The Adventures of Athena and Odysseus
Retold by Nick Maroudas
This is the story of a homecoming to Ithaca, that I read long ago. Some say that the book I read was written by Princess Nausikaa herself - but I can't find it in the bookshops anymore. This is all that I can remember .......
Once there was a goddess called Athena, who lived with her brothers and sisters in a beautiful palace in the sky. Her father was a sky-god called Zeus, and her mother was a sky-goddess called Hera, so their palace floated in the sky, way above the highest mountain in Greece (which is called Olympos) and way above the clouds, where the sun is always shining and it never rains - not even when it is raining down on earth. (If you go up in a plane, you can see that this is true. But you won't see their palace, because the gods are invisible unless they want to show themselves).
Zeus was the chief sky-god in Greece, so he had charge of the weather. What he liked best was when it was time to gather up the big, black thunder clouds over Mount Olympos, and throw down the lightning. When all the flashes and bangs went off at once, Zeus was as happy as a child with fireworks. His wife didn't like all the noise, so she made sure that he also gave the people down below some fine weather for their crops and animals - because Hera was in charge of family life.
Most of the gods had big families just like the people in those days, so Athena was never short of brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts to play with. But she also liked sometimes just to be on her own, thinking deep thoughts. Because Athena was interested in a lot of things: in people, in animals, and especially in new ways to make things. It was Athena who first taught the Greeks how to make tasty foods from bitter olives, and how to weave fine fabrics from gossamer threads. And whenever she found something interesting, she would wonder why. Right now she was wondering about her sister, Aphrodite: why did Aphrodite so often cause trouble, when she was such a charming girl that never meant any harm? Athena was wondering and pondering out in the garden, in her favorite spot, sitting right on the very edge of the floating palace, with her feet dangling over empty space, and looking down at the clouds far below her. They were huge, dark clouds, driven by a mighty wind and split by violent thunderbolts.
"I suppose Daddy has invited uncle Poseidon to come and help him stir up a really colossal storm over land and sea. Well, as long as they're happy ...."
But, all of a sudden, she thought:
"....What about Odysseus?! What if he's still at sea, on his little wooden ship - in a violent storm like that?"
And once again she wondered about her beautiful, lighthearted sister, and why "Aphrodite" seemed to be just another way to spell "trouble".
The story so far: The goddess Athena was looking down from her palace in the sky when she saw a great storm over the sea. She worried about the safety of her human friend, Odysseus, who was sailing home in his little wooden ship. Odysseus had been far away from his family for twenty years fighting against the Trojans and having all sorts of adventures with monsters, giants and witches. But all that long, lonely time he was longing only to be back home so that he could hug his wife and child. Now at long last he was sailing home; it would be a tragedy if Odysseus were to drown when he was so close to kissing his family for the first time in twenty years. So Athena thought she ought to fly down to see if he were safe.
Athena hurried back to the palace to put on the special sandals with wings, that she used for flying down to earth.
"Mother, have you seen my winged sandals?" she asked Queen Hera.
"No dear. But why didn't you put them on the shoe rack? How many times must I remind you girls? If you kick your shoes off all over the palace how do you expect to find them?".
"Thank you, mother, now I know where to find them". And Athena dashed off to the great hall with its gleaming marble floor. Hera knew her daughters: when they came home on a hot day, Athena and her sisters just loved to kick off their sandals and feel the cool, smooth stone floor with their bare feet. With one swift motion Athena found her sandals and bound them on her feet and bounded out of the palace and dived right off the edge of Olympos, straight down through the clouds.
"Where are you off to, Thene?" shouted Hera.
"I'm going to ask father something about that storm down there".
"Remind him to come home for lunch. There's a special today: the mortals are preparing to sacrifice a whole ox - not just chicken. Grilled beefsteak: its his favourite aroma".
(You see, the sky gods didn't actually eat; they just lived off the smell of roast meats and cereals, with a little wine from the mortals and a delicious drink of their own make, called Nectar, plus a health supplement called Ambrosia for godlike power).
"I'll remind him, Mother" shouted Athena, as she dived down through the clouds.
There was her father Zeus riding bareback on a storm-cloud. It was a big black cloud, bucking wildly while he shouted
and blasted thunderbolts all over the sky. With him was her uncle Poseidon, god of the sea, surfing on a huge tsunami, and stirring the water into a white froth with his mighty trident. The two chief gods were definitely letting off steam.
But in between sea and sky, Athena noticed that something was wrong with the wind. Normally, only one wind at a time blows up a storm. Sometimes it is the North Wind, blowing ice-cold grey sleet. Sometimes it can be the South Wind, warm and wet. Or it can be the West Wind, who comes from far over the sea, driving the long rolling breakers that surfers love. Or it can be the East Wind, who is dry and bright, and blows back the blue waves in a fine white spray, so that the whole sea looks like a plain of white horses. But this storm was strange: all the winds were blowing at once, making the most incredibly loud howling noise. East Wind battled West Wind, and North Wind battled South: the winds were trading blows face to face, and yelling at each other. The poor waves were buffeted in between the giant winds. The high rollers reared up like frightened horses, then came crashing down on the coast. Round and round the winds chased each other, catch as catch can, in a whirling cyclone that sucked up the sea into a huge, high water spout.
"Father Zeus!" shouted Athena above the howling gale "What in Heaven's name is happening?"
"Beats me, my darling daughter. I'm only god of the sky. Winds are underneath the sky. They don't report to me".
"Hi, uncle Poseidon, do you know what's happening?".
"Cant say, Thene. I'm only god of the sea. Winds are above the sea. They don't report to me".
"Typical!" grunted Zeus "How am I supposed to control the weather if they've assigned the winds to Aeolus? That's just typical of the organization in this whole impossible Universe!"
(You see, the wind blows in the air, but it has a twisty, snaky tail, so it can't be controlled by a sky god. Only the ancient earth-gods know how to control the snake-tailed winds. The earth gods came in the time of the dinosaurs, long before the sky gods, and they live in caves and holes in the ground, like snakes and lizards and worms and other wriggly things. The earth gods aren't as noble as the sky gods, and they don't look so handsome, but they know a lot of things that the sky gods don't know. The earth gods know about the dark places under the earth and where rich mines are buried; they also know the dark places of the heart and the secret treasures of the heart. In fact, the earth gods know the secret power behind all twisty, crooked, jagged things. They even know why Zeus's own lightning bolts must always fly crooked and jagged, however hard Zeus tries to straighten them. Which is why Zeus had a healthy respect for the earth gods, even though they controlled some things that really belonged in Zeus's territory (or so Zeus thought). The winds were controlled by an earth god called Aeolus, who lived in a cave called The Cave of the Winds. Athena could see Aeolus flying over the sea far away, coming to corral his runaway winds.
Athena wanted to ask Aeolus if he had seen Odysseus's boat, but she didn't want her father to be around when Aeolus arrived. So she said to Zeus:
"Mom asked to remind you that the mortals are going to sacrifice an ox at midday".
"Ah, lunch!" exclaimed Zeus. "About time. This workout has given me an appetite. Will you join us for lunch, Pos? Aroma of roast ox washed down with vintage nectar?"
So Zeus and Poseidon flew away to Olympos. As they left, the storm clouds began to clear. Patches of light blue sky gleamed between the white clouds, and the grey waves began to turn dark blue under the white surf. Meanwhile, Aeolus had caught the last strong wind by its tail, swiftly rolled it up into a little ball (just like rolling up a ball of wool) and stuffed it into his big leather windbag, together with all the other big winds. The imprisoned winds heaved and squirmed, but once Aeolus had bagged them, they just couldn't get out. He left free only a gentle warm breeze, that soon would dry things again. Aeolus was lanky and skinny and plain as as a broomstick. He wore a scrubby black beard (just like Abe Lincoln). But when it came to handling a windbag, he was nimble as old Abe gathering the vote in the senate.
Suddenly he heard a beautiful voice calling:
Here I am, Princess Athena."
"Aeolus, while you were flying over the sea and rounding up those stampeding winds, did you by any chance notice a ship that carried Odysseus?"
"Notice it! I'll say! Odysseus and his pesky ship caused all the trouble. That's the last time I try to help a mortal."
"What happened, Aeolus?"
"Well, Odysseus came to visit me, friendly like. You know how few visitors I get, back at the Cave of the Winds, so I was glad of the company. After a while, he told me some sob story about how badly he needed a good wind to blow his ship back home, because he hadn't seen his family in twenty years. I couldn't keep the tears from my eyes, listening to all his troubles."
Athena couldn't help smiling. Odysseus was a skillful con man - but this time he was trying to get out of trouble by telling the truth: that's why she liked him.
Aeolus continued: "Well, I liked him because no other other mortal ever dared visit the Cave of the Winds. Also he was very good company, spinning lots of yarns about his adventures. So I gave him my best wind for sailing to Ithaka. I stuffed all the other winds in my big leather windbag, closed it up tight, and told him to never untie the bag until his ship was safely home.
With my good wind in its sails, Odysseus's ship skimmed like a swift bird over the dark blue waves. Almost all the time he kept awake to guard my bag, which was heaving and squirming with all the winds wriggling to get out. But at last his eyes grew heavy, and he nodded off to sleep. While he was sleeping, some of his crew tiptoed over to the bag, and opened it because they thought it might be holding loot, and they wanted to see their share. Well, they got their share alright, and more than their fair share - of trouble! You know the rest. That's the last time I try to help a human. It's just impossible to stop them from poking into things that they don't understand and can't control."
"Where is the ship now, Aeolus?"
"It was broke up by the storm they let loose. And all the crew are drowned - except Odysseus. He's swimming for his life near the island of Phaecia."
Swiftly, Athene flew off to find Odysseus. But how could she save him?
Her father, Zeus, King of the of the Sky, was fed up with all the trouble that human beings were causing down on earth. He had forbidden the sky gods to help any mortal.
The story so far: Athena has learnt that Odysseus's ship was wrecked by a great storm when his men foolishly opened the Bag of the Winds. Now they are all drowned; only Odysseus is still alive, swimming as hard as he can. Athena flies to the island of Phaecia - but how can she save him? Father Zeus has forbidden sky gods to help humans any more.
Athena skimmed over the sea, and found Odysseus battling to stay alive among the huge waves that were battering the rocky shore of Phaecia. By now the only wind was a gentle breeze, and the sun shone warmly in a blue sky - but giant breakers were still sending up tall walls of white spray as they swept up to shore and crashed angrily against the massive, jagged rocks. Have you been on a Mediterranean beach that was protected with a wave-break? On your side, a fine sandy beach where you can play quietly in the sunshine; but on the other side you can see white spray thrown up where waves are crashing against its rocky wall. Because the wind and the sea are like two different persons. The wind is like a little girl who gets cross very easily when you tease her - but she soon starts laughing again. The sea is like a big, heavy, old man (like Athena's uncle Poseidon). Poseidon becomes cross very slowly, but then he sulks and shows his bad temper for days - even when everybody else is smiling. Do you know somebody like that?
So there was Odysseus, swimming for his life, with a wall of foaming white surf and jagged rock between him and the beach. He tried clinging to the rock, but the surf was too strong: it pulled him back into the sea with irresistible force. And as it pulled him back, the waves dashed him against razor sharp rocks, which peeled long strips of skin off his hands, off his knees, off his ribs. He was bruised and bleeding all over, so he turned back to swim away from the wall of rock - to the open sea. But here his first danger returned - drowning! Up till now, Odysseus had managed to stay alive when the rest his crew had drowned, because he was a very good swimmer and knew how to breathe on the water. Every time a wave crashed on top of him, he would shut his mouth; and every time a wave threw him up to the surface, he would take a deep breath. That way he had managed to stay in the water for hours. But now he was becoming tired, and beginning to make mistakes in his breathing. He started to swallow water.
It looked as though Odysseus himself would soon be swallowed - down, down into the hungry gullet of the cruel sea.
How Athena longed to help him!
She could easily have lifted him up and flown him over the wall of rock, then put him down gently on the quiet, sandy beach. She could even have flown him straight home, and destroyed all his enemies. But she respected her father's wishes : if Zeus said that humans must learn to help themselves, he had a good reason - even though she couldn't see it. So Athena watched Odysseus struggle and felt pity - even though she was a goddess and he was just a human. In the same way, some humans feel pity when they see a pet in distress, or even a wild animal's suffering which cannot be helped.
