Phemius the Minstrel Sings
When Telemachus went back to the hall those who were feasting and drinking called out for Phemius, the minstrel, to come and sing some tale to entertain them. As he went amongst them one of the wooers said to another, ‘The guest who was with him has told Telemachus something that has changed him. Now he walks more proudly and confidently. Maybe he has spoken to him of the return of his father, the famous Odysseus.’
Phemius came and the wooers asked him to sing them a tale. The minstrel began the tale of the return of the Kings and Princes from Troy, and of how some god or goddess made trouble for them as they left the City they had taken. As the minstrel began the tale, Penelope, Telemachus’ mother, was coming down the stairs with two maids beside her. She heard the words he sang, and she stood still in her grief and drew her veil across her face. ‘Oh Phemius,’ she cried, ‘stop telling that story that ever hurts my heart—the story that has brought me sorrow and that makes me miserable all the time! Phemius, don’t you know any other tales of men and gods that you could sing in this hall for the entertainment of my guests?’
The minstrel would have stopped when Penelope said this, but Telemachus went to the stairway where his mother stood, and said, ‘Mother, why don’t you let the minstrel entertain the guests with any songs he feels like singing? It is not his fault if he sings songs that are sad to us. As for you, my mother, you must learn to endure that story, for it will be sung for a long time and in many places. You are not the only one who is bereaved. Many other men besides Odysseus didn’t come home from the war of Troy.’
Penelope, his mother, looked in surprise at her son who spoke to her so wisely. Was this indeed Telemachus who before had hardly lifted his head? As she looked at him again she saw that he carried his head, which was so like Odysseus’, high and proudly. She saw that her son was now indeed a man. Penelope said nothing to him, for she had a new idea. She turned round on the stairs and went back with her maids to the room where her loom was. As she went up the stairway and away from them her wooers muttered one to the other that she would soon have to choose one of them for her husband.
Telemachus turned to those who were standing at the tables and addressed them. ‘Wooers of my mother,’ he said, ‘I have a word to say to you.’
‘Goodness,’ said one of the wooers, ‘you must tell us first who it is who has made you so high and proud.’
‘Surely,’ said another, ‘the person who did that is the stranger who was with him. Who is he? Why did he come here, and where does he come from?’
‘Why didn’t he stay so that we could look at him and speak to him?’ said another of the wooers.
‘This is what I want to say to you. Let us feast now in peace, without any fighting and listen to the tale that the minstrel sings to us,’ said Telemachus. ‘But tomorrow let us have a council made up of the important men of this land of Ithaka. I shall go to the council and speak there. I shall ask that you leave this house of mine and feast on goods that you yourselves have gathered. Let the council judge whether I speak fairly to you or not. If you do not listen to what I will say openly at the council, then what happens to you is your own fault.’
All the wooers marveled that Telemachus spoke so boldly. One said, ‘Because his father, Odysseus, was king, this youth thinks he should be king by inheritance. But may Zeus, the god, never let him be king.’
Then said Telemachus, ‘If the god Zeus lets me be King, I am ready to take up the Kingship of the land of Ithaka with all its work and all its dangers.’ When Telemachus said that he looked like a young king indeed.
But they sat in peace and listened to what the minstrel sang. When evening came the wooers left the hall and went to their own homes. Telemachus rose and went to his room. In front of him went an elderly woman called Eurycleia who had nursed him as a child. She carried burning torches to light his way. When they were in his room Telemachus took off his soft jacket and put it in Eurycleia’s hands, and she smoothed it out and hung it up. Then she went out and she closed the door behind. All night long Telemachus lay wrapped in his fleece of wool and thought about what he would say at the council the next day, and about the goddess Athene and what she had put into his heart to do, and about the journey that was before him to Nestor in Pylos and to Menelaus and Helen in Sparta.