advised him to leave the house of Menelaus and Helen and so he went with Peisistratus, the son of Nestor, and came to his own ship. A man named  Telemachus ,who was fleeing for his life ,sought refuge on his ship. He was a oracle and could see the future.

Telemachus, returning to Ithaka, was in peril of his life. The suitors of his mother had discovered that he left Ithaka in a ship. Two of the suitors, Antinous and Eurymachus, were greatly angered at the daring act of the youth. ‘He has gone to Sparta for help,’ Antinous said, ‘and if he finds that there are those who will help him we will not be able to stand against his pride. He will make us suffer for what we have done in his house. But let us too act. I will take a ship with twenty men, and lie in wait for him in a strait between Ithaka and Samos, and put an end to his search for his father.’

Then Antinous took twenty men to a ship, and fixing mast and sails they went over the sea. There is a little isle between Ithaka and Samos—Asteris it is called—and he and his men lay in wait for Telemachus in the harbour of that isle.