VII NESTOR

                                   VII

 

The sun rose and Telemachus and his fellow voyagers drew near to the shore of Pylos and to the steep citadel built by Neleus, the father of Nestor, the famous King. They saw on the shore men in companies making sacrifice to Poseidon, the dark-haired god of the sea. There were nine companies there and each company had nine black oxen for the sacrifice, and the number of men in each company was five hundred. They killed the oxen and they lay parts of it to burn on the altars of the god, and then the men sat down to feast.

The voyagers brought their ship to the shore and Telemachus sprang from it. But the goddess, Athene, in the likeness of the old man, Mentor went before him. The goddess told Telemachus that Nestor, the King that he had come to see, was on the shore. She told him now go and ask Nestor for news of his father, Odysseus.

But Telemachus said to her, ‘Mentor, how can I bring myself to speak to one who is of such a high position? How should I greet him? And how can I, a young man, question someone like Nestor, the old King?’

The goddess Athene, encouraged him. The right words, she said, would come and so Telemachus went with the goddess. Nestor was seated on the shore with his sons around him. When they saw the two strangers approach, the sons of Nestor stood up to greet them. One, Peisistratus, took the hand of Telemachus and the hand of the goddess and led them both to where Nestor was.

A golden cup was put into the hand of each and wine was poured into the cups, and Nestor’s son, Peisistratus, asked Telemachus and the goddess to pray that the sacrifice they were making to Poseidon, the god of the sea, would bring good to them and to their people. Then the goddess Athene in the likeness of old Mentor held the cup in her hand and prayed,’Hear me, Poseidon, shaker of the earth. First, give honour to Nestor and his sons. Then reward the people of Pylos for the sacrifice of oxen they have made. Also allow Telemachus and I to return safely when what we have come in our swift ship to do has been achieved.’

Telemachus prayed in the words of the goddess and then the sons of Nestor made them both sit on the fleeces that were spread on the shore. Dishes of meat were brought to them and cups of wine, and when they had eaten and drunk, the old King, Nestor, spoke to them.

‘It is not courteous to ask of strangers who they are and where they go until they have had food and drink,’ he said. ‘But now, my guests, I will ask you what your land is, what your quest is, and what your names are.’

Then Telemachus said,’Nestor, renowned King of the Greeks, we come from Ithaka and we seek news of my father Odysseus, who, long ago, fought by your side in the war of Troy. Men say, he defeated the great City of the Trojans with you. But that was the last I heard of him. I have come to you, Oh King, to beg you to give me news of him—whether he died and you saw his death, or whether you heard of his death from somebody else’. Then Nestor, the old King said, ‘Honestly my son, you make me sad. Ah, where are they who were with me in our war against the mighty City of Troy? Where is Aias and Achilles and Patroklos and my own dear son, Antilochos, who was so noble and so strong? And where is Agamemnon now? He returned to his own land, to be killed in his own hall by a most treacherous enemy. And now you ask me of Odysseus, the man who was dearer to me than any of the others—Odysseus, who was always of the same mind as me! We never disagreed in the assembly or in the council.

‘You tell me that you are the son of Odysseus! Surely you are. I am amazed as I listen and look at you, for you look as he looked and you speak as he spoke. But please tell me about your homeland and of how things are in Ithaka.’

Then he told the old King of the evil done by the wooers of his mother, and when he had told of them Telemachus cried out, ‘Oh, I wish that the gods would give me strength that I could take revenge on them for their many crimes.’

Then old Nestor said, ‘Who knows if Odysseus will return home and stop the violence of these suitors and the insults they have made to your house. The goddess Athene could help in this matter. She was very fond of your father, and never before did the gods show such favour to a mortal as the goddess showed to Odysseus, your father.’

But Telemachus answered, ‘What you say is impossible, King.’

Then Athene, in the likeness of old Mentor, spoke to him saying, ‘What do you mean, Telemachus? If it should please them, any one of the gods could bring a man home from afar. The only thing the gods cannot do is save a man who is doomed to die.’

Telemachus answered her by saying, ‘Mentor, let’s not talk about this anymore. Nestor, the renowned King, has been very gracious to me, but he has nothing to tell me of my father. I believe now that Odysseus will never return.’

‘Go to Menelaus,’ said Nestor. ‘Go to Menelaus in Sparta. He has recently come from a far and strange country and it may be that he has heard of Odysseus in his wanderings. You can go to Sparta in your ship. But if you want to go by land then I will give you a chariot and horses, and my son will go with you to be a guide for you into Sparta.’

Then Telemachus, with Athene, the goddess in the likeness of old Mentor, would have gone back to their ship, but Nestor the King said, You two should not go back to the ship to rest while there is a guest room in my hall. Come with me to a place where you can lie comfortably. Come with me now.’

Then the goddess Athene in the likeness of old Mentor said, ‘You have spoken as a true King. Telemachus should go with you. But it is better that the young men who came with him should have an elder with them on the ship tonight. I shall stay with them.’

The goddess, Athene, in the likeness of old Mentor went back to the ship, and Telemachus went with Nestor and his sons to the high citadel of Neleus. There he was given a bath, and the maiden Polycaste, the youngest daughter of King Nestor, looked after him. She gave him new clothes to wear and then he slept in a room with Peisistratus, the youngest of Nestor’s sons.

In the morning they feasted and did sacrifice, and when he had given judgments to the people, the old King Nestor spoke to his sons, ‘Now, my sons, yoke the horses to the chariot for Telemachus  so that he can go on his way to Sparta.’

The sons of Nestor yoked the swift horses to the chariot and the servants came from the hall and placed in the chariot wine and food. Telemachus got into the chariot and Peisistratus sat in front of him. Then Peisistratus touched the horses with the whip and they sprang forward, and the chariot went swiftly over the plain. Soon they left behind the steep citadel of Neleus and the land of Pylos. When the sun sank and the roads were dark, they came to Pheræ and to the house of Diocles and there they rested for the night.

In the morning as soon as the sun rose they yoked the horses and got in the chariot, and for another day they journeyed across the plain. They had gone far and the roads were again dark around them.