Argument: The Return of Telemachus
The goddess Minerva commands Telemachus in a vision to return to Ithaca. Pisistratus and he take leave of Menelaus, and arrive at Pylos, where they part: and Telemachus sets sail, after having received on board Theoclymenus the soothsayer. The scene then changes to the cottage of Eumaeus, who entertains Ulysses with a recital of his adventures. In the meantime Telemachus arrives on the coast, and sending the vessel to the town, proceeds by himself to the lodge of Eumaeus.
Now had Minerva reach’d those ample plains, Famed for the dance, where Menelaus reigns: Anxious she flies to great Ulysses’ heir, His instant voyage challenged all her care. Beneath the royal portico display’d, With Nestor’s son Telemachus was laid: In sleep profound the son of Nestor lies; Not thine, Ulysses! Care unseal’d his eyes: Restless he grieved, with various fears oppress’d, And all thy fortunes roll’d within his breast. When, “O Telemachus! (the goddess said) Too long in vain, too widely hast thou stray’d, Thus leaving careless thy paternal right The robbers’ prize, the prey to lawless might. On fond pursuits neglectful while you roam, E’en now the hand of rapine sacks the dome. Hence to Atrides; and his leave implore To launch thy vessel for thy natal shore; Fly, whilst thy mother virtuous yet withstands Her kindred’s wishes, and her sire’s commands; Through both, Eurymachus pursues the dame, And with the noblest gifts asserts his claim. Hence, therefore, while thy stores thy own remain; Thou know’st the practice of the female train, Lost in the children of the present spouse, They slight the pledges of their former vows; Their love is always with the lover past; Still the succeeding flame expels the last. Let o’er thy house some chosen maid preside, Till Heaven decrees to bless thee in a bride. But now thy more attentive ears incline, Observe the warnings of a power divine; For thee their snares the suitor lords shall lay In Samos’ sands, or straits of Ithaca; To seize thy life shall lurk the murderous band, Ere yet thy footsteps press thy native land. No! — sooner far their riot and their lust All-covering earth shall bury deep in dust! Then distant from the scatter’d islands steer, Nor let the night retard thy full career; Thy heavenly guardian shall instruct the gales To smooth thy passage and supply thy sails: And when at Ithaca thy labour ends, Send to the town the vessel with thy friends; But seek thou first the master of the swine (For still to thee his loyal thoughts incline); There pass the night: while he his course pursues To bring Penelope the wish’d-for news, That thou, safe sailing from the Pylian strand, Art come to bless her in thy native land.” Thus spoke the goddess, and resumed her flight To the pure regions of eternal light, Meanwhile Pisistratus he gently shakes, And with these words the slumbering youth awakes:
“Rise, son of Nestor; for the road prepare, And join the harness’d coursers to the car.”
“What cause (he cried) can justify our flight To tempt the dangers of forbidding night? Here wait we rather, till approaching day Shall prompt our speed, and point the ready way. Nor think of flight before the Spartan king Shall bid farewell, and bounteous presents bring; Gifts, which to distant ages safely stored, The sacred act of friendship shall record.”
Thus he. But when the dawn bestreak’d the east, The king from Helen rose, and sought his guest. As soon as his approach the hero knew, The splendid mantle round him first he threw, Then o’er his ample shoulders whirl’d the cloak, Respectful met the monarch, and bespoke:
“Hail, great Atrides, favour’d of high Jove! Let not thy friends in vain for licence move. Swift let us measure back the watery way, Nor check our speed, impatient of delay.”
“If with desire so strong thy bosom glows, Ill (said the king) should I thy wish oppose; For oft in others freely I reprove The ill-timed efforts of officious love; Who love too much, hate in the like extreme, And both the golden mean alike condemn. Alike he thwarts the hospitable end, Who drives the free, or stays the hasty friend: True friendship’s laws are by this rule express’d, Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest. Yet, stay, my friends, and in your chariot take The noblest presents that our love can make; Meantime commit we to our women’s care Some choice domestic viands to prepare; The traveller, rising from the banquet gay, Eludes the labours of the tedious way, Then if a wider course shall rather please, Through spacious Argos and the realms of Greece, Atrides in his chariot shall attend; Himself thy convoy to each royal friend. No prince will let Ulysses’ heir remove Without some pledge, some monument of love: These will the caldron, these the tripod give; From those the well-pair’d mules we shall receive, Or bowl emboss’d whose golden figures live.”