Suddenly, just as Athena was wishing with all her might to save Odysseurs (and secretly wondering whether she should disobey her father) a bright ray of sunlight glittered on top of a wave, and like magic a small rainbow gleamed inside the wild spray. It wasn't the majestic, sky high bow that the goddess Iris lights up when Father Zeus wants to send good news to all mankind. It was just a little mini rainbow - the sort that you can see sometimes if you make a fine spray with a hose on a sunny day. It wasn't Iris nor any of the other sky gods: it was just a little sea-fairy called Ino.
"Ino!" called Athena "What are you doing here?"
"It's my home" replied Ino "But what are you doing here, Athena?"
"Watching that brave man fighting to stay alive in the raging water. And wishing that I could help him"
"If that's all you need to make you feel better, I'll help that human" said Ino.
"I'm not a sky goddess, so I don't need to listen to Father Zeus. In fact, I'm not even a goddess, only a little sea nymph - but my magic is strong enough to keep that human afloat if his body has a heroic soul inside it.
Catch this, Odysseus! Wind it round your breast!"
Like a life guard throwing a life belt, that small nymph of the sea, Ino, threw her shining rainbow belt around Odysseus's chest, then vanished below into her watery home. Immediately, Odysseus felt his heart glow with new strength, and his lungs filled once again with sweet air deeply breathed. He forgot his pain and weariness, and kept doggedly afloat while the hours slowly passed. Sure enough, the waves gradually subsided, like a cross old man who slowly forgets to be angry. All the time, Athena hovered over the sea, watching him fight the waves without being able to help, the way a mother used to watch her sick child fighting a fever, in the days before antibiotics.
Gradually, the waves subsided. Cautiously, Odysseus approached the rocks, and dragged his weary body onto the beach. He unwound Ino's rainbow belt, and threw it back into the waves, uttering a prayer of thanks for such miraculous escape from the cruel sea. By now he was completely exhausted: all he wanted to do was to lie down, kiss the ground and go to sleep for a year. But his head told him:
"Not yet, old boy. You'd be lying on open ground, exposed to enemies or to prowling carnivores. You don't even know what country you're in. You have no passport, no money, no weapons - and gosh! no clothes!"
All his clothes, even the belt with his trusty knife, had been ripped off by hungry waves and sharp rocks. He was completely exposed. So, with one last, desperate effort, Odysseus dragged himself to a grove of thick bushes, burrowed his naked body into the deep leaves, and slept. And slept. And slept.
Seeing that he was safe and sound asleep, Athena returned to Olympos for supper, and pondered. During the night, pieces of a possible plan to rescue Odysseus and return him safely home, began to form in her mind. But the difficulty remained - how to rescue Odysseus without disobeying Zeus by actually helping a human being.
"After all", thought Athena, "one reason I like Odysseus is, that he is a very resourceful man - ready for anything. He is very brave but also very cautious. He never runs away from a fight but he never fights if he can talk his way out of a situation. He loves his home and his wife's good soup - more than all the magic in the world. So, given that he is a man with all these qualities, I think I can make a plan to help Odysseus without actually helping him. Perhaps that's what Father Zeus wants us to do: to help the humans to help themselves?"
Excited by all these thoughts, Athena could hardly wait for Odysseus to wake up and help her to put her plan into action.
The story so far: Athena has seen Odysseus land safely on the island of Phaecia. A sea-fairy, Ino, lent him her magic rainbow belt, which buoyed him up with new hope and courage to survive. But now he is an asylum seeker, stranded in a foreign country. He has no friends, no passport, no ID, no money - and no clothes! Odysseus is sleeping nude on the beach. If the police find him, they will put him in jail as an illegal immigrant. Zeus has forbidden the skygods to help the humans. But Athene thinks that what her father really must have meant to say was:
"It's wrong to help mortals with your skygod magic. But it's allright if you only help them to help themselves".
So Athene has decided that her father will not mind if she only helps Odysseus to help himself.
Athene was impatient. Another day had dawned, but Odysseus was still sleeping in a deep, deep sleep of utter exhaustion. He was worn out, and his aching body wanted complete rest.
The sun climbed in the blue heaven. A gentle breeze began to dry the wet leaves, while Odysseus slept. The sun sank over the wine-dark sea, and the warm earth breathed out the smell of fresh-rained earth, while Odysseus slept. The evening star came out, then two more making three stars, then all the stars wheeled round in a jewelled night sky, while Odysseus slept. A crescent moon rose in the East and set again in the West, while Odysseus slept.
And while he slept, his body healed and his spirit was refreshed.
Athene watched her pet human, and curbed her impatience. Like a mother watching her baby sleep, she did not dare to wake him. Athene knew that human beings are not as strong as the gods: we break if you push us too hard. So she curbed her impatience, and waited another day for her pet to wake up and do his stuff.
Meanwhile Athene thought:
"If the police find Odysseus first, they will lock him in a detention centre, far from town, for six months at least. The police will report him as an illegal immigrant: landed secretly, no ship, no papers, no relatives on the island. Suspect he might be a spy or a potential terrorist. Keep him locked up".
"No, no no!" Athene thought, "Odysseus can't afford to hang around a detention center for months or years. He needs to be home by next week - it's urgent!"
"No" Athene thought, "police and local officials are too slow. We must start at the top. Odysseus must meet the King and Queen today. Tomorrow he must get all the top people in this country on his side. Then he must persuade them to send him home in their fastest ship. All in a week! A tall order - but now's the time for Odysseus to show what stuff he's made of."
Another morning began to dawn in the rose-tipped East. Burrowed under his litter of dry leaves, the naked man began to stir. What was Athene doing to help Odysseus this time?
Nothing! Well, not quite nothing - she was thinking hard. Athene had a sort of plan.
She knew that the king of this island was Alkinous - a large, friendly man with white whiskers, like Santa Claus. Alkinous liked nothing better than to sit on his throne watching sports and quaffing his drink like an immortal god. In fact, he was such good company that sometimes Zeus himself , after a hard day at ruling of the sky, would visit Alkinous with a jar of nectar under his arm; and the two old buffers would sit down in comfort and split the jar between them, quaffing their drink and refilling their cups.
They would swap sports stories and other stories and jokes, laughing their way through the night. Now and then they would stop fooling around, and in low, grave voices these two old kings would exchange deep thoughts on the best way to rule - Zeus the whole sky, and Alkinous the little island of Phaecia - but in the end Zeus would think about his wife and their five sons and five daughters, or Alkinous would think about his wife and their one teenage daughter; then, with a sigh, they would agree that it was easier to rule a kingdom then to rule a family. At last, they would each put an arm around the other's shoulder, and bawl out some of the good old songs before staggering home to their beds.
So Alkinous was one of the very few humans who have joshed a god face-to-face, and known the taste of nectar.
His wife was Queen Arete, an excellent and very clever lady - but not just clever. She had bags of common sense. People said:
"Alkinous is King, but Queen Arete runs the country; and she runs it well".
Nobody was poor in Phaecia because Queen Arete said she would not stand to rule over miserable creatures who were worse off than she was. Nobody was rich either, because Queen Arete did her own housework, and couldn't stand people who owned more property than they could manage by themselves.
Everything in Phaecia was neat and clean - even the streets and public places. Before Queen Arete came, people used to nod wisely and say:
"If everyone sweeps their own house, the whole country will soon be clean".
So each family swept their own house - but they all swept their garbage out into the street, or dumped it in the countryside. There were very few garbage collectors, and they were poorly paid. People used to caution their children:
"Study to get ahead! If you don't, you may end up as a street sweeper!"
Then Queen Arete came along, and cried out:
"The whole country is the King's house. I will not stand for my husband living in a dirty house! Where are the street sweepers!?"
She let school children off homework if they would go out in the afternoon with a plastic bag - and she made the schools award extra marks for children who came back with the the fullest bags. So now Phaecian parents encourage their children:
"Study - and you might even become a street sweeper!"
Queen Arete was called "Queen Clean" because she was always talking about Clean Streets, Clean Water and Clean Air. When her friends used to talk about the latest medical discovery, she would say:
"That's all very well - but clean water and clean air are worth more than all the medicines in your book".
She persuaded King Alkinous to install the latest invention in the Royal Palace - flush toilets. Soon, every house in the little island of Phaecia had plumbing with clean water. As a result, no child in Phaecia died from cholera, or typhoid fever, or typhus, or beri beri, or scurvy, or pellagra, or tuberculosis, or malnutrition. Most other countries had to wait 3,000 years to equal this record - and some aren't there yet.
People who didn't like Arete used to say:
"She's a woman with the mind of a man".
This was usually said by crooks, who were afraid of her. Nobody could con Arete, and very few tried. When shady politicians and businessmen got together to cook up some crooked deal, like Enron or whatever, Arete was sure to hear of it - because she talked to everybody, and everybody talked to her. As soon as Arete heard of some shady business brewing, King Alkinous would summon the crooks to court, and Arete would begin to question them in public. Rather than face her, the conmen preferred to sail away from Phaecia, and prowl around for suckers in some easier country.
There are very few Queen Aretes, and Odysseus was lucky to land in her country. But how did he come to meet her and King Alkinous? Well, they had one teenage daughter, called Nausikaa. And that very morning, just as Odysseus was waking up, and Athene was thinking hard how to save him, Nausikaa also woke up suddenly. It was much too early - through her window she could see only the faintest rosy tint in that pale grey dawn sky. But a lively dream had woken her. She dreamed that she was back at school. She seemed to hear her favorite teacher - Miss Angela - saying:
"Now, now, Nausikaa! Rise and shine! It's going to be a lovely day. This is no time to lie abed dreaming".
That's what Miss Angela said, in Nausikaa's dream.
She also said:
"Tch! Tch! Just look at all your clothes in that laundry basket. Suppose somebody invites you to a party - you won't have a clean thing to wear! Your friend Phoebe is in the same fix - why don't you two girls get together?".
Nausikaa and her best friend, Phoebe, went to a very good school. There they were taught to speak nicely, to behave with consideration for others, to play games with vim and vigour, to think clearly and to do good deeds. She was popular at school - and not only because she was the princess. Nausikaa wasn't beautiful and she wasn't plain - but she was fun. She had her father's good temper and her mother's good sense. She never tried to boss anybody, and nobody could boss her.
Her friends' parents used to say:
"Nausikaa certainly dreams up some surprising ideas for a party. But my kids generally have a good time. And they never run wild."
She sat bolt upright as the idea hit her:
"A linen-washing party! That's it! It's going to be a lovely day; my dream told me so. We could go down to the stream by the beach, and wash our clothes in it. (I mustn't forget to wash my blue dress - the one with the swish folds - for Irene's party next week). Then we could have a picnic and fool around on the beach until the clothes are dry. Wait till I tell Phoebe! But how to spring it on the parents? Well,here goes!"
She dressed and then knocked softly on her parents' door.
"What is it, Nausikaa?" they asked sleepily.
"Dear Papa, dearest Mama, it looks like a fine day for washing and drying. Suppose some important visitors arrived suddenly - an ambassador even. What ever would they report if they saw the King of Phaecia wearing a grubby toga? And what about you, Mama? Have you any dirty washing, Mother dear?"
Queen Arete was a little alarmed at the thought of handing her delicate chiffon headscarves and gossamer silk gowns to a group of high spirited girls, but it was her principle to encourage good deeds. So she said:
"Well, dear, you know I always hand wash my own gowns. But I'm sure that Pateros would be delighted to have a clean ceremonial toga."
"Wazzat? Sure, sure, szure, sszzure, ssszzz..." snored the King, as he rolled over and went happily back to sleep.
"Thank you, Mamma, thank you, Papa!"
She kissed her parents and rushed to wake up Phoebe with her surprise idea. But she found Phoebe already awake and dressed. What luck!
"Phoebe! What luck! I've just dreamed up a new idea! My parents have already allowed. Its a ..."
".... a linen washing party" said Phoebe, completing her friend's sentence.
"I had the same dream. And my parents have also agreed".
"Snap!" said Nausikaa. "What an amazing coincidence!"
And Athene, who was standing invisible between the two girls, smiled.
The story so far: Athena is helping Odysseus to help himself to return home from Phaecia. She sends a vivid dream to Princess Nausikaa, with a new idea for a beach party. Only Athena knows that Odysseus is sleeping nude in some bushes on the same beach. Now Odysseus will have to persuade the princess and her parents that he is a genuine asylum seeker, and to send him home by their swiftest ship in time to save his family.
Can Odysseus do it? Is he made of the right stuff?
