VIII MENELAUS AND HELEN

                                  VIII

 

They came to Sparta, to a country lying low amongst the hills, and they left the chariot outside the gate of the King’s home. That day Menelaus was sending his daughter into Phthia, with horses and chariots, as a bride for Achilles’ son. And a bride was being brought into the house for Megapenthes, his own son. Because of these two marriages there was feasting in the palace and kinsmen and neighbours were gathered there. A minstrel was singing to the guests and two acrobats were whirling round the hall to entertain them.

Eteoneus, the steward came to the King in his hall. ‘Renowned Menelaus,’ said Eteoneus, ‘there are two strangers outside, men who look like heroes. What do you want me to do with them? Shall I have their horses unyoked, and ask them to enter the Palace, or shall I let them go somewhere else?’

‘Why do you ask such a question, Eteoneus?’ said Menelaus in anger. Didn’t we eat the food of other men on our journeys, and didn’t we rest in other men’s houses? Knowing this you have no right to ask whether you should ask strangers to enter or let them go past the gate of my home. Go now and ask them to come and feast with us.’

Then Eteoneus left the hall, and while he had servants unyoke the horses from their chariot he led Telemachus and Peisistratus into the palace. First they were brought to the bath, and when they had come from the bath refreshed, they were given new clothes. Then they were led into the King’s hall. They seated themselves there, and a maid brought water in a golden jug and poured it over their hands into a silver basin. Then a table was put beside them, and the servant placed bread and meat and wine on it so that they could eat.

Menelaus came to where they sat and said to Telemachus and Peisistratus, ‘By your looks I can see you are the sons of Kings. Eat now, and when you have refreshed yourselves I will ask who you are and where you come from.’

But before they had finished their meal, and while Menelaus the king was showing them the treasures that were near, the lady Helen came into the high hall—Helen for whom the Kings and Princes of Greece had gone to war. Her maids were with her, and they set a chair for her near where Menelaus was and they put a rug of soft wool under her feet. Then a maid brought a silver basket filled with colored yarn to her. Helen sat in her chair and worked the yarn. She asked Menelaus about what had happened during the day, and as she did she watched Telemachus.

Then Helen said, ‘Menelaus, I have to tell you who one of these strangers is. No one was ever more like another than this youth is like Odysseus. I know that he is no other than Telemachus, whom Odysseus left as a child, when, for my sake, the Greeks began their war against Troy.’

Then said Menelaus, ‘I also noticed his resemblane to Odysseus. The shape of his head, the glance of his eye, remind me of Odysseus. But can it indeed be that Telemachus has come into my house?’

‘Renowned Menelaus,’ said Peisistratus, ‘this is indeed the son of Odysseus. I am myself the son of another comrade of yours, Nestor, who was with you at the war of Troy. I have been sent with Telemachus to be his guide to your house.’

Menelaus stood up and took the hand of Telemachus. ‘You are most welcome’, he said. Odysseus endured much suffering and many adventures for my sake. If he had come to my country I would have given him a city to rule over, and I think that nothing would have separated us from each other. But Odysseus, I know, has not returned to his own land of Ithaka.’

Then Telemachus, thinking about his father, dead, or wandering through the world, wept. Helen, too, shed tears, remembering things that had happened. And Menelaus, thinking about Odysseus and on all his suffering, was silent and sad. Peisistratus was also sad as he thought about Antilochos, his brother, who had died in the war of Troy.

But Helen, wishing to turn their minds to other thoughts, put into the wine a drug that took away pain and brought forgetfulness. This drug had been given to her in Egypt by Polydamna, the wife of King Theon. When they had drunk the wine their sorrowful memories left them, and they spoke to each other without sadness. Then King Menelaus told of his adventure with the Ancient One of the Sea—the adventure that had brought him the last news of Odysseus.