To whom the youth, for prudence famed, replied: “O monarch, care of heaven! thy people’s pride! No friend in Ithaca my place supplies, No powerful hands are there, no watchful eyes: My stores exposed and fenceless house demand The speediest succour from my guardian hand; Lest, in a search too anxious and too vain, Of one lost joy, I lose what yet remain.”
His purpose when the generous warrior heard, He charged the household cates to be prepared. Now with the dawn, from his adjoining home, Was Boethoedes Eteoneus come; Swift at the word he forms the rising blaze, And o’er the coals the smoking fragments lays. Meantime the king, his son, and Helen went Where the rich wardrobe breathed a costly scent; The king selected from the glittering rows A bowl; the prince a silver beaker chose. The beauteous queen revolved with careful eyes Her various textures of unnumber’d dyes, And chose the largest; with no vulgar art Her own fair hands embroider’d every part; Beneath the rest it lay divinely bright, Like radiant Hesper o’er the gems of night, Then with each gift they hasten’d to their guest, And thus the king Ulysses’ heir address’d: “Since fix’d are thy resolves, may thundering Jove With happiest omens thy desires approve! This silver bowl, whose costly margins shine Enchased with old, this valued gift be thine; To me this present, of Vulcanian frame, From Sidon’s hospitable monarch came; To thee we now consign the precious load, The pride of kings, and labour of a god.”
Then gave the cup, while Megapenthe brought The silver vase with living sculpture wrought. The beauteous queen, advancing next, display’d The shining veil, and thus endearing said:
“Accept, dear youth, this monument of love, Long since, in better days, by Helen wove: Safe in thy mother’s care the vesture lay, To deck thy bride and grace thy nuptial day. Meantime may’st thou with happiest speed regain Thy stately palace, and thy wide domain.”
She said, and gave the veil; with grateful look The prince the variegated present took. And now, when through the royal dome they pass’d, High on a throne the king each stranger placed. A golden ewer the attendant damsel brings, Replete with water from the crystal springs; With copious streams the shining vase supplies A silver layer of capacious size. They wash. The tables in fair order spread, The glittering canisters are crown’d with bread; Viands of various kinds allure the taste, Of choicest sort and savour; rich repast! Whilst Eteoneus portions out the shares Atrides’ son the purple draught prepares, And now (each sated with the genial feast, And the short rage of thirst and hunger ceased) Ulysses’ son, with his illustrious friend, The horses join, the polish’d car ascend, Along the court the fiery steeds rebound, And the wide portal echoes to the sound. The king precedes; a bowl with fragrant wine (Libation destined to the powers divine) His right hand held: before the steed he stands, Then, mix’d with prayers, he utters these commands:
“Farewell, and prosper, youths! let Nestor know What grateful thoughts still in this bosom glow, For all the proofs of his paternal care, Through the long dangers of the ten years’ war.” “Ah! doubt not our report (the prince rejoin’d) Of all the virtues of thy generous mind. And oh! return’d might we Ulysses meet! To him thy presents show, thy words repeat: How will each speech his grateful wonder raise! How will each gift indulge us in thy praise!”
Scarce ended thus the prince, when on the right Advanced the bird of Jove: auspicious sight! A milk-white fowl his clinching talons bore, With care domestic pampered at the floor. Peasants in vain with threatening cries pursue, In solemn speed the bird majestic flew Full dexter to the car; the prosperous sight Fill’d every breast with wonder and delight.
But Nestor’s son the cheerful silence broke, And in these words the Spartan chief bespoke: “Say if to us the gods these omens send, Or fates peculiar to thyself portend?”
