Odyssey (Rapsodies 19 to 24)
me killed by the most cruel death you can think of."
"My dear nurse," said Penelope, "however wise you may be you can
hardly fathom the counsels of the gods. Nevertheless, we will go in
search of my son, that I may see the corpses of the suitors, and the
man who has killed them."
On this she came down from her upper room, and while doing so she
considered whether she should keep at a distance from her husband
and question him, or whether she should at once go up to him and
embrace him. When, however, she had crossed the stone floor of the
cloister, she sat down opposite Ulysses by the fire, against the
wall at right angles [to that by which she had entered], while Ulysses
sat near one of the bearing-posts, looking upon the ground, and
waiting to see what his wife would say to him when she saw him. For
a long time she sat silent and as one lost in amazement. At one moment
she looked him full in the face, but then again directly, she was
misled by his shabby clothes and failed to recognize him, till
Telemachus began to reproach her and said:
"Mother- but you are so hard that I cannot call you by such a
name- why do you keep away from my father in this way? Why do you
not sit by his side and begin talking to him and asking him questions?
No other woman could bear to keep away from her husband when he had
come back to her after twenty years of absence, and after having
gone through so much; but your heart always was as hard as a stone."
Penelope answered, "My son, I am so lost in astonishment that I
can find no words in which either to ask questions or to answer
them. I cannot even look him straight in the face. Still, if he really
is Ulysses come back to his own home again, we shall get to understand
one another better by and by, for there are tokens with which we two
are alone acquainted, and which are hidden from all others."
Ulysses smiled at this, and said to Telemachus, "Let your mother put
me to any proof she likes; she will make up her mind about it
presently. She rejects me for the moment and believes me to be
somebody else, because I am covered with dirt and have such bad
clothes on; let us, however, consider what we had better do next. When
one man has killed another, even though he was not one who would leave
many friends to take up his quarrel, the man who has killed him must
still say good bye to his friends and fly the country; whereas we have
been killing the stay of a whole town, and all the picked youth of
Ithaca. I would have you consider this matter."
"Look to it yourself, father," answered Telemachus, "for they say
you are the wisest counsellor in the world, and that there is no other
mortal man who can compare with you. We will follow you with right
good will, nor shall you find us fail you in so far as our strength
"I will say what I think will be best," answered Ulysses. "First
wash and put your shirts on; tell the maids also to go to their own
room and dress; Phemius shall then strike up a dance tune on his lyre,
so that if people outside hear, or any of the neighbours, or some
one going along the street happens to notice it, they may think
there is a wedding in the house, and no rumours about the death of the
suitors will get about in the town, before we can escape to the
woods upon my own land. Once there, we will settle which of the
courses heaven vouchsafes us shall seem wisest."
Thus did he speak, and they did even as he had said. First they
washed and put their shirts on, while the women got ready. Then
Phemius took his lyre and set them all longing for sweet song and
stately dance. The house re-echoed with the sound of men and women
dancing, and the people outside said, "I suppose the queen has been
getting married at last. She ought to be ashamed of herself for not
continuing to protect her husband's property until he comes home."
This was what they said, but they did not know what it was that
had been happening. The upper servant Eurynome washed and anointed
Ulysses in his own house and gave him a shirt and cloak, while Minerva
made him look taller and stronger than before; she also made the