Soon a lively party of girls were chattering gaily on their way to the beach. It was a lovely, sunny Mediterranean morning - warm and dry, with a light breeze that carried the tang of rosemary bushes from the freshly rained earth. Each girl carried a bag of washing, that she had coaxed from her parents (plus her own robe for Irene's party next week). And their backpacks were packed with food, swimming costumes and games.
It was their favorite beach, because a clear, freshwater stream flowed into the sea there, all year round. Tall reeds grew thickly on its banks, and waist high bushes of rosemary. The water ran cool and fresh, even in the hottest days of summer, because its stream was fed by melting snow from the high mountains. The water ran so fast that it swept away all the sand, and the floor of the stream was lined with large, flat pebbles - not sludge like most of the other streams in that hot climate. It was ideal for washing. First, the girls soaked their dirty linen on the floor of the clear stream. Then they danced on it barefoot to shake out the dirt. The girls had great fun splashing all morning in the cool water.
They carefully lifted out each piece of soggy cloth when it was done, and twisted it as hard as they could to wring out the very last drop of water, till every muscle in their arms stood out firmly, and the cloth was just damp to the touch. Lastly, they spread the damp clothes over the rosemary bushes, to dry in the sun and become sweet to the nose. Then they sat down, opened their backpacks, and shared out their picnic treats.
Little did the girls realize that those same thick bushes concealed a forty five year old man - a grim, battle scarred warrior, lying stark naked less than five paces away from where they were sitting! If the girls had seen him they would have screamed and called the police. But cautious Odysseus had buried himself in leaves with his last remaining strength, before he dropped off into deep sleep. He was still dozing blissfully, only half awake, when the girls finished their picnic and began to play.
First Nausikaa and her friends went for dips in the salt waves. There were no showers on this deserted beach, but they could wash the salt out of their hair in the freshwater stream. When they were dry but still nice and cool, they started a game of volleyball - Nausikaa's team versus Phoebe's team. (Phoebe was her best friend). The two teams were very evenly matched, which made for an exciting game. One moment Nausikaa's team would be ahead, the next moment Phoebe's would score. Cheers went up at every point, mingled with yells of triumph and groans of disappointment.
The noise woke Odysseus with a start. In an instant, all his senses were alert for danger. At first he thought the noise must be some wild beasts, then he realized it was only girls having fun.
But who were these people? Greeks or Barbarians? Enemies or friends?
Very cautiously, like a hunter stalking his prey; softly, softly, like a birdwatcher trying not to disturb a rare bird; with hushed quiet, like a mother tiptoing out of the room after singing a lullaby - Odysseus lifted his head above the bushes and peered through his screen of leaves, watching and listening.
These girls were speaking Greek! Good! It meant that he had not landed on some barbarian island. Even better, they spoke an educated Greek - so they must be daughters of good family; people who could help him if he played his cards right. Best of all, he could tell from their accent that they spoke almost the way people spoke in Ithaka. He was close to home!
Cautiously, he raised his head to see better. He took in their clothes, their hairstyles, their jewelry, the confident way they acted: they obviously belonged to some of the most influential families on this island. Especially the one they called Nausikaa; she even seemed to be some kind of princess. He ought to speak to her. But how?
Odysseus was extremely embarrassed without his clothes. If he said the wrong thing, and Nausikaa ran away to tell her parents that a naked man had suddenly approached her out of the bushes, they would have him arrested him for sure. On the other hand, if he did not speak to this princess, he would have thrown away his best chance to influence some influential people on this island.
His situation was critical: he had to make his move now, and it had to be the right move - win or lose.
Invisible behind him, Athena whispered silently:
"Now's your moment, Odysseus. Go for it!"
"I'll go for it" thought Odysseus.
Athena smiled to see Odysseus slowly, slowly poke his head out of the bushes, with his hands up, palms forward to show that he held no weapons. One by one, girls began to notice a smiling face rising slowly out of some nearby bushes. Each girl would nudge her neighbor and point. Soon the volley game stopped - all eyes were on that odd, smiley face. Not a sound was heard. With his leaves in his hair, he looked like some Pan figure, some suntanned nature god rising from sleep, when the deep woods are silent with midday heat.
"Good!" thought Odysseus in the silence "Now I have their attention without scaring them.
That gives me a chance to speak quietly and politely".
He cleared his throat and put on his friendliest face. At this moment Athena couldn't resist the temptation to help Odysseus just a teeny little bit - by making him look younger and more handsome. She covered his bald spot with thick, glossy hair, and smoothed away the wrinkles from his face.
"It's only cosmetic" she thought "Father Zeus won't mind".
"Allright, my girl, it's only cosmetic" growled Zeus, who was watching from Olympus, "but don't do it too often".
The Lady Goddesses, who were also watching, said nothing; but Hera and Aphrodite smiled secretly, because both of them knew that cosmetics have much more power than Zeus could imagine. But they let Athene get away with it, because Hera and Aphrodite were also secretly planning to help their own pet humans later on. Then if Zeus objected, they could say:
"You let Athene do it - why can't I? Do you love her more than you love me?"
(But that's another story. You can read what Hera and Aphrodite got away with later, in a book called "The Aenaid, or Revenge of the Trojans").
To get back to our own story: in olden times, the polite way for a gentleman to address a lady was to start with a deep bow that showed his respect. Odysseus needed to stand up to make his bow. He rose cautiously, carefully screening the lower part of his body with bushes so that nobody could see that he had no pants. The girls gave little gasps as they were confronted with long glossy locks cascading over broad shoulders and muscular biceps; they gasped even more when they noticed the hard, deep ridges of his powerful abdominal muscles. Odysseus bowed, first to all, then especially to Nausikaa, with right hand well spread and fingertips over the heart, in the old fashioned gesture of sincerity.
"Fair goddess..." he began. Nausikaa laughed.
"Good!" thought Odysseus, "At least I've got them laughing". He went on:
"Gracious princess, whom your fair maidens call Nausikaa..." Again Nausikaa laughed; she couldn't help it - his language was so old fashioned and over the top, straight from her mother's book on etiquette.
"What makes you think I'm a princess? And who are you?"
"My name is Nomanios, King's Companion to the late King Odysseus - my beloved master, tragically drowned when last night's great storm wrecked our ship."
Athena thought that Odysseus didn't need to con Nausikaa with that false name, Nomanios - but old habits die hard. Perhaps you also wonder why Odysseus did not give his real name. The reason was, he did not know yet whether he could trust this foreign princess and her father. If he told them that he was the famous Odysseus, they might hold him for a huge ransom (a lot of kings in those days made money by hijacking other kings). So he pretended to be somebody less important. He was now Mr Nomanios KC (King's Companion) a man with a mission - to report the news of King Odysseus's death in a spectacular storm. That way he would stand a better chance of getting home: because newsmen have always been granted special protection and privilege to travel.
He went on pleading, with a sob in his voice:
"I am the only one left alive to tell the tale. Gracious princess, will you help this unlucky veteran of the Trojan war to return to Ithaka, where I can report the sad news of her husband's death to Queen Penelope in person?"
"For that you must ask my father, King Alkinous. "But I can certainly bring you to his court".
"A thousand thanks, gracious princess. However, there is one, ahem, problem: the storm has ripped off all my clothes".
The girls giggled and tried their hardest not to peek through the screen of leaves that covered his penis. Nausikaa laughed lightly: she saw a way to test this stranger. Was he really a King's Companion?
"Clothes will be no problem. By good chance, we happen to have a supply of freshly washed ceremonial court robes, as you may have noticed. Kindly try that
one!" she ordered, pointing to a richly embroidered robe that had been spread to dry on one of the bushes.
"Since you are a KC bringing news of King Odysseus, you must rank as ambassador".
This was a really hard test. The robe she pointed to was a complicated toga with stripes in each of the three sacred colours: red, white and black. Each stripe had to be exactly lined up with its matching colour; otherwise the ambassador would be considered Improperly Dressed, and refused Entry to the Royal Presence. Only a king or a KC would know enough about Court Etiquette to wear such a garment with assurance. (If you have seen a man trying to knot a striped necktie under a starched collar for a formal meeting, you will have a faint idea of the test that Nausikaa had set Odysseus).
The girls turned their backs while he wound the toga round his body (though some of the naughty ones peeked). But all the same, they were prepared: the girls knew that if this smooth talking stranger failed that test - if a single stripe was out of place - Nausikaa was going to give them a secret signal. Then they would all pounce on that foreigner, and hand him over to the police as an illegal immigrant.
"Ready" said Odysseus quietly.
Not a line was out of place.
Indeed, Mr Nomanios KC looked exceedingly distinguished in his fine court clothes.
Off they marched. On the way, Mr Nomanios entertained them with thrilling stories of his fabulous adventures, fighting giants and monsters, as Companion to the famous King Odysseus. (You can read all about them in a book called "The Odyssey").
When they arrived, the palace was patrolled by security guards as usual, with strict orders to search all strangers and check their ID. But when the guards saw Mr Nomanios approaching in his ceremonial robes, chatting amiably with Princess Nausikaa and the Honorable Lady Phoebe, security assumed this must be a VIPI (Very Important Person Indeed); so they saluted while he walked right past them!
Odysseus had now penetrated to the very heart and nerve centre of Phaecia! (With only a teeny bit of cosmetic aid from Athena). If anything could be done to send him home in time to save his family, it would be done here. But could he persuade King Alkinous and Queen Arete? Could he get all the people on his side. And most important of all - could he do it alone?
Athena didn't know. You see, she was a rational sky goddess, so she could predict what was going to happen - if it had a reason. But human beings are not always reasonable. Humankind is made from a stuff that is partly sky, partly earth; and the earth gods have always been twisty and unpredictable. Nobody could tell whether Odysseus was really made of the right stuff. Even the gods would have to wait and see.
"Good girl!" growled Zeus, looking down from Olympos "You've given me and my old friend Alkinous something new to chew over, next time we meet".
The story so far: Odysseus has put on a disguise in Phaecia because his adventures have taught him not to trust strangers. He cons Princess Nausikaa that he is Mr Nomanios KC (King's Companion) bringing news that King Odysseus is dead. He has not yet l earned that Phaecia is an honest, kindly country where the best thing is to tell the truth.
Nausikaa promises to take him to her father the king.
Now will he try to con King Alkinous?
Nausikaa said goodbye to her friends, then turned to Odysseus:
"Now Mr Nomanios, you shall take your case to the King; but listen carefully, because this is important."
She whispered in his ear, her nose crinkling prettily:
"The way to my father's goodwill is through my mother's heart."
Then she took Odysseus straight up to the large hall where her father sat on his throne. First she made him a deep curtsy because he was the king; then she kissed his cheek and rumpled his hair because he was her daddy.
"Daddy dear, look who's coming to dinner! This is Mr Nomanios KC. He was in the Trojan War, and he brings you news of King Odysseus."
"Daughter dear, how full of surprises you are! An envoy from the Kingdom of Ithaka - why was his visit not announced in advance? Where are his documents? Where is his ship?
"Don't be so silly, darling Daddy" answered Nausikaa impatiently, "How could Mr Nomanios be announced when we've only just found him?"
"And where, my darling daughter, did you just find him?"
King Alkinous's jaw clenched, because Ambassadors are very well addressed (you must always address an Ambassador as "Your Excellency") so that they can never get lost. That is why an Ambassador can never be "just found".
"On the beach".
Alkinous's jaw tightened, and he spoke through tense lips:
"My dear, innocent daughter, Special Messengers don't just turn up on the beach. They arrive in a flagship with the band playing, and then we roll out the red carpet".
"Papa, don't be so formal! Mr Nomanios has no ship. It was wrecked in the great storm."
She giggled and added:
"He didn't even have any clothes. We had to dress him from head to toe."
Alkinous stared hard. Mr Nomanios was wearing his own best clothes! And looking suspiciously young! The Trojan war had started twenty years ago; this young man must have been a child at that time. How could he have been a Companion of the legendary King Odysseus?
King Alkinous muttered to himself:
"A con man! A baby faced, smooth talking con man!"
As king, Alkinous had a duty to protect his country from suspicious looking foreigners: but this did not worry him, because he had plenty of police to help him. But as a father, Alkinous had a duty to protect his darling daughter from plausible young men; and this worried him a lot, because he had only one other person to help him. So he sent for his wife at once.