Whilst yet the monarch paused, with doubts oppress’d The beauteous queen relieved his labouring breast: “Hear me (she cried), to whom the gods have given To read this sign, and mystic sense of heaven, As thus the plumy sovereign of the air Left on the mountain’s brow his callow care, And wander’d through the wide ethereal way To pour his wrath on yon luxurious prey; So shall thy godlike father, toss’d in vain Through all the dangers of the boundless main, Arrive (or if perchance already come) From slaughter’d gluttons to release the dome.”
“Oh! if this promised bliss by thundering Jove (The prince replied) stand fix’d in fate above; To thee, as to some god, I’ll temples raise. And crown thy altars with the costly blaze.”
He said; and bending o’er his chariot, flung Athwart the fiery steeds the smarting thong; The bounding shafts upon the harness play, Till night descending intercepts the way. To Diocles at Pherae they repair, Whose boasted sire was sacred Alpheus’ heir; With him all night the youthful stranger stay’d, Nor found the hospitable rites unpaid, But soon as morning from her orient bed Had tinged the mountains with her earliest red, They join’d the steeds, and on the chariot sprung, The brazen portals in their passage rung.
To Pylos soon they came; when thus begun To Nestor’s heir Ulysses’ godlike son:
“Let not Pisistratus in vain be press’d, Nor unconsenting hear his friend’s request; His friend by long hereditary claim, In toils his equal, and in years the same. No farther from our vessel, I implore, The courses drive; but lash them to the shore. Too long thy father would his friend detain; I dread his proffer’d kindness urged in vain.”
The hero paused, and ponder’d this request, While love and duty warr’d within his breast. At length resolved, he turn’d his ready hand, And lash’d his panting coursers to the strand. There, while within the poop with care he stored The regal presents of the Spartan lord, “With speed begone (said he); call every mate, Ere yet to Nestor I the tale relate: ’Tis true, the fervour of his generous heart Brooks no repulse, nor couldst thou soon depart: Himself will seek thee here, nor wilt thou find, In words alone, the Pylian monarch kind. But when, arrived, he thy return shall know How will his breast with honest fury glow!” This said, the sounding strokes his horses fire, And soon he reached the palace of his sire.
“Now (cried Telemachus) with speedy care Hoist every sail, and every oar prepare.” Swift as the word his willing mates obey, And seize their seats, impatient for the sea.
Meantime the prince with sacrifice adores Minerva, and her guardian aid implores; When lo! a wretch ran breathless to the shore, New from his crime; and reeking yet with gore. A seer he was, from great Melampus sprung, Melampus, who in Pylos flourish’d long, Till, urged by wrongs, a foreign realm he chose, Far from the hateful cause of all his woes. Neleus his treasures one long year detains, As long he groan’d in Philacus’ chains: Meantime, what anguish and what rage combined For lovely Pero rack’d his labouring mind! Yet ‘scaped he death; and vengeful of his wrong To Pylos drove the lowing herds along: Then (Neleus vanquish’d, and consign’d the fair To Bias’ arms) he so sought a foreign air; Argos the rich for his retreat he chose, There form’d his empire; there his palace rose. From him Antiphates and Mantius came: The first begot Oicleus great in fame, And he Amphiaraus, immortal name! The people’s saviour, and divinely wise, Beloved by Jove, and him who gilds the skies; Yet short his date of life! by female pride he dies. From Mantius Clitus, whom Aurora’s love Snatch’d for his beauty to the thrones above; And Polyphides, on whom Phoebus shone With fullest rays, Amphiaraus now gone; In Hyperesia’s groves he made abode, And taught mankind the counsels of the god. From him sprung Theoclymenus, who found (The sacred wine yet foaming on the ground) Telemachus: whom, as to Heaven he press’d His ardent vows, the stranger thus address’d:
“O thou! that dost thy happy course prepare With pure libations and with solemn prayer: By that dread power to whom thy vows are paid; By all the lives of these; thy own dear head, Declare sincerely to no foe’s demand Thy name, thy lineage, and paternal land.”
“Prepare, then (said Telemachus), to know A tale from falsehood free, not free from woe. From Ithaca, of royal birth I came, And great Ulysses (ever honour’d name!) Once was my sire, though now, for ever lost, In Stygian gloom he glides a pensive ghost! Whose fate inquiring through the world we rove; The last, the wretched proof of filial love.”
