A Stranger in His Own Home
It was time for Telemachus to go into the City. He put his sandals on his feet, and took his spear in his hand, and then speaking to the swineherd he said, ‘Friend Eumæus, I am now going into the City to see my mother, and to let her hear from my own lips the tale of my journey. There is something I want you to do for me. Take this stranger into the City, so that he can go about as he desires, asking alms from the people.’
Odysseus in the guise of a beggar said, ‘I thank you lord Telemachus. I would not stay here, for I am too old to wait about a hut and courtyard, obeying the orders of a master, even if that master is as good a man as your swineherd. Go on your way, lord Telemachus, and Eumæus will lead me into the City.’
Telemachus ,then left and went into the City. When he went into the house, the first person he saw was his nurse, old Eurycleia, who welcomed him with joy. He told Eurycleia about the guest named Theoclymenus who had come on his ship. He told her that this guest would be in the house that day, and that he was to be treated with all honour and respect. The suitors came into the hall and crowded around him, with fair words in their mouths. Then they all sat down at tables, and Eurycleia brought wheaten bread and wine.
At that time Odysseus and Eumæus were journeying towards the City. Odysseus, in the guise of a beggar, had a ragged bag over his shoulders and he carried a staff that the swineherd had given him to help him over the slippery ground. They went by a rugged path and they came to a place where a spring flowed into a basin made for its water, and where there was an altar to the Nymphs, at which men made offerings.
As Eumæus and Odysseus were resting at the spring, a servant from Odysseus’ house came along. He was a goatherd, and Melanthius was his name. He was leading a flock of goats for the suitors to kill, and when he saw the swineherd with the beggar he cried out,’Now we see the vile leading the vile. Say, swineherd, where are you leading this wretch? It is easy to see the sort of fellow he is! He is the sort to go begging for scraps. He is good for nothing else. But if you give him to me, swineherd, I would make him watch my fields, and sweep out my stalls, and carry fresh water to the goats. I would feed him. But a fellow like this doesn’t want an honest job—he wants to lounge through the country, filling his belly, without doing anything for the people who feed him. If he goes to the house of Odysseus, I pray that he be chased from the door.’
He said all this as he came up to them with his flock of goats. And as he went by he gave Odysseus a kick.
Odysseus considered whether he should strike the fellow with his staff or throw him to the ground. But in the end he hardened his heart to endure the insult, and let the goatherd go on his way. But turning to the altar that was by the spring, he prayed,’Nymphs of the Well! If ever Odysseus made offerings to you, fulfil for me this wish—that he—even Odysseus—may come to his own home, and have power to punish the insolence that is in his house.’
They journeyed on, and when they came near they heard the sound of the lyre coming from the house. The suitors were now feasting, and Phemius the minstrel was singing to them. When Odysseus came in front of his own house, he caught the swineherd by the hand suddenly and with a hard grip, and he said,’ Now, I who have wandered in many lands and have walked in pain through many cities have come at last to the house of Odysseus. There it is, standing as of old, with building beyond building, with its walls and its battlements, its courts and its doors. The house of Odysseus! Unwelcome men are entertained in it, and the smoke of their feast rises up and the sound of the lyre is heard playing for them.’
Eumæus said, ‘What do you want me to do for you friend? Shall I take you into the hall and before the company of suitors, while I remain here, or do you want me to go in before you?’
‘I want you to go in before me,’ Odysseus said.
As they went through the courtyard a thing happened that brought tears to Odysseus’ eyes. A hound lay in the dirt of the yard, a hound that was very old. He lay in the dirt uncared for, old and feeble. But he had been a famous hound, and Odysseus himself had trained him before he went to the wars of Troy. Argos was his name. Now as Odysseus came near, the hound Argos recognized him, and stood up and whined and dropped his ears, but had no strength to go to him. Odysseus knew the hound and stopped and gazed at him. ‘That is a good hound,’ he said to Eumæus, ‘once, I think, he was so swift that no beast in the forest could flee from him.’ Then he went on, and the hound Argos lay down in the dirt of the yard, and that same day passed away.
