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Pages of Odyssey (Rapsodies 19 to 24)



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Odyssey (Rapsodies 19 to 24)   


killed Iphitus ere they could do so. This bow, then, given him by
Iphitus, had not been taken with him by Ulysses when he sailed for
Troy; he had used it so long as he had been at home, but had left it
behind as having been a keepsake from a valued friend.
Penelope presently reached the oak threshold of the store room;
the carpenter had planed this duly, and had drawn a line on it so as
to get it quite straight; he had then set the door posts into it and
hung the doors. She loosed the strap from the handle of the door,
put in the key, and drove it straight home to shoot back the bolts
that held the doors; these flew open with a noise like a bull
bellowing in a meadow, and Penelope stepped upon the raised
platform, where the chests stood in which the fair linen and clothes
were laid by along with fragrant herbs: reaching thence, she took down
the bow with its bow case from the peg on which it hung. She sat
down with it on her knees, weeping bitterly as she took the bow out of
its case, and when her tears had relieved her, she went to the
cloister where the suitors were, carrying the bow and the quiver, with
the many deadly arrows that were inside it. Along with her came her
maidens, bearing a chest that contained much iron and bronze which her
husband had won as prizes. When she reached the suitors, she stood
by one of the bearing-posts supporting the roof of the cloister,
holding a veil before her face, and with a maid on either side of her.
Then she said:
"Listen to me you suitors, who persist in abusing the hospitality of
this house because its owner has been long absent, and without other
pretext than that you want to marry me; this, then, being the prize
that you are contending for, I will bring out the mighty bow of
Ulysses, and whomsoever of you shall string it most easily and send
his arrow through each one of twelve axes, him will I follow and
quit this house of my lawful husband, so goodly, and so abounding in
wealth. But even so I doubt not that I shall remember it in my
dreams."
As she spoke, she told Eumaeus to set the bow and the pieces of iron
before the suitors, and Eumaeus wept as he took them to do as she
had bidden him. Hard by, the stockman wept also when he saw his
master's bow, but Antinous scolded them. "You country louts," said he,
"silly simpletons; why should you add to the sorrows of your
mistress by crying in this way? She has enough to grieve her in the
loss of her husband; sit still, therefore, and eat your dinners in
silence, or go outside if you want to cry, and leave the bow behind
you. We suitors shall have to contend for it with might and main,
for we shall find it no light matter to string such a bow as this
is. There is not a man of us all who is such another as Ulysses; for I
have seen him and remember him, though I was then only a child."
This was what he said, but all the time he was expecting to be
able to string the bow and shoot through the iron, whereas in fact
he was to be the first that should taste of the arrows from the
hands of Ulysses, whom he was dishonouring in his own house- egging
the others on to do so also.
Then Telemachus spoke. "Great heavens!" he exclaimed, "Jove must
have robbed me of my senses. Here is my dear and excellent mother
saying she will quit this house and marry again, yet I am laughing and
enjoying myself as though there were nothing happening. But,
suitors, as the contest has been agreed upon, let it go forward. It is
for a woman whose peer is not to be found in Pylos, Argos, or
Mycene, nor yet in Ithaca nor on the mainland. You know this as well
as I do; what need have I to speak in praise of my mother? Come on,
then, make no excuses for delay, but let us see whether you can string
the bow or no. I too will make trial of it, for if I can string it and
shoot through the iron, I shall not suffer my mother to quit this
house with a stranger, not if I can win the prizes which my father won
before me."
As he spoke he sprang from his seat, threw his crimson cloak from
him, and took his sword from his shoulder. First he set the axes in

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