Arete came quickly. As queen, Arete liked to meet foreigners (in case she might hear some new thing); and she liked even more to help asylum seekers (because that was a good deed). But as a mother, she liked most of all to find A Suitable Boy for her daughter to marry. So when they brought the message that the King requested the Queen's advice in the case of an asylum seeker, who was young, handsome and possibly well connected, Queen Arete hurried to Court.
The Court held its breath as they waited for Queen Arete to begin one of her famous examinations. Odysseus bowed to the Queen with his best bow, put on his most polite smile, and waited confidently for her to speak. But there followed a long, unnerving silence. Instead of speaking, she slowly examined his glossy new hair, his smooth new face - and then her calm grey eyes looked straight into his eyes.
Odysseus used to boast that he could outface anybody and outsmart anybody - but for the first time in his life he blushed and lowered his eyes, trying to hide the secrets that she was reading on his face.
Athene, whose own grey eyes were even keener than Arete's, laughed to see Odysseus blushing.
"Good!" thought Athene "That man is learning something. He thought he was smart, but now he is up against somebody smarter."
Arete looked into Odysseus's eyes and said to herself:
"Those are not the eyes of a carefree beach boy. Those shrewd, watchful eyes have seen terrible things."
She looked at his hands, and thought:
"Sword scars - those mighty hands have done terrible things".
She decided: "This man has fought many battles. Perhaps he really is a veteran from twenty years ago, even though his face and hair are young. Perhaps he discovered a rejuvenating skin lotion in Troy - the Middle East is full of balsams and medicinal herbs. I must ask him about that later"
Athene's godlike grey eyes peered deep into Arete's brain, and read her thoughts.
"Good!" she whispered into Arete's ear "My cosmetic magic fooled your daughter, but it can't fool her mother".
Arete continued her examination, while Odysseus sweated in silence, and the Court held its breath. She didn't really take long, but to Odysseus it seemed as though he were living through an eternity of embarrassment.
"So, he's not a young beach boy - he's an old soldier. Now I have to find out if he's a real KC or only a cheap con man. First point against him: that disguise. Second point against him: that name. Nomanios. No-man-i-os. No-man-I-is. I-is-no-man. No man. It's a con name!"
Athene laughed, silently and invisibly: Odysseus had tried one of his old tricks, but this time he would better have given his real name. Because Arete knew a lot about Odysseus: she had heard his story from her husband, and her husband had heard it from Zeus himself, who sees all.
"Two points against: false face and false name. Now, are there any points in his favor?"
Arete looked for his good points - because she was a very fair minded person. So she examined his face once again.
By this time Odysseus was really worried. The silence was unnerving. Nobody gave a him a smile; not even Nausikaa, who sat silent and grave on a throne next to the King her father. She was no longer just the playful girl on the beach: she was Princess Nausikaa; and she had brought him to the Royal Court of her ancestors, where her family judged matters of life and death.
For the first time in his life, Odysseus felt really afraid - not for himself, but for what might happen to his family if he couldn't convince these foreigners to help him get home. For the first time, he knew what it was like to feel depression and despair. He felt that everybody was against him. Everything was against him. Fate - that awful force which guides the Universe, stronger than Zeus himself - was against him. For ten years he had been forced to fight in a useless and terrible war, far away from home. For another ten years, the winds of Fate had blown his ship around the Mediterranean, from one strange adventure to another. He began to lose his new strength and hope.
Ino's rainbow magic and Athene's cosmetic magic were wearing off - Odysseus began to feel tired and look old.
Arete's keen eyes read the despair on his face - and it touched her heart. All sorts of people used to come and talk to her with their troubles, because they knew she had a good heart as well as a good head. So Arete had learned how to read faces. She also learnt how to read body language: the way people hold themselves when they are happy or unhappy. She decided:
"That man is unhappy. He doesn't look like a carefree bachelor; he looks like a family man - where, deep in the heart, Care makes her nest. Point in his favor".
That's what her heart told her head; but her head told her heart:
"Now, now, Arete! We mustn't get sentimental. Let me try a test question: does this man know the real facts behind Odysseus and the Trojan War?".
So Arete spoke at last, and all ears leaned forward to hear her first question:
"Mr ..er-.. Noman-ios, all the world knows how your brave King Odysseus helped Great King Agamemnon to desTroy the Axis of Evil. You were there, we were not? Please tell Court, as an eye witness of those glorious events, how King Odysseus and the allies rallied behind Great King Agamemnon's Crusade in the Middle East"
Odysseus was startled. He had expected to be asked about the storm and the shipwreck. He had expected to answer with a sob story about how he had seen King Odysseus drown, and how important it was to tell Queen Penelope the sad news. But instead, Arete had put to him this very tricky question, and he couldn't decide how to answer.
(To really appreciate the background to this question, you will have to wait till the next chapter - Book 7. But for now ..... ).
The question was tricky because it had two answers. One answer was "what everybody knows" - but it was a false answer. The other answer was true - but only a few KCs (and the gods) knew it.
False answer: say what is "public knowledge"; say that the Great King was Leader of the International Community, say that the Allies were happy to join his Crusade, say that he deserved the Peace Prize.
True answer: say that Agamemnon was an incompetent bully who short changed his allies, that the war dragged on because he quarreled with his best general; and worst of all, that Agamemnon had made a human sacrifice to help him win the war.
Odysseus was in a fix. He didn't know if the Phaecians were in on the political secrets of Agamemnon and his Allies.
If Odysseus gave the true answer, the Phaecian public might be shocked; they might even chop off his head for Speaking Treason against the Great King.
On the other hand, if King Alkinous did know the real truth but Odysseus only said what was public knowledge, then Alkinous would think that Odysseus was just an ordinary member of the public - not a real KC.
Either way, Odysseus could blow his best chance of getting home. He was tired, his head ached and he just couldn't think how to con his way out of that fix. He looked at Queen Arete; her calm grey eyes met his, but gave him no sign. He looked at King Alkinous, but Alkinous did not look back at him; the king was happily quaffing a cool beaker of Cephallonian Robolla. Odysseus waited desperately for Athene to whisper some clever plan in his ear. But the invisible goddess remained silent: he had to make the right choice by himself.
Finally he looked at Nausikaa, so innocent and trusting: the girl he thought he had conned so easily into taking him home. He thought of the clean streets of Phaecia, and the happy, confident people that he had seen on the way. And suddenly he realized: Nausikaa hadn't helped him because he had conned her - she had helped him simply because he had needed help, and that was the way they did things here.
So, for the first time in his adventurous life, Odysseus decided to trust a stranger. He simply told the truth ..... ..... ...
"Your Majesty" said Queen Arete "I do believe that Mr ..er..-.. Noman-ios is a real KC".
"In which case, my dear" answered King Alkinous "I invite him to take part in our Olympic Trials tomorrow".
Alkinous was no lawyer, but he was a good judge of form; and he had noticed that Nomanios was in remarkably good physical condition. But why did his wife call him Mr ..er..-..?
"Hooray!" shouted Nausikaa.
"He learns fast" thought Athene "That's why I like him".
"The Mysterious Mr Nomanios" was what the people called him in the cafes, when they went out in the cool of the evening to relax and discuss the day's events.
"What awful things he said against Great King Agamemnon. I thought they'd try him for treason."
"Instead of which, they've invited him for the Olympic Trials. Wonder what event he'll enter?"
"Naw, he's built for strength, not speed. Bet you it's wrestling".
That night there was feasting and dancing in the tavernas, to celebrate the opening of the Olympic Trials. In the great hall of the palace, a star musician sang songs in honor of the distinguished veteran from Ithaka. And guess what he sang about: "The Adventures of Odysseus". Odysseus hadn't realized that he had become so famous in the past ten years. But Zeus, who sees everything, had related all those amazing adventures to his boon companion, Alkinous; and Alkinous had told some (the ones that he could remember) to his wife, Arete; and Arete had told them to people up and down the country. So in the end, they were made into folk songs. But as Odysseus sat in the great, dark hall, sipping a red Nemean wine with its sun-rich taste of tannin, and listening to those songs, the shapes of stout hearted companions rose in his mind - all dead now, some even left unburied on a lonely shore; and his eyes misted. The king and Queen thought he must be sleepy (which was true) and escorted him up to a comfortable bed in the best guest room.
Odysseus had almost made it - and on his own steam. He had convinced the Royal Family. Now could he get the People on his side? Would they lend him their fastest ship? And if he managed to return to Ithaka, what adventure still lay in wait for him?
With urgent thoughts crowding in on him as he turned restlessly on the soft bed, Odysseus's tired mind seethed and bubbled like a haggis boiling in a cauldron, before he finally drifted off to sleep.
The story so far: To convince Queen Arete that he knew real facts behind the Trojan War, Odysseus had to answer her trick question. To understand his answer, you have to know how the war with Troy began.
We go back twenty years, when Odysseus was a young husband of twentyfive, and Penelope was a young wife of twenty, and she had just given birth to her first (and only) baby. It was a boy, and they called him Telemachos (Telly for short). On their little island of Ithaka, Penelope and Odysseus were blissfully happy - but up in Olympos trouble was brewing.
It was all Aphrodite's fault; but she did not mean to cause trouble - it was just her nature.
Aphrodite was flighty.
She was the Goddess of Love, so all day long she thought of nothing but how to make herself look beautiful. She would sit preening in front of her mirror for hours, trying all sorts of lipstick to make her red lips look redder; she would try all different shades of eye shadow to make her blue eyes look bluer; face powder to make her fair skin look fairer; rouge to blush her pink cheeks pinker. She brushed her long blonde hair till the highlights gleamed like gold. Her hair was the feature she liked most. She called it her "crowning glory", and to make it look even prettier she had tried all sorts of headbands. Finally she decided that the simplest suited her best.
"After all" she said "a girl, whose hair is yellower than candle flame, should wear no headband but a garland of fresh flowers"
Aphrodite was by far the most popular goddess on earth: there were statues and pictures of her all over. Aphrodite felt sure that she must be the most beautiful goddess of all; and that started the trouble. Her mother Hera got cross and called her vain; her sister Athena told her not to be such a little silly.
"Flighty Aphrodite, flighty Aphrodite!" sang Athena.
"You're just jealous!" sobbed Aphrodite; and she slammed the great front door as she rushed out of the floating palace of the gods, dived angrily into the clouds and flew down from Olympos to Earth.
To cool off, Aphrodite went for a long walk in the hills of a country called Turkey (which is in the Middle East, between Greece and Lebanon). On a hillside she met a human boy called Paris. His father was the king of Troy, and Paris was herding his father's sheep. She told Prince Paris how jealous her mother and sister were - jealous because she was so pretty.
"They've simply now idea how to dress" she confided to Paris "Athene always wears the same old plain white robe with that clumpy helmet; sometimes she even carries a heavy shield and a sixfoot spear. I ask you - what sort of fashion accessory is that? And Mama is an old frump. Do you know what? Sometimes, when she wants to please papa, she comes and borrows my clothes - because she hasn't a single pretty dress of her own! That's why they're both jealous of me.
"I think you are the most beautiful goddess of all" said Prince Paris - and he meant it.
Aphrodite was so pleased that she promised to give Prince Paris any present he wanted - whatever!
"Gosh! Thank you, Lady Aphrodite!. Can I marry the most beautiful woman in the world?" asked Paris.
"Yes" replied Aphrodite - just like that! Without thinking of the consequences. She knew very well that the most beautiful woman in the world was Queen Helen of Sparta - and Helen was already married! That was sure to cause trouble! But Aphrodite never thought things over - she acted on impulse. Her motto was:
"Love will find a way".
Paris took Aphrodite home to his palace in Troy. There he introduced her to his dashing young uncle, Prince Anchises. Aphrodite fell in love with Anchises as soon as she saw him. It was love at first sight! Aphrodite and Anchises had a baby boy - even though they weren't married! Aphrodite's mother was furious! (They named their son Aeneas, and you can read what happened later in a book called "The Aenaeid").
"Those wicked Trojans!" said Hera "I hate every one of them!"
"They aren't really wicked" said Athene "just silly. They let their hearts rule their heads - just like Aphrodite! No wonder she loves them".
Aphrodite was flighty, but her magic was strong. She made Helen fell in love with Paris at first sight. Helen left her husband, and sailed away to Troy. At first Helen tried to stop herself, but that magic overcame her. Poor Helen - half her love was in Sparta with her husband King Menelaus; and the other half was in Troy with Prince Paris. (Who can blame her? Not even the gods could resist Aphrodite's special magic - not even Zeus himself! Only Athene knew how to resist her sister's wiles - because Athene always kept a very level head).
