Near where Odysseus had landed there lived an old man who was a faithful servant in his house. His name was Eumæus and he was a swineherd. He had made for himself a home in the wildest part of the island, and had built a wall round it, and had made pens for the swine in the courtyard—twelve pens, and in each pen there were fifty swine. Old Eumæus lived in this place tending the swine with three young men to help him. The swine-pens were guarded by four dogs that were as fierce as the beasts of the forest.
As he came near the dogs rushed at him, snarling and snapping and Odysseus might have been hurt if the swineherd had not run out of the courtyard and driven the fierce dogs away. Seeing someone who looked an elderly beggar, Eumæus said, ‘Old man, it is good that my dogs did not bite you, for they might have brought on me the shame of your death. I have grief and pains enough, the gods know, without such a tragedy. Here I sit, mourning for my noble master, and fattening hogs for others to eat, while he, perhaps, is wandering in hunger through some friendless city. But come in, old man. I have bread and wine to give you.’
The swineherd led the beggar into the courtyard, and he let him sit down on a heap of brushwood, and spread for him a shaggy goat-skin. Odysseus was glad of his servant’s welcome, and he said, ‘May Zeus and all the other gods grant you your heart’s dearest wish for the welcome that you have given to me.’
Eumæus the swineherd said, ‘A good man looks on all strangers and beggars as being from Zeus himself. And my heart’s dearest wish is that my master Odysseus should return. Ah, if Odysseus were here, he would give me something which I could hold as my own—a piece of ground to till, and a wife to comfort me. But my master will not return, and we peasants must go in fear when young lords come to rule over them.’
He went to the swine-pens and brought out two suckling pigs. He slaughtered them and roasted the meat. When it was all cooked, he brought portions to Odysseus sprinkled with barley, and he brought him wine in a deep bowl of ivy wood. When Odysseus had eaten and drunken, Eumæus the swineherd said to him, As for Odysseus, no matter what wanderers or vagrants say, he will never return—dogs, or wild birds, or the fishes of the deep have devoured his body already. Never again shall I find so good a lord, nor would I find one so kind even if I were back in my own land, and saw the faces of my father and my mother.’
Odysseus said, ‘You say that your master will never return, but I notice that you are slow to believe your own words. Now I tell you that Odysseus will return and in this same year. And as sure as the old moon wanes and the young moon is born, he will take vengeance on those whom you have spoken of—those who eat his food and dishonour his wife and son. I say that, and I swear it with an oath.’
‘I pay no attention to your oath,’ said Eumæus the swineherd. ‘I do not listen to vagrant’s tales about my master since a stranger came here and cheated us with a story. He told us that he had seen Odysseus in the land of the Cretans, in the house of the hero Idomeneus, mending his ships that had been broken by the storm, and that he would be here by summer or by harvest time, bringing with him much wealth.’
As they were speaking the younger swineherds came back from the woods, bringing the swine into the courtyard. There was a mighty din whilst the swine were being put into their pens. Supper time came, and Eumæus and Odysseus and the younger swineherds sat down to a meal. Eumæus carved the meat, giving the best portion to Odysseus whom he treated as the guest of honour. Odysseus said, ‘Eumæus, surely you are advised by Zeus, seeing that you give the best of the meat to somebody like me.’
Eumæus, thinking Odysseus was praising him for treating a stranger kindly, said, ‘Eat, stranger, and be happy.’
The night was cold with rain. Then Odysseus, to test the kindliness of the swineherd, said, ‘I wish I were young and could endure this bitter night! I wish I were better off! If only one of you swineherds would give me a wrap to cover myself from the wind and rain! But now, truly, I am an outcast because of my sorry rags.’
Then Eumæus sprang up and made a bed for Odysseus near the fire. Odysseus lay down, and the swineherd covered him with a robe he kept for a covering when great storms came. Then, so that he could better guard the swine, Eumæus, wrapped himself up in a cloak, and took with him a sword and javelin, to drive off wild beasts should they come near, went to lie nearer to the pens.
