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Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome

Page: 168

When he at last took leave of his royal entertainers Alcinous loaded him with rich gifts, and ordered him to be conveyed in one of his own ships to Ithaca.

Arrival at Ithaca.—The voyage was a short and prosperous one. By the direction of king Alcinous rich furs had been laid on deck for the comfort of his guest, on which the hero, leaving the guidance of the ship to the Phæacian sailors, soon fell into a deep sleep. When next morning the vessel arrived in the harbour of Ithaca the sailors, concluding that so unusually profound a slumber must be sent by the gods, conveyed him on shore without disturbing him, where they gently placed him beneath the cool shade of an olive-tree.

When Odysseus awoke he knew not where he was, for his ever-watchful protectress Pallas-Athene had enveloped him in a thick cloud in order to conceal him from view. She now appeared to him in the disguise of a shepherd, and informed him that he was in his native land; that his father Laertes, bent with sorrow and old age, had withdrawn from the court; that his son Telemachus had grown to manhood, and was gone to seek for tidings of his father; and that his wife Penelope was harassed by the importunities of numerous suitors, who had taken possession of his home and devoured his substance. In order to gain time Penelope had promised to marry one of her lovers as soon as she had finished weaving a robe for the aged Laertes; but by secretly undoing at night [320]what she had done in the day she effectually retarded the completion of the work, and thus deferred her final reply. Just as Odysseus had set foot in Ithaca the angry suitors had discovered her stratagem, and had become in consequence more clamorous than ever. When the hero heard that this was indeed his native land, which, after an absence of twenty years, the gods had at length permitted him to behold once more, he threw himself on the ground, and kissed it in an ecstacy of joy.

The goddess, who had meanwhile revealed her identity to Odysseus, now assisted him to conceal in a neighbouring cave the valuable gifts of the Phæacian king. Then seating herself beside him she consulted with him as to the best means of ridding his palace of its shameless occupants.

In order to prevent his being recognized she caused him to assume the form of an aged mendicant. His limbs became decrepid, his brown locks vanished, his eyes grew dim and bleared, and the regal robes given to him by king Alcinous were replaced by a tattered garb of dingy hue, which hung loosely round his shrunken form. Athene then desired him to seek shelter in the hut of Eumæus his own swine-herd.

Eumæus received the old beggar hospitably, kindly ministered to his wants, and even confided to him his distress at the long continued absence of his beloved old master, and his regrets at being compelled by the unruly invaders of his house, to slaughter for their use all the finest and fattest of the herd.

It chanced that the following morning Telemachus returned from his long and fruitless search for his father, and going first to the hut of Eumæus, heard from him the story of the seeming beggar whom he promised to befriend. Athene now urged Odysseus to make himself known to his son; and at her touch his beggar's rags disappeared, and he stood before Telemachus arrayed in royal robes and in the full strength and vigour of manhood. So imposing was the appearance of the hero that at first the young prince thought he must be a god; but when [321]he was convinced that it was indeed his beloved father, whose prolonged absence had caused him so much grief, he fell upon his neck and embraced him with every expression of dutiful affection.


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