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Pages of Odyssey (Rapsodies 7 to 12)



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Odyssey (Rapsodies 7 to 12)   


the abode of Erechtheus; but Ulysses went on to the house of Alcinous,
and he pondered much as he paused a while before reaching the
threshold of bronze, for the splendour of the palace was like that
of the sun or moon. The walls on either side were of bronze from end
to end, and the cornice was of blue enamel. The doors were gold, and
hung on pillars of silver that rose from a floor of bronze, while
the lintel was silver and the hook of the door was of gold.
On either side there stood gold and silver mastiffs which Vulcan,
with his consummate skill, had fashioned expressly to keep watch
over the palace of king Alcinous; so they were immortal and could
never grow old. Seats were ranged all along the wall, here and there
from one end to the other, with coverings of fine woven work which the
women of the house had made. Here the chief persons of the Phaecians
used to sit and eat and drink, for there was abundance at all seasons;
and there were golden figures of young men with lighted torches in
their hands, raised on pedestals, to give light by night to those
who were at table. There are fifty maid servants in the house, some of
whom are always grinding rich yellow grain at the mill, while others
work at the loom, or sit and spin, and their shuttles go, backwards
and forwards like the fluttering of aspen leaves, while the linen is
so closely woven that it will turn oil. As the Phaecians are the
best sailors in the world, so their women excel all others in weaving,
for Minerva has taught them all manner of useful arts, and they are
very intelligent.
Outside the gate of the outer court there is a large garden of about
four acres with a wall all round it. It is full of beautiful trees-
pears, pomegranates, and the most delicious apples. There are luscious
figs also, and olives in full growth. The fruits never rot nor fail
all the year round, neither winter nor summer, for the air is so
soft that a new crop ripens before the old has dropped. Pear grows
on pear, apple on apple, and fig on fig, and so also with the
grapes, for there is an excellent vineyard: on the level ground of a
part of this, the grapes are being made into raisins; in another
part they are being gathered; some are being trodden in the wine tubs,
others further on have shed their blossom and are beginning to show
fruit, others again are just changing colour. In the furthest part
of the ground there are beautifully arranged beds of flowers that
are in bloom all the year round. Two streams go through it, the one
turned in ducts throughout the whole garden, while the other is
carried under the ground of the outer court to the house itself, and
the town's people draw water from it. Such, then, were the
splendours with which the gods had endowed the house of king Alcinous.
So here Ulysses stood for a while and looked about him, but when
he had looked long enough he crossed the threshold and went within the
precincts of the house. There he found all the chief people among
the Phaecians making their drink-offerings to Mercury, which they
always did the last thing before going away for the night. He went
straight through the court, still hidden by the cloak of darkness in
which Minerva had enveloped him, till he reached Arete and King
Alcinous; then he laid his hands upon the knees of the queen, and at
that moment the miraculous darkness fell away from him and he became
visible. Every one was speechless with surprise at seeing a man there,
but Ulysses began at once with his petition.
"Queen Arete," he exclaimed, "daughter of great Rhexenor, in my
distress I humbly pray you, as also your husband and these your guests
(whom may heaven prosper with long life and happiness, and may they
leave their possessions to their children, and all the honours
conferred upon them by the state) to help me home to my own country as
soon as possible; for I have been long in trouble and away from my
friends."
Then he sat down on the hearth among the ashes and they all held
their peace, till presently the old hero Echeneus, who was an
excellent speaker and an elder among the Phaeacians, plainly and in
all honesty addressed them thus:

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