A Family Reunited
Eurycleia, the old nurse, went upstairs to where Penelope lay in her bed. She bent over her and called out, ‘Awake, Penelope, dear child. Come down and see with your own eyes what has happened. The suitors are defeated. And he, who you have longed to see, has come back. Odysseus, your husband, has returned. He has killed the proud suitors who have troubled you for so long.’
But Penelope only looked at the nurse, for she thought that she had gone mad.
Still Eurycleia kept on saying, ‘Indeed Odysseus is here. He is that guest whom all the suitors mocked in the hall.’
Then hearing Eurycleia say these words, Penelope sprang out of bed and put her arms round the nurse’s neck. ‘Oh tell me,if what you say is true—tell me how this stranger killed the suitors, who were so many.’
‘I did not see the fight,’ Eurycleia said, ‘but I heard the groaning of the men as they were killed. Then I found Odysseus standing amongst many dead men, and it comforted my heart to see him standing there like a lion aroused. Come with me now, lady, so that you may both be happy. Your lord has returned home, and he has found his wife and his son alive and well.’
‘Ah no!’ said Penelope, ‘ah no, Odysseus has not returned. He who killed the suitors is one of the immortal gods, come down to punish them for their injustice and their hardheartedness. Odysseus long ago lost his way home, and he is lying dead in some far off land.’
‘No, no,’ said Eurycleia. ‘I can show you that it is Odysseus indeed who is in the hall. The scar that the tusk of a boar gave him long ago is on his foot. I saw it when I was washing his feet last night, and I would have told you about it, but he put a hand across my mouth to stop me speaking. I promise that it is Odysseus, and none other who is in the hall below.’
Saying this she took Penelope by the hand and led her from the upper room into the hall. Odysseus was standing by a tall pillar. He waited there for his wife to come and speak to him. But Penelope stood still, and gazed for a long time at him, and made no step towards him.
Then said Telemachus, ‘Mother, can it be that your heart is so hard? Here is my father. Won’t you go to him.’
Penelope said, ‘I am dumbfounded and I have no strength to speak, nor to ask him anything, nor even to look at him face to face. If this is indeed Odysseus who has come home, a place has to be prepared for him.’
Then Odysseus spoke to Telemachus and said, ‘Now go to the bath, and clean yourself of the stains of battle. I will stay and speak with your mother.’
‘Strange lady,’ he said to Penelope, ‘is your heart indeed so hard? No other woman in the world, I think, would stand so aloof from her husband who, after so much toil and so many trials, has come back after twenty years to his own home. Is there no place for me here, and must I again sleep in the stranger’s bed?’
Said Penelope, ‘You will not lie in any stranger’s bed, my lord. Come, Eurycleia. Set up for him his own bed outside his bed-chamber.’
Then Odysseus said to her, speaking in anger: ‘How ís it that my bed can be moved to this place and that? That wasn’t the bed I built for myself. Don’t you know how I built my bed? First, an olive tree grew in the courtyard. Round that olive tree I built a chamber, and I roofed it well and I set doors to it. Then I sheared off all the light wood on the growing olive tree, and I rough-hewed the trunk with the adze, and I made the tree into a bed post. Beginning with this bed post I wrought a bedstead, and when I finished it, I inlaid it with silver and ivory. Such was the bed I built for myself, and such a bed could not be moved to this place or that.’
Then Penelope knew assuredly that the man who stood before her was indeed her husband, the steadfast Odysseus—no one else knew where the bed was placed, and how it had been built. Penelope fell weeping and she put her arms round his neck.
‘O Odysseus, my lord,’ she said, ‘don’t bet angry with your wife. Always the fear was in my heart that some guileful stranger should come here professing to be Odysseus, and that I should believe him to be my husband. How terrible such a thing would be! But now my heart is freed from all doubts. Don’t be angry with me, Odysseus, for not throwing myself on your neck, as the women of the house did.’
Then husband and wife wept together, and Penelope said, ‘It was the gods that did this to us, Odysseus—the gods who grudged that we should have joy of the days of our youth.’
Next they told each other of things that happened in the twenty years they were apart; Odysseus speaking of his own toils and sorrows, and Penelope telling what she had endured at the hands of the wooers. And as they told tales, one to the other, slumber came upon them, and the dawn found them sleeping side by side.