The stranger then: “Nor shall I aught conceal, But the dire secret of my fate reveal. Of my own tribe an Argive wretch I slew; Whose powerful friends the luckless deed pursue With unrelenting rage, and force from home The blood-stain’d exile, ever doom’d to roam. But bear, oh bear me o’er yon azure flood; Receive the suppliant! spare my destined blood!”
“Stranger (replied the prince) securely rest Affianced in our faith; henceforth our guest.” Thus affable, Ulysses’ godlike heir Takes from the stranger’s hand the glittering spear: He climbs the ship, ascends the stern with haste And by his side the guest accepted placed. The chief his order gives: the obedient band, With due observance wait the chief’s command: With speed the mast they rear, with speed unbind The spacious sheet, and stretch it to the wind. Minerva calls; the ready gales obey With rapid speed to whirl them o’er the sea. Crunus they pass’d, next Chalcis roll’d away, With thickening darkness closed the doubtful day; The silver Phaea’s glittering rills they lost, And skimm’d along by Elis’ sacred coast. Then cautious through the rocky reaches wind, And turning sudden, shun the death design’d.
Meantime, the king, Eumaeus, and the rest, Sate in the cottage, at their rural feast: The banquet pass’d, and satiate every man, To try his host, Ulysses thus began:
“Yet one night more, my friends, indulge your guest; The last I purpose in your walls to rest: To-morrow for myself I must provide, And only ask your counsel, and a guide; Patient to roam the street, by hunger led, And bless the friendly hand that gives me bread. There in Ulysses’ roof I may relate Ulysses’ wanderings to his royal mate; Or, mingling with the suitors’ haughty train, Not undeserving some support obtain. Hermes to me his various gifts imparts. Patron of industry and manual arts: Few can with me in dexterous works contend, The pyre to build, the stubborn oak to rend; To turn the tasteful viand o’er the flame; Or foam the goblet with a purple stream. Such are the tasks of men of mean estate, Whom fortune dooms to serve the rich and great.”
“Alas! (Eumaeus with a sigh rejoin’d). How sprung a thought so monstrous in thy mind? If on that godless race thou would’st attend, Fate owes thee sure a miserable end! Their wrongs and blasphemies ascend the sky, And pull descending vengeance from on high. Not such, my friend, the servants of their feast: A blooming train in rich embroidery dress’d, With earth’s whole tribute the bright table bends, And smiling round celestial youth attends. Stay, then: no eye askance beholds thee here; Sweet is thy converse to each social ear; Well pleased, and pleasing, in our cottage rest, Till good Telemachus accepts his guest With genial gifts, and change of fair attires, And safe conveys thee where thy soul desires.”
To him the man of woes; “O gracious Jove! Reward this stranger’s hospitable love! Who knows the son of sorrow to relieve, Cheers the sad heart, nor lets affliction grieve. Of all the ills unhappy mortals know, A life of wanderings is the greatest woe; On all their weary ways wait care and pain, And pine and penury, a meagre train. To such a man since harbour you afford, Relate the farther fortunes of your lord; What cares his mother’s tender breast engage, And sire forsaken on the verge of age; Beneath the sun prolong they yet their breath, Or range the house of darkness and of death?”
To whom the swain: “Attend what you enquire; Laertes lives, the miserable sire, Lives, but implores of every power to lay The burden down, and wishes for the day. Torn from his offspring in the eve of life, Torn from the embraces of his tender wife, Sole, and all comfortless, he wastes away Old age, untimely posting ere his day. She too, sad mother! for Ulysses lost Pined out her bloom, and vanish’d to a ghost; (So dire a fate, ye righteous gods! avert From every friendly, every feeling heart!) While yet she was, though clouded o’er with grief. Her pleasing converse minister’d relief: With Climene, her youngest daughter, bred, One roof contain’d us, and one table fed. But when the softly-stealing pace of time Crept on from childhood into youthful prime, To Samos’ isle she sent the wedded fair; Me to the fields; to tend the rural care; Array’d in garments her own hands had wove, Nor less the darling object of her love. Her hapless death my brighter days o’ercast, Yet Providence deserts me not at last; My present labours food and drink procure, And more, the pleasure to relieve the poor. Small is the comfort from the queen to hear Unwelcome news, or vex the royal ear; Blank and discountenanced the servants stand, Nor dare to question where the proud command; No profit springs beneath usurping powers; Want feeds not there where luxury devours, Nor harbours charity where riot reigns: Proud are the lords, and wretched are the swains.”