The Trojan people were proud to find that their little country was hosting the most beautiful woman in the world. They were sure it would get them a lot of space in all the media; and it did - the Trojan War is famous to this very day!
But fame is not always good for the people who become famous.
Helen's husband, King Menelaus, was one of the Twin Kings. His elder twin was Great King Agamemnon THE MOST POWERFUL KING IN GREECE.
The Greeks had lots of little kings in those days: King Odysseus, King Alkinous, and so on. But Great King Agamemnon was their only SUPER KING.
As soon as Great King Agamemnon heard that his sister-in-law had run away with a foreign prince, he stormed off to his younger twin:
"This means war! We must desTroy Troy!" But Menelaus didn't want war. He answered:
"If we go to war, Helen might get hurt. I couldn't bear that!"
"She's a runaway wife" stormed Agamemnon "She deserves to die! If we catch her, you and I will stone her to death!"
"But I love her!" wailed Menelaus "I don't want her to die! And she still loves me".
"What nonsense! How could she love you if she ran away with some Middle-Eastern greaseball?"
"She really does love me - she told me so. The day before she left, she said..."
....and here Menelaus started to cry like a baby, even though he was a big, grown up man....
"... she said: 'Menny darling, I'll always love you. But this is stronger than me. When it's over, I'll be back. Promise me that you will wait for me' Then she kissed me and ran off".
"Never cry over a woman!" snapped Great King Agamemnon "Be a man! Come, you'll feel better after I've helped you stone her to death. Then you can marry some other woman. Cheer up - there'll be another one along in a moment!"
"But I don't want any other woman" sobbed Menelaus "I want Helen. This obsession of hers was sent by Aphrodite; when it has lifted, Helen will come back to me of her own free will".
Agamamnon's irritable face adopted that cold, mask-like expression, which he used whenever he spoke as The Great King:
"THE WORLD ORDER is more important than our personal feelings" said Great King Agamemnon. "I am not just your elder brother - I am the LEADER of THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY. Whoever steals my brother's woman, insults ME. Whoever insults ME insults THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.
I shall MAKE A CRUSADE against woman-stealers! Goodbye, I'm off to BUILD A COALITION !!
WHOEVER IS NOT WITH US IS AGAINST US !!!".
Great King Agamemnon mobilized his SUPER POWER !! He denounced Troy - said it was an AXIS OF EVIL !! His mighty warships prepared to sail and desTroy Troy.
But there was no wind - his ships couldn't sail.
Said Great King Agamemnon: "Zeus must be angry. I ought to sacrifice to him. Then he will send me a strategically favorable wind".
You'll never believe what he did next. The most precious thing in Agamemnon's palace was his elder daughter, Iphigenia - so he sacrificed her! (I said you'd never believe it - but it was true). The people were never told this dreadful secret - only his family and his KCs (and the gods) knew the terrible truth. Great King Agamemnon sent his KCs to snatch Iphigenia from the palace. His wife was called Klytemnestra. (She was Helen's sister - the twin brothers had married twin sisters). Klytemnestra fought like a wildcat to save her daughter, but the soldiers were too strong for her. They dragged Iphigenia away and tied her to to the stone altar.
Then Agamemnon, wearing a cruel golden mask over his ape-like face, slit Iphigenia's throat, and the thirsty earth drank her dark red blood.
"Here, Zeus" he intoned through his golden mask "accept this sacrifice of my most precious daughter, and send me a strategically favorable wind, so that we can sail away to des-Troy THE AXIS OF EVIL!!"
Agamemnon was a cruel fool. He did not understand that Zeus does not control the winds. He did not understand that the sky gods hated human sacrifice. He did not understand that the dark earth gods would one day come thirsting to drink his own dark red blood, to avenge the blood of innocent Iphigenia. And he would never, ever (not even in Hades) understand why his own wife killed him.
Klytemnestra had to waited to avenge her dead daughter. But she had to wait ten years, because a favorable wind really did spring up after Iphigenia's sacrifice. (It would have sprung up anyway - that is the way with winds). The favorable wind carried Agamemnon's great navy to little countries, to persuade them to BUILD A COALITION. He invited little kings to join THE CRUSADE AGAINST WOMAN-STEALERS!!
One little king came running to join, because he wanted to be the very first to kiss the hand of the Great King. This little king was proud of his SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP. Great Agamemnon gave this little king a pat on the head, and sent him running around as SPECIAL MESSENGER BOY to rally all the other little kings.
But, to Agamemnon's surprise (and intense annoyance) the allies wouldn't rally: the two best fighters, Achilles and Odysseus, wouldn't come at all.
Achilles and Odysseus laughed, and said it was silly to go to war over a runaway wife. It was a case for the Divorce Court. Great King Agamemnon did not like being laughed at; so, because he was a SUPER KING he sailed his SUPER NAVY into tiny Ithaka harbour. He was going to force Odysseus.
Agamemnon commanded Odysseus:
"SHOW UNITY !! JOIN THE COALITION!! WHOEVER IS NOT WITH US IS AGAINST US!!".
Odysseus pretended to be mad, and thus Unfit for Military Service. He yoked his oxen and went down to plough the salty, sandy beach - where nothing ever grows. He even sowed the shifting sands with salt as if it were seed. But Agamemnon said to him:
"I have sacrificed my own daughter to win this war; do you think I will hesitate to sacrifice your son?"
Great King Agamemnon ordered his KCs to snatch baby Telly from his mother's arms. Penelope fought like a wildcat to hang on to her child, but the soldiers were too strong for her. If she had not let go, they would have pulled him to pieces in her arms. They carried baby Telly down to the beach, and Agamemnon laid him screaming on the ground - right in front of Odysseus's plough! If Odysseus hadn't stopped the plough, his baby would have been cut in two by the plough blade, or trampled to death by heavy hooves!
"Whoa!" shouted Odysseus.
"Aha! You're not mad"" said Agamemnon.
Odysseus argued for a month, trying to make the Great King see reason.
Odysseus gave dozens of reasons: a case of Runaway Wife could be easily settled by a few counsellors in a law court; no need to launch a thousand ships and land a thundering, blundering army; their bronze blades would reap a cruel harvest of human lives; almighty Zeus would weigh their cruel harvest in his Scales of Justice; the Scales of Justice would show little profit from this war.
But to every reason, the Great King replied with his ace:
"YAH! SUCKS! BOOH!
I'M BIGGER THAN YOU!
SO YOU WILL DO
WHAT I WANT YOU TO !!
Join us! Otherwise we shall declare your country to be a ROGUE STATE and we shall destroy Ithaka before we desTroy Troy!
WHOEVER IS NOT WITH US IS AGAINST US!"
So, with a heavy heart and a bad conscience, young Odysseus was forced to JOIN THE COALITION because otherwise that SUPER POWER would have destroyed little Ithaka. Odysseus was a great fighter, and it was his famous Wooden Horse Plan ended the war against Troy. But he hated every minute of those ten long years!
Agamemnon then sailed his SUPER NAVY to force young prince Achilles to JOIN THE COALITION !! Achilles was the Greeks' champion fighter, even though he was still only a teenager. His father tried to save Achilles by dressing him up as a girl and sending him to a girl's school! (They enrolled Achilles in the girls school under the name Xena, Warrior Princess).
Great King Agamemnon said to Achilles's father:
"I sacrificed my own daughter Iphigenia to win this war; do you think I will hesitate to kill your son? And then I shall des-Troy your country as well as Troy. WHOEVER IS NOT WITH US IS AGAINST US !!"
Agamemnon sent his KCs to find Achilles. They visited every girls school carrying prizes; all sorts of pretty presents were their prizes - plus some armour! Naturally, "Xena" chose the armour.
"Aha!" said Great King Agamemnon. So Achilles was found out, and compelled to join THE CRUSADE AGAINST WOMAN-STEALERS !!
Achilles brought over his army: the Myrmidons. They were called that because their totem animal was the Ant (Myrmos). Achilles' Myrmidons fought just like the ants: they were numerous, active, fierce and organized.
The insignia of their clan was: "Ex Pluribus Unum" - Many Working as One.
Achilles and his Myrmidons would have made made short work of the Trojan War, if Agamemnon had treated them with respect. But Agamemnon's chimplike mind saw things very simply: he was simply Born to Rule, everyone else was simply Born to Obey. He simply could not see why he, Big A, should respect little kings. So he simply went ahead and insulted Achilles: humiliated him in front of the whole General Staff!
The public were never told how their best generals despised and loathed Agamemnon. Only a few KCs (and the gods) knew.
The public never asked: Why did a SUPER POWER COALITION take ten years to conquer a backward little Middle Eastern country like Troy?
The truth was: Great King Agamemnon never played fair; he stuck relentlessly to the rules when he was winning - but as soon as he started losing, he tried to change the rules. Agamemnon was not only a stupid bully - he was a woman stealer himself! He stole Achille's girlfriend, Briseis - just sent his KCs to snatch Briseis, crying, from Achilles's tent. Achilles protested and called a Council of the Generals. But the General Staff - the top brass of the Allied Army - were supine and spineless because Agamemnon, as their Commander in Chief, simply pulled rank:
"YAH! SUCKS! BOOH!
I'M SENIOR TO YOU!
SO YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO DO
WHAT I ORDER YOU TO !!"
Achilles was so angry that he and his Myrmidons went on strike - for ten years! The allies spent more time quarreling with Agamemnon than fighting the Trojans.
Like most bullies, this Great King was also a Great Coward. He was always asking other people to fight on his side - but the Great King took Great Care never to face the enemy man to man, face to face, one to one . Instead, he preferred to gang up: ten to one, one hundred to one - those were the kind of odds he liked. But most of all he liked to stand far behind the front line (not IN HARM'S WAY) and launch long range missiles with his powerful machines. So everything in this SUPER POWER COALITION was very big, very slow - and not very enthusiastic. While, on the Trojan side, they may have been misguided but they also had heroes who fought bravely to resist invasion by this Super Power.
The truth was: if it had not been for Odysseus and his little band of brave men in the Wooden Horse, the Trojan war would have dragged on forever.
But why was Odysseus afraid to reveal these facts? The reason is: All of the People were fooled so, for a long while, they did not want to hear the truth.
But when Odysseus plucked up courage to tell the facts as he knew them, in public, he made the right decision. Because Queen Arete knew the truth: Zeus, who saw everything when he looked down from Olympus, had told his friend Alkinous; and Alkinous told his wife.
People told Arete their secrets because she was sensible. But Arete also knew something that Odysseus did not know: she knew that Great King Agamemnon was long dead: killed by Klytemnestra - by his own wife!
Klytemnestra, grieving for Iphigenia, waited ten years for her husband's great navy to return. She laid out the red carpet for the great conqueror. Agamemnon had stolen two women as part of his loot from the war. One was Briseis, of course; and his other looted woman was the unhappy Princess Cassandra, whom he had snatched from Troy after killing her father, King Priam.
(Poor Cassandra! She had warned her fellow Trojans what would happen if they did not return Helen. She could foretell the future - but nobody would listen!).
When Klytemnestra saw her husband prancing up the red carpet with a new young woman on each arm, she went beserk! She wrestled a spear from one of the guards and, with the strength of despair pierced right through Agamemnon's armored jacket, and out the back. He fell, writhing around the spear that was fixed through his guts, and slapping the ground to distract himself from pain that was driving him crazy. Then his queen took down a huge battle axe that was hanging on the wall. She lifted that axe high above her head with both hands, and swung it down with her infuriated strength. The bronze blade sliced through Agamemnon's neck. His head and its pain-ridden face rolled on the ground like a football. The thirsty earth drank his dark blood. And that was the end of Great King Agamemnon.
Then his unhappy wife sat down and cried, because she had done a terrible thing. She saw the dark earth gods rising, pressing forward to drink her own blood in revenge. Even worse, she foresaw that her daughter, Electra, and her son, Orestes, would turn against her and take their dead father's side in this dreadful family quarrel. (When you are older, you can read more about this dysfunctional family in a book called "Agamemnon". It tells how Athena ended the cycle of violence by using analysis to talk through the family problem with those two disturbed children, Electra and Orestes,).
Now that you have brushed up on the Trojan War, perhaps you can understand better why Princess Nausikaa's parents did not charge Mr Nomanios with High Treason when they heard him say hard things against Great King Agamemnon in their Royal Court.
