II A STRANGER APPEARS

                                         II

 

One day, as he sat sad and unhappy in the house of his father, Telemachus saw a stranger come to the outer gate. There were many in the court outside, but no one went to receive the newcomer. Then, because he would never let a stranger stand at the gate without hurrying out to welcome him, and because, too, he had hopes that someday such a person would bring him news of his father, Telemachus rose up from where he was sitting and went down the hall and through the court and to the gate where the stranger stood.

‘Welcome to the house of Odysseus,’ said Telemachus giving him his hand. The stranger shook it. ‘Thank you, Telemachus,’ he said, ‘for your welcome, and I am glad to enter the house of your father, the famous Odysseus.’

The stranger looked like someone who would be a captain amongst soldiers. His eyes were blue and clear and shone brightly. In his hand he carried a great bronze spear. He and Telemachus went together through the court and into the hall. The stranger left his spear in the spearst and Telemachus took him to a seat and put a footstool under his feet.

He had brought him to a place in the hall where the crowd would not come. There were many people in the court outside and Telemachus did not want his guest disturbed by questions or noise. A maid brought water to wash his hands, and poured it over them from a golden jug into a silver basin. A polished table was left at his side. Then the servant brought bread and many cakes. Other servants set down dishes of meat with golden cups, and afterwards the maids came into the hall and filled up the cups with wine.

But the servants who waited on Telemachus and his guest were disturbed by the crowd of men who now came into the hall. They seated themselves at tables and shouted out their orders. Great dishes of meat and jugs of wine were brought to them, and the men ate , drank and talked loudly to each other and stared at the stranger who sat with Telemachus.

‘Is there a wedding feast in the house?’ the stranger asked, ‘or do the men of your clan meet here to drink with each other?’

Telemachus looked embarrassed. ‘There is no wedding feast here,’ he said, ‘nor do the men of our clan meet here to drink with each other. Listen to me, my guest. Because you look so wise and because you seem so friendly to my father’s name I will tell you who these men are and why they trouble this house.’

Then, Telemachus told the stranger how his father had not returned from the war of Troy although it had finished ten years before. ‘Alas,’ Telemachus said, ‘he must have died on his way back to us, and I must think that his bones lie under some nameless strait or channel of the ocean. If he had died in the fight at Troy the Kings and Princes would have given him a tomb worthy of his name and his deeds. His memory would have been revered amongst men, and I, his son, would have a name, and would not be forced to face such men as you see here—men who are feasting and giving orders in my father’s house.’

‘Why are they here?’ asked the stranger. Telemachus told him about this also. When, seven years after the fall of Troy, and Odysseus still did not return there were those who thought he was dead and would never return to Ithaka. Then many of the young lords of the land wanted Penelope, Telemachus’ mother, to marry one of them. They came to the house to woo her for marriage. But she, mourning for the absence of Odysseus and always hoping that he would return, would give no answer to them. For three years now they have been coming to the house of Odysseus to woo the wife whom he had left behind. ‘They want to put my  mother into a difficult situation,’ said Telemachus, ‘either to promise to marry one of them or to see the wealth of our house wasted by them. Here they come and eat the food from our fields, and kill the animals of our flocks and herds, and drink the wine that in the old days my father stored, and exhaust our servants with their orders.’

When he had told him all this Telemachus raised his head and looked at the stranger: ‘My guest,’ he said, ‘wisdom and power shine out of your eyes. Speak to me now and tell me what I should do to save the house of Odysseus from ruin. And tell me too if you think it possible that my father should still be alive.’

The stranger looked at him with his bright blue, shining eyes. ‘Are you really the son of Odysseus?’ he said.

‘Yes, I am the son of Odysseus,’ said Telemachus.

‘As I look at you,’ said the stranger, ‘I notice your head and eyes, and I know they are the same head and eyes as Odysseus had. Well, being the son of such a man, and of such a woman as the lady Penelope, your spirit surely shall find a way of destroying those wooers who would destroy your house.’

‘Already,’ said Telemachus, ‘your gaze and your speech make me feel equal to the task of dealing with them.’

‘I think,’ said the stranger, ‘that Odysseus, your father, has not passed away. He still might return home despite many difficulties. But you should try to find news of him. Listen to me now and I shall tell you what to do.

‘Tomorrow summon a council of all the important men of the land of Ithaka, and stand up in that council and declare that the time has come for the wooers who waste your wealth to leave, each man to his own home. After the council has been you must go on a voyage to find out news of your father, whether he still lives and where he might be. Go to Pylos first, to the home of Nestor, that old King who was with your father in the war of Troy. Beg Nestor to give you whatever news he has of Odysseus. Then from Pylos go to Sparta, to the home of Menelaus and Helen, and beg news of your father from them too. If you get news of his being alive, return. It will be easy for you then to put up with another year of the wasting of your wealth by those wooers. But if you learn that your father, the famous Odysseus, is indeed dead and gone, then come back and make a great tomb to his memory. Then let your mother choose a good man to be her husband and let her marry him, knowing for a certainty that Odysseus will never come back to his own house. After that something will remain for you to do: You will have to punish those wooers who destroy the goods your father gathered and who insult his house by their presence. When all these things have been done, you, Telemachus, will be free to seek out your own fortune. You will rise to fame, for I can see that you are handsome and strong and most likely to be a wise and brave man. But now I must continue on my journey.’

The stranger rose up from where he sat and went with Telemachus from the hall and through the court and to the outer gate. Telemachus said, ‘What you have told me I shall not forget. I know you have spoken out of a wise and a friendly heart, and as a father to his son.’

The stranger shook his hands and went through the gate. Then, as he looked after him Telemachus saw the stranger change his shape. He first became a woman, tall, with fair hair and a spear of bronze in her hand. Then the form of the woman changed too. It changed into a great sea eagle that rose up on wide wings and flew high through the air. Telemachus knew then that his visitor was an immortal and no other than the goddess Athene who had been his father’s friend.