Behind Eumæus, the swineherd, he came into his own hall, in the appearance of a beggar, wretchedly clad and leaning on an old man’s staff. Odysseus looked at the young lords who wooed his wife, and then he sat down at the door and went no further into the hall.
Telemachus was there. Seeing Eumæus he called to him and gave the swineherd bread and meat, and said, ‘Take these, and give them to the stranger at the doorway, and tell him that he can go amongst the company and beg alms from each.’
Odysseus ate while the minstrel was finishing his song. When it was finished he rose up, and went into the hall, begging alms from each of the suitors.
Seeing him, Antinous, the most insolent of the wooers, cried out, ‘Swineherd, why did you bring this fellow here? Don’t we have enough vagabonds? Doesn’t it matter to you that worthless fellows come here and devour your master’s food?’
Hearing Antinous say this, Telemachus had to say, ‘Antinous, do you want me to drive a stranger from the door? The gods forbid that I should do such a thing. No, Antinous. Give the stranger something for the sake of the house.’
‘If everyone here gives him as much as me, he will have something to keep him from begging for three months,’ said Antinous, meaning by that that he would do something to hurt the beggar.
Odysseus came to him. ‘They say that you are the noblest of all the suitors,’ he said, ‘and for that reason you should give me something better than any of the others have given me. Look at me. I too had a house of my own, and was wealthy, and I had servants to wait on me. Many a time would I welcome a wanderer and give him something from my store.’
‘Stand far away from my table, you wretched fellow,’ said Antinous.
Then Odysseus said, ‘You have beauty, lord Antinous, but you do not have wisdom. You won’t give a grain of salt out of your own house to a beggar. And even while you sit at another man’s table you do not find it in your heart to give something out of the plenty that is before you.’
Antinous became terribly angry. He picked up a footstool, and with it he struck Odysseus in the back, at the base of the right shoulder. Such a blow would have knocked another man over, but Odysseus stood steadfast under it. He gave one look at Antinous, and then without a word he went over and sat down again at the door.
Telemachus had in his heart a mighty rage because of what had been done to his father. But he let no tear fall from his eyes and he sat very still. Odysseus, after a while, lifted his head and spoke, ‘Suitors of the renowned queen,’ he said, ‘hear what the spirit within me tells me to say to you. There is neither pain nor shame in the blow that a man may get in battle. But in the blow that Antinous has given me—a blow aimed at a beggar—there is pain and there is shame. And now I call upon that god who is the avenger of the insult to the poor, to bring, not a wedding to Antinous, but death.’
‘Sit there and eat your food quietly,’ Antinous called out, ‘or else you will be dragged through the house by your heels, and the flesh will be stripped off your bones,’
The lady Penelope had come into the hall. Hearing that a stranger was there, she sent for Eumæus and told the swineherd to bring him to her, so that she might question him as to what he had heard about Odysseus. Eumæus came and told him of Penelope’s request. But Odysseus said, ‘Eumæus, I am willing to tell the truth about Odysseus to the fair and wise Penelope. But now I cannot speak to her. Go to her and tell her that when the suitors have gone I will speak to her. And ask her to give me a seat near the fire, so that I may sit and warm myself as I speak, for the clothes I wear are uncomfortable.’
As Eumæus gave the message to the lady Penelope, Theoclymenus, the guest who had come in Telemachus’ ship, said, ‘Oh wife of the renowned Odysseus, be sure that your lord will return to his house. As I came here on the ship of Telemachus, your son, I saw something that is an omen of the return of Odysseus. A hawk flew out on the right,. In his talons he held a dove, and plucked her and shed the feathers down on the ship. By that omen I know that the lord of this high house will return, and destroy those here in his anger.’
Penelope left the hall and went back to her own room. Next Eumæus went away to look after his swine. But still the suitors continued to feast, and still Odysseus sat in the guise of a beggar at the door of his own house.