V ATHENE APPEARS

                                               V

 

Telemachus went alone to the shore of the sea. He dipped his hands into the sea water and prayed, saying, ‘Oh Goddess Athene, I have tried to do as you told me. But still the suitors of my mother prevent me from taking a ship to seek news of my father.’

He spoke in prayer and then he saw someone who looked very much like the old man Mentor coming towards him. But by the blue, clear, brightly shining eyes he knew that the figure was none other than the goddess Athene.

‘Telemachus,’ she said, ‘if you have indeed one drop of your father’s blood in you or one portion of his spirit, if you are as he was, ready to fulfill both word and work, your voyage shall not be in vain. If you are different from what he was, I have no hope that you will achieve your aim. But I have seen in you something of the wisdom and the courage of Odysseus. Listen to my advice then, and do as I tell you. Go back to your father’s house and spend a little more time with the suitors. Gather corn , barley flour and wine in jars. While you are doing all this I will find a crew for your ship. There are many ships in the harbor of Ithaka and I shall choose the best for you and we will prepare her quickly and then set sail.’

When Telemachus heard this he hurried back to the house and went down into the treasure vault. It was a spacious room filled with gold and bronze and chests of fine robes and casks of wine. The doors of that vault were closed night and day and Eurycleia, the the nurse of Telemachus when he was little, guarded the place. He spoke to her,’ My nurse,’ he said, ‘no one but yourself must know what I do now, and you must swear not to speak of it to my mother until twelve days have passed. Fill twelve jars with wine for me now, and pour twelve measures of barley flour into well-sewn bags. Leave them all together for me, and when my mother goes into the dining room, I shall have them carried away. I go to Pylos and to Sparta to seek news from Nestor and Menelaus of Odysseus, my father.’

When she heard him say this, the nurse Eurycleia cried. ‘Ah, how could you think such a thing? How can you survive over wide seas and through strange lands, when you have never been away from your home? Stay here where you are loved. As for your father, he died a long time ago so why should you put yourself in danger to find out that he is no longer living? No, do not go, Telemachus, but stay in your own house and in your own country.’

Telemachus said, ‘Dear nurse, it has been shown to me that I should go by a goddess. Is not that enough for you and for me? Now get everything ready for me as I have asked you, and swear to me that you will say nothing of it to my mother until twelve days from now.’

Having sworn as he asked her, the nurse Eurycleia poured the wine into jars and put the barley flour into the well-sewn bags. Telemachus left the vault and went back into the hall. He sat with the suitors and listened to the minstrel Phemius sing about the voyages of Odysseus and the wars of Troy.

While these things were happening the goddess Athene went through the town disgused as Telemachus. She went to different young men and told them of the voyage and asked them to get ready and go down to the beach where the boat would be. Then she went to a man called Noëmon, and begged him for a swift ship, and Noëmon gave it to her.

When the sun sank and when the roads were dark Athene dragged the ship to where it should be launched. The youths whom Athene had summoned were all about the same age as Telemachus. Athene aroused them with talk of the voyage. When the ship was ready she went to the house of Odysseus. She made the suitors who were still in the hall fall asleep. They lay their heads on the tables and slumbered beside the wine cups. Then Athene sent a whisper through the hall and Telemachus heard and came to where she stood. Now she appeared like old Mentor, the friend of his father Odysseus.

‘Come,’ said she, ‘your friends are already at the oars. We must not delay them.’

But some of the youths had come with the person they thought was old Mentor. They carried the bags of corn and the casks of wine. They came to the ship, and Telemachus with a cheer climbed into it. Then the youths released the ropes and sat down at the benches to pull the oars. Athene, looking like old Mentor, sat at the helm.

A wind came and filled out the sails, and the youths pulled at the oars, and the ship sailed away. All night long Telemachus and his friends sat at the oars and under the sails, and felt the ship carrying them swiftly onward through the dark water. Phemius, the minstrel, was with them, and, as the night went by, he sang to them about Troy and of the heroes who had waged war against it.