The suffering chief at this began to melt; And, “O Eumaeus! thou (he cries) hast felt The spite of fortune too! her cruel hand Snatch’d thee an infant from thy native land! Snatch’d from thy parents’ arms, thy parents’ eyes, To early wants! a man of miseries! The whole sad story, from its first, declare: Sunk the fair city by the rage of war, Where once thy parents dwelt? or did they keep, In humbler life, the lowing herds and sheep? So left perhaps to tend the fleecy train, Rude pirates seized, and shipp’d thee o’er the main? Doom’d a fair prize to grace some prince’s board, The worthy purchase of a foreign lord.”
“If then my fortunes can delight my friend, A story fruitful of events attend: Another’s sorrow may thy ears enjoy, And wine the lengthen’d intervals employ. Long nights the now declining year bestows; A part we consecrate to soft repose, A part in pleasing talk we entertain; For too much rest itself becomes a pain. Let those, whom sleep invites, the call obey, Their cares resuming with the dawning day: Here let us feast, and to the feast be join’d Discourse, the sweeter banquet of the mind; Review the series of our lives, and taste The melancholy joy of evils pass’d: For he who much has suffer’d, much will know, And pleased remembrance builds delight on woe.
“Above Ortygia lies an isle of fame, Far hence remote, and Syria is the name (There curious eyes inscribed with wonder trace The sun’s diurnal, and his annual race); Not large, but fruitful; stored with grass to keep The bellowing oxen and the bleating sheep; Her sloping hills the mantling vines adorn, And her rich valleys wave with golden corn. No want, no famine, the glad natives know, Nor sink by sickness to the shades below; But when a length of years unnerves the strong, Apollo comes, and Cynthia comes along. They bend the silver bow with tender skill, And, void of pain, the silent arrows kill. Two equal tribes this fertile land divide, Where two fair cities rise with equal pride. But both in constant peace one prince obey, And Ctesius there, my father, holds the sway. Freighted, it seems, with toys of every sort, A ship of Sidon anchor’d in our port; What time it chanced the palace entertain’d, Skill’d in rich works, a woman of their land: This nymph, where anchor’d the Phoenician train, To wash her robes descending to the main, A smooth tongued sailor won her to his mind (For love deceives the best of womankind). A sudden trust from sudden liking grew; She told her name, her race, and all she knew, ‘I too (she cried) from glorious Sidon came, My father Arybas, of wealthy fame: But, snatch’d by pirates from my native place, The Taphians sold me to this man’s embrace.’
“‘Haste then (the false designing youth replied), Haste to thy country; love shall be thy guide; Haste to thy father’s house, thy father’s breast, For still he lives, and lives with riches blest.’
“‘Swear first (she cried), ye sailors! to restore A wretch in safety to her native shore.’ Swift as she ask’d, the ready sailors swore. She then proceeds: ‘Now let our compact made Be nor by signal nor by word betray’d, Nor near me any of your crew descried, By road frequented, or by fountain side. Be silence still our guard. The monarch’s spies (For watchful age is ready to surmise) Are still at hand; and this, revealed, must be Death to yourselves, eternal chains to me. Your vessel loaded, and your traffic pass’d, Despatch a wary messenger with haste; Then gold and costly treasures will I bring, And more, the infant offspring of the king. Him, child-like wandering forth, I’ll lead away (A noble prize!) and to your ship convey.’