When morning came, Odysseus said, ‘I am going to the town to beg, so that I need take nothing more from you. Send someone with me to be a guide. I will go to the house of Odysseus, and see if I can earn a little from the suitors who are there. I could serve them well if they would take me on. There could be no better serving-man than I, when it comes to chopping wood, and kindling a fire and carving meat.’
‘No, no,’ said Eumæus, ‘do not go there, stranger. You are welcome to stay here. Stay until the son of Odysseus, Telemachus, returns, and he will do something for you. Do not go near the suitors. They would not let someone like you serve them. Stay with us.’
Odysseus did not go to the town but stayed all day with Eumæus. And at night, when he and Eumæus and the younger swineherds were seated at the fire, Odysseus said, ‘You, too, Eumæus, have wandered far and had many sorrows. Tell us how you came to be a slave and a swineherd,’
THE STORY OF EUMÆUS THE SWINEHERD
There is,’ said Eumæus, ‘a certain island near Ortygia. That island has two cities, and my father was king over them both. A ship with merchants from the land of the Phœnicians came to the city where my father lived. I was a child then, and there was in my father’s house a Phœnician slave-woman who nursed me. Once, when she was washing clothes, one of the sailors from the Phœnician ship spoke to her and asked her if she would like to go back with them to their own land.’
‘She spoke to that sailor and told him her story. “I am from Sidon in the Phœnician land,” she said, “and my father was named Artybas, and was famous for his riches. Sea robbers caught me one day as I was crossing the fields, and they took me away, and brought me here, and sold me to the master of this house.”‘
‘Then the sailor said to her, “Your father and mother are still alive, I know, and they have lost none of their wealth. Why don’t you come with us and see them again?”‘
‘Then the woman made the sailors swear that they would bring her safely to the city of Sidon. She told them that when their ship was ready she would come down to it, and that she would bring what gold she could steal from her master’s house, and that she would also bring the child whom she nursed. “He is a wise child,” she said, “and you can sell him for a slave when you come to a foreign land.”‘
‘When the Phœnician ship was ready to depart they sent a message to the woman. The sailor who brought the message brought too a chain of gold with amber beads strung here and there, for my mother to buy. While my mother and her maids were handling the chain, the sailor nodded to the woman, and she went out, taking with her three bags of gold, and leading me by the hand,’
‘The sun sank and all the roads were dark. But the Phœnician woman went down to the harbour and came to the ship and went aboard it. When the sailor who had gone to my father’s house came back, they raised the mast and sails, and took the oars in their hands, and drew the ship away from our land. We sailed away. For six days we sailed over the sea, and on the seventh day the woman died and her body was thrown into the sea. The wind and the waves carried us to Ithaka, and there the merchants sold me to Laertes, the father of Odysseus.’
‘The wife of Laertes treated me kindly, and I grew up with the youngest of her daughters, the lovely Ctimene. But Ctimene went to Same, and was married to one of the princes of that island. Afterwards Laertes’ lady sent me to work in the fields. But she always treated me kindly. Now Laertes’ lady is dead, she wasted away from grief when she heard no news of her only son, Odysseus. Laertes still lives, but since the death of his noble wife he never leaves his house. All day he sits by his fire, they say, and thinks about his son’s doom, and how his son’s wealth is being wasted, and how his son’s son will have little to inherit.’
So Odysseus passed part of the night with Eumæus telling him of his wanderings and his sorrows. While they were speaking, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, came to Ithaka in his good ship. Antinous had waited for him, and had posted sentinels to watch for his ship.Nevertheless Telemachus had passed by without being seen by his enemies. And having come to Ithaka, he told one of his companions to bring the ship into the wharf of the city while he himself went to another place. Leaving the ship he came to the home of the servant he most trusted—to the home of Eumæus, the swineherd.