But why did King Alkinous invite a foreign KC to compete in his country's Olympic Trials? And could this be Odysseus's big chance to get the People of Phaecia on his side?
The story so far: King Alkinous has invited Odysseus to compete in their Olympic Trials. This is Odysseus's chance to get the People of Phaecia on his side. But he has to win the athletic events by himself - Athena will not help him because that would be unfair to the other competitors.
The stadium was crowded. Most spectators sat on the stone terraces around the track. Some had standing room only at the back of the top terrace. But King Alkinous, Queen Arete and Princess Nausikaa sat in the Royal Box in front of the finishing line. The competitors sat on wooden benches in front of the Royal Box and waited for their event. The news that Mr Nomanios, the mysterious foreign KC, would also compete made the crowd even more excited. They wondered what events he would enter.
Odysseus chose to compete in three events:
1. Ploughing with Oxen. This was an old fashioned event, but King Alkinous liked to keep it. He was pleased to find that Mr Nomanios also liked that good old sport. (In modern Olympics this event they do Jumping with Horses instead of Ploughing with Oxen; but it is the same idea: man and beast moving as one - in perfect harmony).
2. Archery. Odysseus had a special bow, but it was back home in Ithaka, so he didn't think he would win this event. But even with an ordinary bow and arrow he was quite a good archer.
3. Wrestling. He could win this event because he was very strong and he also knew how to wrestle clever. But Odysseus was cautious. He thought:
"I can get the crowd on my side if I show that I am a champion wrestler. But if I beat their own champion, the crowd may boo me.
So I must give a championship performance but I must not beat the local champion. And I must be extra careful - because if their champion suffers an injury, the people won't lend me a ship to get home."
While Odysseus sat on the competitors bench, pondering his options, Athena's magic had completely worn off, so he didn't look young any longer. He looked his real age: forty five, with a wrinkled neck and hair going grey; and a bald spot on top. On the other hand, he had had a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed, followed by a refreshing shower and an excellent breakfast, so he felt very well. All his own strength had returned: he didn't need Ino's rainbow belt.
The rule of the gods was: no magic at the Olympics - the competition must be fair.
Odysseus went to the ploughing field for his first event. He spoke softly to his oxen, and gently rubbed their muzzles, so they soon got to know Odysseus and trust him. Old King Alkinous liked this event, because it was so old fashioned. He noticed that Mr Nomanios was specially good at turning the plough at the end of each furrow. Alkinous thought:
"Nomanios turns Ithaki style - so I guess he really must come from Ithaka. I wonder ...".
(You see, Ithaka is a very small island, with very small fields; so Odysseus turned his plough very tight round the corners - Ithaki style).
Odysseus didn't win the ploughing event, and nobody expected him to win: because it wasn't his team and the oxen didn't know him well. But the crowd began to like him: first, because Mr Nomanios was their guest and they wanted to be polite; but also because they could see that he was good with animals, and a good sport.
So Alkinous returned to the Royal Box to watch the athletics; and Odysseus sat down again on the Competitors Bench to await his second event. Next to him sat a young athlete, who was Phaecia's best hope to win a gold at the real Olympics in Olympia the following year. (Remember, these were just their Trials to see whom Phaecia should send to the real Olympics). The young hopeful's name was Euryalis (Yuri Ayliss) but everybody called him Super Brat.
Yuri Ayliss was a really good athlete. He was the most famous man in Phaecia (after King Alkinous) but all that publicity had turned him into a spoilt brat. Super Brat was always surrounded by an admiring group of fans and reporters; he just loved hear them call him The Greatest. He even loved the name Super Brat because:
"It shows I'm Super" he told the reporters.
Another name for Yuri Ayliss was The Lip - because he loved flapping his lips to insult athletes who were not as good as he was. He had no idea of Sportsmanship. So when Super Brat sat on the Competitors Bench next to a foreigner forty five years old, with wrinkled skin and thinning hair - he just couldn't help jeering. This was very bad manners because Mr Nomanios was an asylum seeker and a guest in his country. But fame had spoilt Yuri Ayliss. He broke the Law of Hospitality - a law made by Zeus himself:
"A host never insults a guest; and a guest never insults a host. Hospitality is the First Law of Good Manners".
The Lip leaned over to Mr Nomanios and jeered so loud that everybody could hear - not only the reporters but the whole crowd heard The Lip jeer:
"Old timer, there's so much white in your hair, you look like a sugar cake. What's a geriatric like you doing on the Competitor's Bench? Forgotten your wheelchair!"
Super Brat thought he was being smart, but he wasn't - he was just being rude. King Alkinous frowned angrily: here was his best athlete, Yuri Ayliss, breaking the first law of his best friend, Zeus. Queen Arete's grey eyes gleamed with a steel-hard glint. Nausikaa winced with embarrassment; she thought:
"What will our guest think of us? Oh, I'm so ashamed I could die, I could just die!"
But Odysseus saved the situation. He was not the least bit angry. After silently rejecting the temptation to snap this young whippersnapper's spine across his mighty knee, Odysseus asked quietly:
"Young man, what is your event?"
"Shot put. I'm the best shotputter in Phaecia, and I'm going for gold at Olympia".
Odysseus rose, stripped off his warm-up robe, and stood ready for action:
"Why not enter me in your event, so we can all have a laugh when this oldtimer tries to put shot."
Super Brat took in the oldtimer's brawny arm. Afraid of competition, he shouted:
"Officially you can't enter without primaries!"
"Oh yes, he can" said a voice from the Royal Box. Mr Nomanios is my guest; he can enter any event he likes. Unofficially".
King Alkinous appreciated how Mr Nomanios had got him off the hook. He said to himself:
"Offering to compete against Yuri as a joke - smart move. If Nomanios loses, well he said he didn't mind if we all have a good laugh - so no hard feelings; if he wins as a foreign guest, it's unofficial - so Yuri can still go to Olympia. I must say, this Ithakan is really crafty. I wonder.... "
So the judges announced that the shotput would include an unofficial event: the Mysterious Mr Nomanios was going to entertain them with some very unusual putting.
The crowd was in good humor. This event was their greatest hope for Olympia; and there would be a novelty event as bonus.
Yuri Ayliss picked up the big round ball of heavy metal and tensed his muscles. His adrenalin was flowing well. He wanted to show that he really was The Greatest. He poured all his strength and skill - body and soul - into that one ball. The heavy metal flew from his hand like a bird and soared over the field as if it had wings. It landed with a thud, far beyond the mark - Yuri had established a new record! The judges put the Victor's Laurel Crown on his head - a simple wreath of green bayleaves, which was prized more than gold in those far off days.
The crowd went wild! If Yuri could repeat this performance at Olympia, their little country of Phaecia would most likely win. They chanted:
"Yuri Ayliss! Yuri Ayliss!"
The sound was music to Super brat's ears. So everybody was in a very high spirits when Mr Nomanios came on to do his stunt. The loud speakers (not electric loudspeakers but heralds chosen for their Stentorian loud voices) announced that Mr Nomanios had requested not to use the official ball: his stunt was unofficial, so could he use one of the boundary stones instead? The crowd laughed because these big boundary stones are heavy; an ordinary man could hardly lift one. They thought Mr Nomanios was clowning, so they yelled and laughed:
"Go ahead, bring him the stone! hah! hah! hah!"
Then the Stentorian speakers announced that Super Brat was part of the act - he would carry the rock to the competitor.
Super Brat tried to get out of it: "I'm an athlete, not a porter!"
But the crowd thought this was only part of the clowning, so they roared: "Super Brat! Bring him the stone!
Super Brat! Bring him the stone!"
King Alkinous nodded so Super Brat to obey. He hefted the stone with both hands, clutching it to his middle because it was so heavy. He felt he was about to suffer a rupture. The crowd tittered as he staggered with his load to where Odysseus was standing. Super Brat dropped the heavy rock in front of Mr Nomanios and jumped back in a hurry - he had almost dropped it on his own big toe! The crowd laughed at his clowning, and chanted again:
"Yuri Ayliss! Yuri Ayliss"
They thought Yuri was being a good sport, as well as a champion. But Super Brat didn't like being laughed at. His face went white with rage as he sat back on the Competitors Bench:
"After all, I'll have the last laugh - the old timer won't even lift that rock!"
Then he gasped! The whole crowd gasped when they saw Odysseus pick up the rock as easily as though it were a basket ball. He crouched, and silence fell. The muscles on his chest swelled till they were like thick ropes holding a great ship. Then he uncoiled his powerful body in one fluid movement, swift as a striking snake. Muscular power flowed up through his body - up from the balls of his feet through his brawny thighs, up from his thighs through his muscular torso, up from his torso into his brawny arms. Power poured out of his arms into the tips of his strong fingers, out of his fingers and into the stone. That rock flew like an eagle past Yuri's mark, and landed with a thud at the boundary!
There was a stunned silence; people rubbed their eyes and looked again - they just could not believe their own eyes! Then the crowd went even wilder:
Super Brat's face stopped being white with anger - it became red with shame. The crowd were no longer chanting his name. They were chanting:
He saw Queen Arete's steely eyes - she was going to speak to his mother about her son's behaviour. He saw Nausikaa's lips curl in a contemptuous glance - and he became afraid. Because what your young hero fears more than anything else in the whole wide world is that, the next time he goes to a party, all the classy girls in their evening gowns will laugh at him.
He had learnt a lesson: "When you think you're great, you're finished."
Suddenly Super Brat vanished; The Lip stopped flapping; fame's heady fumes cleared from his brain. Yuri Ayliss came back to his true self - an honest athlete and a good sport. He took off his victor's crown and handed it to the oldtimer:
"You're a better man than I am, Nomanios"
"It was unofficial" replied Odysseus "You're still their best hope for Olympia".
And with a smile, Odysseus put the Victor's Laurel back on Yuri's head. The crowd went doubly wild. They gave both men a standing ovation for ten minutes, chanting first one name then the other:
"Yuri Ayliss! Noman-ios!
Noman-ios! Yuri Ayliss!"
Odysseus had got the crowd on his side!
King Alkinous mused: "All's well that ends well. That last throw! Only the old heroes of Troy could do that: throw rocks that men of today can hardly lift. Achilles or Hector or Ajax - but they're all dead, alas! That leaves Odysseus ..... but Nomanios says Odysseus is dead?
Wait, let me say that again, slowly: No-man-ios says, Odysseus is dead. That's it! No man says, Odyssus is dead! In other words, Odysseus may be alive. I wonder ...."
Mr Nomanios did not do too well in the archery. At first Alkinous changed his mind: this man could not be Odysseus, because Odysseus was a very good archer indeed. Then Alkinous remembered what he had read in the sporting records:
"Odysseus left his special bow at home when he went to Troy. Is that why Mr ..err-.. Noman-ios does not shoot too well? I wonder .....".
The final event was wrestling. The local champion, was Amfialos, a really strong man. Some people said they had once seen Amfiolus throw a bull over a fence - but that was probably just bull.
Odysseus wasn't afraid - he had learnt his wrestling from Hercules, who was the strongest man in the world as well as the best wrestler. Amfiolos tried to grab Odysseus but Odysseus was too clever for him. It didn't matter what hold Amfiolos tried - the Mysterious Mr Nomanios always managed to slip out of it. Amfiolos couldn't fix a grip on that crafty Ithakan. He began to tire, and started puffing.
This was part of Odysseus's plan. He did not want to injure the local champion - only to tame him. The crowd applauded his dazzling display of skill. Then he finished with a spectacular show of strength. Odysseus caught Amfialos around the waist and lifted him clean off the ground. No matter how hard Amfialos struggled, he just could not break free. For two long minutes Odysseus lifted his bulky opponent, squeezing the ribs so that Amfialos could hardly breath. (He did not want to pin his opponent to the ground because that would have been a defeat for the local champion). He whispered in the tired man's ear:
"Now you break my hold and do the same to me - let's call it a draw".
Amfialos was only too glad to escape from such a powerful grip without injury or defeat - it meant he would be able to go to Olympia. Also, he was keen to try this unusual hold for himself.
So the match ended in a draw, with Amfialos first lifting Odysseus, then both men shaking hands. The judges awarded a draw and put Victors Laurels on both heads. The crowd cheered both men with delight:
Inside the Royal Box, Queen Arete leaned over to whisper in her husband's ear: "You know, dear, I've guessed that Mr ..err..-.. Noman-ios is really ..."
"... King Odysseus!" said her husband, completing her sentence.