“Thus spoke the dame, and homeward took the road. A year they traffic, and their vessel load. Their stores complete, and ready now to weigh, A spy was sent their summons to convey: An artist to my father’s palace came, With gold and amber chains, elaborate frame: Each female eye the glittering links employ; They turn, review, and cheapen every toy. He took the occasion, as they stood intent, Gave her the sign, and to his vessel went. She straight pursued, and seized my willing arm; I follow’d, smiling, innocent of harm. Three golden goblets in the porch she found (The guests not enter’d, but the table crown’d); Hid in her fraudful bosom these she bore: Now set the sun, and darken’d all the shore. Arriving then, where tilting on the tides Prepared to launch the freighted vessel rides, Aboard they heave us, mount their decks, and sweep With level oar along the glassy deep. Six calmy days and six smooth nights we sail, And constant Jove supplied the gentle gale. The seventh, the fraudful wretch (no cause descried), Touch’d by Diana’s vengeful arrow, died. Down dropp’d the caitiff-corse, a worthless load, Down to the deep; there roll’d, the future food Of fierce sea-wolves, and monsters of the flood. An helpless infant I remain’d behind; Thence borne to Ithaca by wave and wind; Sold to Laertes by divine command, And now adopted to a foreign land.”
To him the king: “Reciting thus thy cares, My secret soul in all thy sorrow shares; But one choice blessing (such is Jove’s high will) Has sweeten’d all thy bitter draught of ill: Torn from thy country to no hapless end, The gods have, in a master, given a friend. Whatever frugal nature needs is thine (For she needs little), daily bread and wine. While I, so many wanderings past, and woes, Live but on what thy poverty bestows.”
So passed in pleasing dialogue away The night; then down to short repose they lay; Till radiant rose the messenger of day. While in the port of Ithaca, the band Of young Telemachus approach’d the land; Their sails they loosed, they lash’d the mast aside, And cast their anchors, and the cables tied: Then on the breezy shore, descending, join In grateful banquet o’er the rosy wine. When thus the prince: “Now each his course pursue; I to the fields, and to the city you. Long absent hence, I dedicate this day My swains to visit, and the works survey. Expect me with the morn, to pay the skies Our debt of safe return in feast and sacrifice.”
Then Theoclymenus: “But who shall lend, Meantime, protection to thy stranger friend? Straight to the queen and palace shall I fly, Or yet more distant, to some lord apply?”
The prince return’d: “Renown’d in days of yore Has stood our father’s hospitable door; No other roof a stranger should receive, No other hands than ours the welcome give. But in my absence riot fills the place, Nor bears the modest queen a stranger’s face; From noiseful revel far remote she flies, But rarely seen, or seen with weeping eyes. No — let Eurymachus receive my guest, Of nature courteous, and by far the best; He woos the queen with more respectful flame, And emulates her former husband’s fame, With what success, ’tis Jove’s alone to know, And the hoped nuptials turn to joy or woe.”
Thus speaking, on the right up-soar’d in air The hawk, Apollo’s swift-wing’d messenger: His dreadful pounces tore a trembling dove; The clotted feathers, scatter’d from above, Between the hero and the vessel pour Thick plumage mingled with a sanguine shower.
The observing augur took the prince aside, Seized by the hand, and thus prophetic cried: “Yon bird, that dexter cuts the aerial road, Rose ominous, nor flies without a god: No race but thine shall Ithaca obey, To thine, for ages, Heaven decrees the sway.”
“Succeed the omens, gods! (the youth rejoin’d:) Soon shall my bounties speak a grateful mind, And soon each envied happiness attend The man who calls Telemachus his friend.” Then to Peiraeus: “Thou whom time has proved A faithful servant, by thy prince beloved! Till we returning shall our guest demand, Accept this charge with honour, at our hand.”
To this Peiraeus: “Joyful I obey, Well pleased the hospitable rites to pay. The presence of thy guest shall best reward (If long thy stay) the absence of my lord.”
With that, their anchors he commands to weigh, Mount the tall bark, and launch into the sea. All with obedient haste forsake the shores, And, placed in order, spread their equal oars. Then from the deck the prince his sandals takes; Poised in his hand the pointed javelin shakes. They part; while, lessening from the hero’s view Swift to the town the well-row’d galley flew: The hero trod the margin of the main, And reach’d the mansion of his faithful swain.