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Odysseus/Ulysses

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Author Topic: Odysseus/Ulysses  (Read 4495 times)
Bianca
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« on: June 23, 2008, 06:00:02 pm »







V. THE STROLLING BEGGAR



At that moment a strange beggar entered the courtyard. He was dressed in rags; his feet were bare, his head was uncovered, his hands trembled as he slowly walked toward the doorway of the great hall. Some of the servants who saw him laughed at his poverty, and bade him begone; but others pitied his distress and checked their rudeness. "Deal gently with him," they said; "for mayhap he brings news of our master, the lordly Ulysses. He looks as though he had traveled far."

An old greyhound, Argos, was lying on a heap [168] of ashes by the kitchen door. Twenty years before he had been the swiftest and most beautiful of hunting dogs—the pet and companion of Ulysses. But now, grown old and helpless, he was neglected and abused. His teeth gone, his eyes grown dim, his legs shaky and useless, he had no longer any joy of life. When he saw the beggar slowly moving through the yard, he raised his head to look. Then a strange light came suddenly into his old eyes. His tail wagged feebly, and he tried with all his failing strength to rise. He looked up lovingly into the beggar's face, and uttered a long but joyful howl like that which he was wont to utter in his youth when greeting his master.

The beggar stooped and patted his head. "Argos, old friend!" he whispered.



" 'Argos, old friend!' he whispered." 



The dog staggered to his feet, then fell, and was dead with the look of joy still in his eyes.

"What ails the old dog?" asked Antinous; for the sound of his howling was heard even in the feast hall.

"Doubtless he is bewailing the loss of his mistress," said Agelaus; and all the suitors laughed.

A moment afterward the beggar stood in the door.

"Well, well!" cried Leocritus. "What newcomer is this who thus pushes himself among his betters?"


[170] "What do you want here, Old Rags?" said another of the suitors, hurling a crust at his head. "Don't you know that this is the king's palace? Begone!"

"Yes, begone!" shouted old Eumæus, trying to appear harsh.

"I wish to speak with the son of Ulysses," said the beggar, humbly.

"Then speak, for I am he," said Telemachus, frowning and seeming angry. "Make your story short."

"O noble youth," said the beggar, "you are strong and fair, and life is all before you. But I am old and have fallen upon evil days. I pray that you will have pity on my distress." Then in a low voice he added, "Have you removed all the weapons as I bade you? And are they safe in the great chest?"

"All except the great bow which hangs at the head of the hall," whispered Telemachus. "What say you? Shall we strike now?"

"Shall we strike now?" said old Eumæus, drawing near and speaking below his breath.

"What is it the old vagrant is telling the boy?" cried Antinous. "Out with him!"

"Yes, out with him!" cried the younger suitors, crowding forward with threatening gestures.

[171] "Let him stay," said Leocritus. "Let him stay. We shall have great sport with him. Perhaps he, too, has come to claim the hand of fair Penelope. Say, is it not so, my humble friend?"

The beggar made no answer. He grasped his staff with a firmer grip and gazed across the hall where was the lofty stairway that led to the queen's chambers. Down the stairs came Penelope, stately and beautiful, with her servants and maids around her.

"The queen! the queen!" cried the suitors. "She has come to redeem her promise."



"Telemachus, my son," said Penelope, "what poor man is this whom our guests treat so roughly?"

"Mother, he is a strolling beggar whom the waves cast upon our shores last night," answered the prince. "He says that he brings news of my father."

"Then he shall tell me of it," said the queen, "But first he must rest and be fed and receive the attentions due to every guest." With this she caused the beggar to be led to a seat at the farther side of the room, and she bade Telemachus bring him food and drink with his own hands. "Here, Melampo," she said to one of her maids, "bring a bowl and water with which to wash the poor man's feet."

[172] "Not I," said the proud maid; "I touch no beggar's foot."

"Then I will do the queen's bidding," said Dame Eurycleia, the old nurse who had cared for Ulysses when he was a child.



Forthwith she brought a great bowl and warm water and towels; and kneeling on the stones before the stranger she began to bathe and wash his feet. Then suddenly, with a scream, she sprang up, overturning the bowl in her confusion. "O master! the scar!" she muttered hoarsely, but so low that only the stranger heard her. And then, to turn away suspicion, she added in a louder tone, "How awkward I have become in my old age, that I should do so careless a thing! Now I shall have to refill the bowl."

"Dear nurse," whispered the seeming beggar, "you were ever discreet and wise. You know me by the old scar that I have carried on my knee since boyhood. Keep well the secret, for I bide my time and the hour of vengeance is nigh."

"O Ulysses, my master," she answered softly, "I knew that you would come."

This man in rags was indeed Ulysses, the king. Alone in a little boat he had been cast, that very morning, upon the shore of his own island. He had made himself known first to old Eumæus and [173] then to his son Telemachus, but to no other person; and it was by his orders that the weapons had been removed from the great hall.

But the old nurse was prudent and shrewd. With the empty bowl in her hands, she hobbled from the hall to refill it, muttering loud complaints against the troublesome beggar. And Telemachus, bending over his father, whispered hoarsely, "Shall we not strike now?"
« Last Edit: June 23, 2008, 06:38:37 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.


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