"How clever you are, dear Alkinous. However did you guess?"
"I study the sporting records. That trick of holding your opponent in the air was the old Antean hold. It went out of fashion because today's wrestlers aren't strong enough to use it properly. But Hercules used it against the giant Anteus; then Hercules taught it to the old heroes of Troy. Most of those old heroes are dead now. The only hero of Troy who could possibly still be alive is ...."
".... King Odysseus" said his wife, completing his sentence.
(In case you dont know, the giant Anteus was the son of a human father and the earth goddess, Gaeia - old Mother Earth herself. And you know already, from the TV series, that Hercules was the son of a human mother and a sky god - Father Zeus himself. So their contest was basically Earth Gods versus Sky Gods - one of the two most famous wrestling matches ever written about. (The other was Jacob wrestling with the Angel). In official wrestling, you win by pinning your opponent onto his back so that his shoulder touches the ground. But every time Anteus touched the ground, his Mother Earth gave him new strength and he jumped up again, stronger than ever. In the end, Hercules won by lifting him off the ground until Anteus's strength faded in the thin air, and he gave in).
"We must make an announcement" said King Antinous. So the King told the heralds, the heralds blew their trumpets, and a Stentorian announcement was made before the games ended:
"Taraah! Breaking news! It appears that our distinguished guest, who has been entertaining us with his thrilling sporting performance, is really King Odysseus of Ithaka, the long lost hero of Troy."
The crowd cheered and cheered and buzzed with excitement. The announcement continued:
"Apparently, King Odysseus was saved from a shipwreck in the recent storm, by none other than our very own lovely and brave Princess Nausikaa".
Pandemonium broke out. People cheered and threw their hats into the air, chanting her name so loud that poor Nausikaa had to put her hands over her ears. She was so embarrassed that she simply did not know where to look.
But she was secretly very pleased that her asylum seeker had turned out to be a famous hero from the olden times - before she was born. She wondered if he had a son; and she wondered if the son looked as handsome as her castaway had seemed to look, that strange morning on the beach.
They announced a Special Benefit. (A Benefit is when they make a collection at the end of a sports meeting, for some outstanding athlete). It was supposed to have been Yuri Ayliss's benefit, to support his expenses at the Olympics; but the new reformed Yuri Ayliss generously allowed them to hold the collection for King Odysseus instead - so now he could sail home in style.
The stewards went round the amphitheatre with big bags, and the spectators threw money and flowers and jewellery - solid gold bracelets, pearl necklaces, diamond rings and ruby pins - till the sacks were full to overflowing.
The people were pleased that Mr Nomanios had been such a good sport. And they were proud that the Royal Family of their little island had saved one of the most famous heroes of all time. So the crowd gave generously; and when the Royal Family's own presents were added, Odysseus was ready to sail back to Ithaka on a ship loaded with treasure. He now had more treasure than all his lost loot from the sack of Troy (which had not been much anyway, after Twin Kings Agamemnon & Menelaeus had taken their share, leaving the remains to be divided among so many little kings). And what is more, he had not needed to sack a single city to earn it!
Alkinous gave him a sword made from the latest material: not warm red bronze but cold blue-grey steel. The sword glittered with the same sharp glint that he remembered seeing in Queen Arete's grey eyes when she was examining Mr Nomanios.
Odysseus shuddered and thought: "I've never handled anything like it; but if this sharp grey sword can penetrate the armour of my enemies as deeply as those sharp grey eyes penetrated my inmost thoughts, it will come in very handy when I get back to Ithaka."
Odysseus now knew that he had a battle ahead of him in Ithaka, because Zeus (who sees all) had told Alkinous that rebels were plotting to take over Odysseus's throne. They were getting ready to kill his son, Telemachos, and marry his wife, Penelope.
"Would you like me to send my army to help you" asked Alkinous.
"No thanks" replied Odysseus "I must fight my own battles. Your offer is very kind, but if I cannot find enough loyal people to protect me in my own country then I am no true king".
"Very well, and good luck" said Queen Arete "But when you win, kindly remember us. You and dear Queen Penelope must come and visit us. And do bring your son".
Arete was already thinking ahead: she thought that Prince Telemachos might be a Very Suitable Boy.
"Yes, do come back, Mr Nomanios!" said Nausikaa (she just couldn't get used to calling him Odysseus).
Arete's present to Penelope was a matching set of nesting saucepans, because Odysseus had told her what he confided to nobody else: how much he was looking foward to tasting he good soup that Penelope alone knew how to cook. The largest pot could be used to prepare a formal dinner for a hundred people; the smallest pot would do an intimate dinner for two. They were all heat saving and easy clean.
Nausikaa's gift for Telemachos was a seven foot spear and a beautifully engraved shield - gold plated steel on the outside and tough, impact absorbing fibre material on the inside. It was a unique design. No bronze spear could penetrate that steel; no shock of battle could pass through that fibre backing.
When all the treasure had been loaded, the crowd stood in the harbour and waved the ship godspeed.
Odysseus was returning to face his final danger. How many of his subjects were still loyal? Would he be able to save his wife and son?
While Odysseus stood a the prow of the ship, musing and planning, he did not notice that a little swallow had flitted down and was now perching on the top mast.
The swallow was Athena.
The story so far: At last Odysseus is on his way home, in a ship laden with treasure from the generous Phaecians. But he faces great danger at home: forty rebels have occupied his palace; they plan to kill his son Telly and marry his wife Penelope, so that one of them can be the new King of Ithaka.
Odysseus is only one man against forty. Can he find some loyal people to help him fight the rebels? He will need all his famous strength and craftiness.
Odysseus guided the sailors into a secret harbor that he knew, sheltered by cliffs. Nobody in Ithaka noticed the ship slipping into that deserted cove. The sailors unloaded Odysseus's treasure and helped him to hide it at the back of a dark cave in the hill, hidden by trees. Then they sailed back to Phaecia, leaving Odysseus behind in the lonely cove . Odysseus laughed out loud and jumped around with sheer joy of being on his own land at long last. He hugged the trees and even kissed the ground, because he was so happy to be back.
Then he sat down to review his next move. A little bird was sitting on a tree nearby: a greyish, dark-blue swallow. The swallow was singing. Odysseus imagined that the bird was singing to him:
"You me us. You me us. You-me-us"
Odysseus was puzzled by the bird's song:
"You me us? Everybody knows that you and me are us. You-me-us? What can that mean? I've got it! Eu-me-us! Eumaeus! That's what the bird was trying to tell me. Of course, I should first visit the reverend Eumaeus. Everybody consults Rev. Eumaeus because he is so wise - and I'm sure he is loyal. But after twenty years, is he still alive? Does he still live in his old house on the hill?"
So Odysseus climbed a narrow, stony path through bushes and trees, up the hill towards the old house of Rev. Eumaeus, the godlike swine-herd. Now you know that a sheep-herd is a farmer who has a herd of sheep; so a swine-herd is a farmer with a herd of swine. The reverend Eumaeus kept pigs. Now you might think it was funny to call a pig farmer "reverend". Because these days reverends don't farm - they just study and pray. Also these days, most people think that pigs are dirty but this is not true - pigs are very clean animals if you look after them properly. Also pigs are smart and have very keen noses - better than dogs. Pigs can smell their food even if it's buried under the ground. They eat acorns and truffles, which they find under oak trees. Truffles are the most deliciousest sort of mushroom, expensive to buy and hard to find, because truffles grow wild and deep under ground; so it is wise to keep a pet pig that can guide you to find delicious truffles for free - if you are lucky enough to live near an oak wood! The pigs first sniff out where the truffles and acorns lie buried under oak trees, then dig them up with their tusks.
Pigs come in three colours - white, black or red - all three colors sacred to the gods. So in olden times people made pigs into a Totem. (In America you will find many people with Totem Animals - some tribes have the Eagle Totem, some have the Bear, some have the Beaver; some tribes even have trees). Some of these totems belonged to the sky gods, some to the earth gods, and some to both. The Pig Totem belonged to both.
Pigs belonged to the sky gods because: they like to snuffle under oak trees, and oak trees belong to the chief thunder god - Zeus; their tusks are shaped like the crescent moon, and their eyes shine in the dark, like the full moon; so pigs belong to the moon goddess, Selena; so do cats and wolves.
But pigs also belong to the earth gods because: they hold their nose close to Mother Earth, to sniff out food that is buried under ground, and dig it up with their tusks; and, like elephants, hippos (and rugger players) they occasionally enjoy a lovely wallow in glorious mud.
So now you know why a simple pig farmer of those far off days could be called Godlike Eumaeus. And as Odysseus followed a stony path up through the wooded hill, he noticed that the earth under the oaktrees had been freshly dug up - so there must still be pigs rooting around the old house!
In front of the house stood Eumaeus himself!
Cautious Odysseus decided to disguise himself as Mr Noman again - just in case Eumaeus was not loyal.
But the Reverend Eumaeus really was wise: he recognized Odysseus even before crafty Odysseus recognized him. He was actually expecting Odysseus to return - so for the past few days he had watched out for somebody coming up that path to his door. You see, although they had no phones or email on the islands in those olden times, the reverend prophets still managed to send messages to one another - by birds. So naturally, Rev. Eumaeus was expecting the return of his king, because a little bird had told him (guess who!). But godlike Eumaeus very considerately did not inform Queen Penelope what the bird had prophesied. He did not want to disappoint her with false news. He waited and watched by his door, until he could be sure.
So Eumaeus guessed at once who the stranger must be. However, he didn't let on that he knew: he waited cautiously for crafty Odysseus to make the first move.
Odysseus recognized his old friend Eumaeus, but he cautiously pretended not to know him:
"Good morrow, kind sir, my name is Nomanios and I am a castaway. A pirate ship just now left me stranded without food or money. Tell me, good sir: is this the house of Reverend Eumaeus? I have been told that he is a kindly man who will not grudge a crust to a poor asylum seeker like myself".
A swallow twittered in a tree nearby. Athena was laughing. Normally she loved to see Odysseus up to his crafty tricks - but this time she was laughing at him. Godlike Eumaeus also laughed, because he understood the language of birds. He could hear Athena tittering behind that swallow's twittering. With a broad smile, godlike Eumaeus held out his hand, and said:
"No man need fear, your friend is here, King Odysseus".
The two men hugged each other like rugger players in a scrum, because Odysseus could see that his old friend Eumaeus was still loyal. Eumaeus prepared a simple but appetising lunch of pork ribs grilled over a wood fire, fresh salad and grapes from his own garden, wholemeal bread fresh baked from his own oven, and a jug of home brewed wine, which he drew an oaken cask in his cellar. He diluted it with cool, unpolluted water from the clear fountain that bubbled constantly in front of his house, from which any thirsty traveller was free to pause and drink.
Then they sat down to eat; over lunch, Eumaeus reported everything that had been going on while King Odysseus was away. This is what Odysseus learned from the prophetic swineherd ........
What Had Been Happening in Ithaka While Odysseus was Away.
The war in Troy lasted ten years. For the first five years of the war, everybody in Ithaka was very loyal. But as the war dragged on for on a further five years, people began to say to each other in the cafes:
"Perhaps this war will go on for ever. Perhaps Odysseus will never come back. Perhaps we should look for a new king."
Some of the leading families began to plot: they wanted one their own sons to be the next king instead of Telemachos, who was still a child of five - too young to rule. After ten years the war ended, so everybody became loyal again - happy to welcome their king back home. But Odysseus did not return! His ship had been blown off course: nobody knew where he was!
The rebels put their plot into action. Forty leading families got together; each family sent one grown up son as a guest in the palace. In a very, very friendly manner they asked: would Queen Penelope like to marry one of them if King Odysseus were dead?
Poor Penelope - what could she do?
You see how softly the rebels began? They didn't come with an army - they came as guests: just some rich young men from forty leading families in the country. They didn't say that they were plotting to kill Telly and take over the throne: they just said that somebody else ought to marry Penelope if her husband were dead. They said they only wanted her to be happy. They said they only wanted the good of the country.
They were called The Forty Suitors, because they had come to press their suit. (No, they had not come to the palace iron their clothes! Press your suit is old fashioned talk: press means push, and suit is like a lawsuit). The Forty Suitors had come to push their case "pro bono publico": Penelope ought to remarry - for the public good, of course.
Poor Penelope - what could she do?
The country really did need a king - and she really needed a husband: she just couldn't cope on her own.
