2.XVII PEACE AT LAST

                                                    XVII

 

And still many dangers had to be faced. The suitors whom Odysseus had slain were the richest and the most powerful of the lords of Ithaka and the Islands; all of them had fathers and brothers who would eagerly avenge themselves on their slayer.

Now before anyone in the City knew that he had returned, Odysseus went to the farm that Laertes, his old father, stayed at. As he drew near he saw an old man working in the vineyard, digging round a plant. When he came to him he saw that this old man was not a slave nor a servant, but Laertes, his own father.

When he saw him, wasted with age and uncared for, Odysseus stood still, leaning his hand against a pear tree and sad in his heart. Old Laertes kept his head down as he stood digging at the plant, and he did not see Odysseus until he stood before him and said, ‘Old man, you obviously care for this garden well and every things here is flourishing—fig tree, and vine, and olive, and pear. But, if a stranger may say it, you yourself are not cared for well.’

‘Who are you that dares speak to me like this?’ old Laertes said, lifting his head.

‘I am a stranger in Ithaka,’ said Odysseus. ‘I seek a man whom I once kindly treated—a man whose name was Odysseus. He came to me as a stranger, and he declared that he was from Ithaka, and that one day he would give me entertainment for the entertainment I had given him. I don’t know if this man is still alive.’

Old Laertes wept before Odysseus. ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘if you had been able to find him here, the gifts you gave him would not have been bestowed in vain. You would have received true hospitality from Odysseus, my son. But he has perished—far from his country’s soil he has perished, the unfortunate man, and his mother wept not over him, nor his wife, nor me, his father.’

After saying this he picked up some dust from the ground, and he dropped it over his head in his sorrow. The heart of Odysseus was moved with grief. He sprang forward and fell on his father’s neck and he kissed him, saying:

‘See I am here, my father. I, Odysseus, have come back to my own country. Stop grieving while I tell you of the things that have happened. I have killed the suitors in my hall, and I have avenged all their injuries and all their wrongful doings. Don’t you believe this, my father? Then look at what I will show you. See on my foot the mark of the boar’s tusk—there it is from the days of my youth.’

Laertes looked down on the bare foot, and he saw the scar, but still his mind was clouded by doubt. But then Odysseus took him through the garden, and he told him about the fruit trees that Laertes had planted for him when he, Odysseus, was a little child, following his father about the garden—thirteen pear trees, and ten apple trees, and forty fig trees.

When Odysseus showed him these Laertes knew that it was his son indeed who stood before him—his son come back after twenty years’ wandering. He cast his arms around his neck, and Odysseus caught him fainting, and led him into the house.

Inside the house were Telemachus, and Eumæus the swineherd and Philœtius the cattleherd. They all clasped the hand of Laertes and their words raised his spirits. Then he was bathed, and, when he came from the bath, rubbed with olive oil he looked healthy and strong, Odysseus said to him, ‘Father, surely one of the gods has made you better and greater than you were a while ago.’

The old hero Laertes said, ‘Ah, my son, I wish I had the strength I had before you were born, I took the Castle of Nericus there on the Foreland. I wish I had stood with you yesterday, with that strength, against the suitors

While they were speaking the rumour of the slaying of the suitors went through the City. Then those who were related to the slain men went into the courtyard of Odysseus’ house, and brought out the bodies. Those who belonged to Ithaka they buried, and those who belonged to the Islands they put upon ships, and sent them with fisherfolk, each to his own home. Many were furious with Odysseus for the slaying of their friends. Eupeithes, the father of Antinous was the most enraged

There was an assembly of the men of the country, and Eupeithes spoke in it, and all who were there pitied him. He told how Odysseus had led away the best of the men of Ithaka, and how he had lost them in his ships. And he told them how, when he returned, he killed the noblest of the men of Ithaka and the Islands in his own hall. He called upon them to slay Odysseus saying, ‘If we don’t avenge ourselves on the slayer of our kin we will be scorned for all time as weak and cowardly men. As for me, life is no longer sweet. I would rather die straightaway and be with the departed. Up now, and let us attack Odysseus and his followers before they take ship and escape across the sea.’

Many in that assembly put on their armour and went out with old Eupeithes. As they went through the town they met with Odysseus and his friends as they were coming from the house of Laertes.

Now as the two bands came close to each other—Odysseus with Telemachus and Laertes; with the swineherd and the cattleherd; with Dolius, Laertes’ servant, and with the six sons of Dolius—and Eupeithes with his friends—a great figure came between. It was the figure of a tall, fair and splendid woman. Odysseus knew she was the goddess Pallas Athene.

‘Refrain from fierce fighting, you men of Ithaka,’ the goddess called out in a terrible voice. ‘Hold your hands,’ Straightaway the arms fell from each man’s hands. Then the goddess called them together, and she made them enter into a agreement that all bloodshed and wrong would be forgotten, and that Odysseus would be left to rule Ithaka as a King, in peace.

So ends the story of Odysseus who went with King Agamemnon to the wars of Troy; who made the plan of the Wooden Horse by which Priam’s City was taken at last and who missed the way of his return, and came to the Land of the Lotus-eaters; who came to the Country of the dread Cyclôpes, to the Island of Æolus and to the house of Circe, the Enchantress; who heard the song of the Sirens, and came to the Rocks Wandering, and to the terrible Charybdis, and to Scylla, past whom no other man had passed unscathed; who landed on the Island where the Cattle of the Sun grazed, and who stayed on Ogygia, the home of the nymph Calypso; so ends the story of Odysseus, who would have been made deathless and ageless by Calypso if he had not yearned always to come back to his own hearth and his own land. And spite of all his troubles and his toils he was fortunate, for he found a loving wife and a dutiful son and a father still alive to weep over him.