You see, Penelope wasn't a sharp, clever woman like Queen Arete. She couldn't read minds; she couldn't sniff out conspiracies; she didn't know how to cross examine in court, to disclose the plot that these suitors were hiding under their cloak of "pro bono publico".
Poor Penelope - what could she do?
She couldn't even Address the People - she wasn't that sort. If she had been like Princess Nausikaa, popular, with many friends to support her, she might have got the People solidly on her side. But no, Penelope was just a good, sweet mother of a nuclear family, who stayed at home and nursed her little boy; and cried in her lonely bedroom.
Poor Penelope - why did she cry?
If she had been like Queen Helen, who could love two husbands and be happy with either, she would not even have had a problem. But no, Penelope was loyal in love - she could be happy with her first husband only. That is why she cried in her lonely and overcrowded palace.
She was a one man woman without her man.
Poor Penelope - she did what she could.
She easily held out for the first three years after the war ended, because that was the law: 3 years for a missing soldier to be declared legally dead.
But after three years the suitors came back again to press poor Penelope:
"Now that King Odysseus is legally dead, the People demand a new king"
Poor Penelope, she did what she could. She found a second excuse for delay:
"If my husband is dead, than Tradition says I must weave a shroud for his father, old king Laertes, who may also soon be dead. You just can't buck Tradition".
So the suitors had to wait until Penelope had woven a shroud for old Laertes - because they were afraid that the people would turn against them if these rebels did not Follow the Tradition.
Now Penelope was a very good housewife, skilled in every household craft - especially weaving. So, why did it take her three years to weave one piece of cloth? You may be surprised when I tell you: it took so long because she was such a good weaver! First she would weave a wonderful shroud with all the Traditional Symbols, fit for old king Laertes to be buried in - a real masterpiece of tapestry. But she knew how to put in a secret stitch. After a year she came to the suitors:
"Finished! Take away the Traditional Shroud; then I can begin to think about taking a new husband"
But when the suitors handled that cunningly woven tapestry to check its Traditional Symbols, her secret stitches came undone - and the whole cloth fell to pieces in their clumsy hands! Penelope exclaimed:
"Oh dear! What a pity! I'm so sorry to make everyone wait like this, but you see, I must weave the whole shroud again - from scratch. That's the Tradition - and you just can't buck Tradition!"
She got away with it twice. But in the third year one of her maids fell in love with one of the suitors - and revealed Penelope's secret. So she had to complete her weaving that year.
Poor Penelope - what could she do now?
The law had given her three years delay. Tradition had given her another three. How could she delay now? She pleaded:
"Prince Telemachos is now sixteen years old. Another five years, and my son will be old enough to rule. Only a few more years, and the throne will support its rightful heir".
But the suitors didn't want the rightful heir to inherit the throne: so they pressed again. Of course, they said, they only pressed "pro bono publico":
"The country cannot afford to wait five years. The public demands the Firm Smack of Strong Government to Maintain Law and Order. You must choose right now!"
Poor Penelope - what could she do?
If she had been a strong woman like Klytemnestra she might have chopped off a few heads. But being only sweet little Penelope, she tried a new tactic - something which she felt she might have a chance to spin out. So, faithful Penelope pretended that she was ready at last to marry one of the suitors - only she could not make up her mind!
"Unhappy that I am, I realize that I cannot delay any longer - but which one of you shall I marry? To be utterly truthful, right now, I rather fancy Antinous."
Antinous was the son of the richest man in Ithaka - his family was so rich that they thought they ought to be the Royal Family. But as soon as the other 39 families heard Penelope, they became jealous:
"Why should she marry Antinous? It's not fair. Let her marry our son, Tom!"
"No, let her marry our son, Dick!"
"No, she must marry our Harry!".
They quarreled like that for another three years. Penelope pretended to prefer sometimes Tom, sometimes Dick, the rest of the time Harry - or was it Antinous? Each day she would flash a dazzling smile at one of them, while the other 39 turned green with envy; but at the end of every day she went back to her lonely bedroom and cried herself to sleep, dreaming of Odysseus.
It became the talk of the cafes. Whenever gossip turned to the Royal Family, the big question was sure to be:
"Who will she marry - Tom, Dick or Harry?"
But the smart money was on Antinous.
At last - by the beginning of year twenty - the rebels put their heads together:
"She's made a fool of us again. Our time is running out. Next year Telemachos will be 21 and king. One of us must marry the Queen before that happens - let's gamble: winner take all!"
So they threw dice - and Antinous won. He didn't love Queen Penelope one little bit - just because he won a dice game! Now Antinous was sure he would be king. But Odysseus was going to teach him a hard lesson - only Antinous would learn it too late to do him any good.
By year twenty Penelope was worrying day and night over Telemachos. She guessed that the suitors had plotted to kill him before his twentyfirst.
Poor Penelope, what could she do?
If she had been a warrior princess like Athene, with a sixfoot spear, shield and helmet and full military training - she might have raised an army that forced the forty families to withdraw in peace. But Penelope was not a warrior princess. And Telemachos was not yet a warrior. He had no idea how to fight - especially when outnumbered forty to one.
You see, Telly had no father to act as role model. His mother had kept him out of the army. She did not like his father's favorite goddess, Athene: Penelope said that Athene was too brainy and too warlike.
"Athene is just a man in woman's clothes..."
That's what Penelope thought privately; but, out of respect for her husband, she kept her thoughts to herself. Athene read her thoughts - and smiled; she was fond of gentle Penelope. So were all the Lady Goddesses.
No, the goddess that Penelope loved most was Hestia, keeper of the hearth. Hestia was the dumpy eldest sister of Athene and Aphrodite. She was the least glamorous of the sky goddesses. Hestia never entered that famous beauty contest between the goddesses which started the war of Troy. In fact, Hestia was so ordinary plain that she might easily have been mistaken for an earth goddess. No sculptor ever carved for her a beautiful statue in glowing marble, gleaming gold and shining ivory, like the one for Athena. No artist ever painted her nude like Aphrodite, with coral red lips, sea green eyes and sunbright blonde hair. But deep in every woman's heart (and in many a man's heart) there is a warm corner for homely Hestia, goddess of the hearth. Hestia loves the time when families gather for a meal, and always keeps a fire ready. She likes a home that is warm and cosy; and she hates it when her family quarrels.
Hestia was Penelope's favorite goddess. Penelope kept a little clay statue of her in the kitchen, and lit a candle in front of it every evening; that candle kept a soft light burning all night long.
With such a gentle goddess to protect him - and such a gentle mother to bring him up - how could Telemachos hope to win a battle against 40 men?
Poor Penelope, she did the best she could.
She sent Telemachos off in a ship to Twin King Menelaeus of Sparta, and Queen Helen - no less! - with a letter begging them for military assistance. Sparta had by far the largest and best army in Greece. Even the rumor of help from a Spartan army would have frightened the rebels. Now Great King Menelaeus owed Odysseus and his wooden horse for the rescue of Helen from Troy. Surely the Great King was honor bound to help Odysseus's son in his turn?
So Penelope fondly dreamed, as she anxiously waved Telly farewell in the harbour. She did not notice another ship slipping anchor from that very same harbour. It was Antinous and a crew of suitors: they were plotting to dress up as pirates, lie in wait for the return, and ambush Telly's ship. Witnesses would think that he had been killed by corsairs. Who could save Telemachos? Not Odysseus - because Odysseus had no ship. Not Athene - because Zeus had forbidden the gods to help. Telemachos would have to save himself ......
That is how Reverend Eumaeus, the swineherd prophet, brought Odysseus up to date as they sat over lunch and discussed their next move. Odysseus was glad to hear that Telly was still alive - but for how long? Would Great King Menelaeus show his gratitude to the son of Odysseus by sending him back with an overwhelming army in a fleet of black prowed Spartan war ships? Or would "pirates" hijack Telemachos, leaving Odysseus and Eumaeus to fight the 40 suitors on their own - with the odds 20 to 1 against them?
Crafty Odysseus and Reverend Eumaeus stood up and poured the last of their wine onto the thirsty earth, as a drink offering to the gods.
"All-seeing and Just Father Zeus" prayed Eumaeus "Let the right prevail after all our crying".
"Mighty and Wise Athene" prayed Odysseus "Only let my son come back alive, and we three shall fight, 40 to 3 against. We shall prevail".
He was forming a plan.
The story so far: Odysseus has arrived home, laden with treasure and weapons for himself and his son Telemachos. But Telemachos has not returned from his mission to Sparta. Eumaeus and Odysseus are worried because they know that a pirate ship, manned by Antinous and his crew of suitors, are waiting to hijack Telly as he sails home. How can Telemachos escape them? Odysseus prays to Athena "I do not ask for help from an army. Only let my son return alive"
Odysseus and Eumaeus sat inside the swineherd's dark hut, racking their brains for a plan. Through the open door they could see the afternoon sunlight and the stony path that wound up from the little secret harbour through tangled woods that clothed the hillside. Under the oak trees, in the quiet of the warm afternoon, godlike Eumaeus's happy pigs were munching contentedly on acorns, or rooting around with their snouts in search of a delicious truffle dessert.
It was a peaceful scene outside there - but inside the dark hut of the prophet, Odysseus and Rev. Eumaeus were talking in low voices. They did not want anyone to overhear their their strategy.
"Why does my son have to go to Sparta to beg an army? Are there no loyal men in Ithaka?"
"I can't say they're loyal" answered Rev. Eumaeus "and I can't say they're not loyal. Fact is, I don't know where they stand. I don't think the people even know themselves, where they stand".
"How come you don't know? Everybody talks to the prophet about important problems. Why, a little bird told me: Eumaeus! First consult Eumaeus!".
"Nobody asks political questions" answered Eumaeus "Because of The Situation. Everybody is afraid to tell anybody what they really think. They are waiting to see who wins".
"So if my son returns with a Spartan army to help us ....?" Odysseus left his question unfinished...
"....then the People would again be loyal to the House of Odysseus" Eumaeus completed his sentence.
"And if he doesn't return with an army....?"
"...then some of the people would welcome you back, King Odysseus. But some of the people might fight against you. Wealthy families are tempting rebellion with promises of a rich reward if one of them were to become The Royal Family. Each family has its band of followers".
Crafty Odysseus pondered the words of wise Eumaeus:
"An Army of Liberation would mean Ithakans fighting Ithakans: Civil War, with half the people on my side and half the people on Antinous' side. It would take a hundred years for bad feelings to be forgotten. No! We must try the Trojan Horse trick instead."
Prophetic Eumaeus looked puzzled:
"Do you mean we should build a wooden horse and hide inside it? Who would fall for that old trick?".
Odysseus, man of many resources, laughed:
"No, the Trojan Horse trick doesn't always need a wooden horse: all you need is some way to smuggle a few good fighting men inside enemy headquarters, and ...."
"Ah!" wise Eumaeus smiled back ".... once inside, we smash their leaders. The rest will stop fighting! What say we disguise you as a castaway - tell them that you are bringing news of King Odysseus?"
King Odysseus chuckled:
"You took the words out of my mouth".
In sheer high spirits and relief from tension - now that their planning appeared to be getting somewhere - he slapped godlike Eumaeus on the back; the reverend Eumaeus pretended to punch him in the tummy; and with all this horseplay going on, they quite forgot to watch out for strangers. You can't blame them for not noticing that a little swallow was twittering its way up the path. But they really should have been on guard against the man who was coming up behind it!
While Odysseus and Eumaeus were chuckling over their plan, the shadow of a man suddenly blocked out the sunlight from the open door. At once, wary Odysseus leapt to the back of the dark hut, his hand on his sword. But godlike Eumaeus strode boldly to the door. He could not make out who had come, friend or foe - because the stranger stood with his back to the sun; his face was in shadow. Even so, reverend Eumaeus held out a hand in friendship:
"Welcome, guest, in the name of Zeus the Hospitable! Come in peace to our house of peace".
The stranger shook his hand warmly, and replied in a vibrant young voice:
"And peace to you, Rev. Eumaeus! I'm back from Sparta!"
"Telemachos!" Eumaeus whooped with joy.
Odysseus gasped with surprise and relief and pride and joy. For once in his life he forgot to be cautious, and leapt out of the shadows to greet the son whom he had not seen for twenty years. Rev. Eumaeus hardly had time to say:
"Prince Telemachos, here is your father".
Father and son hugged each other. Both were laughing with the one eye and crying with the other - tears of joy and relief.
When they had all stopped whooping and laughing and crying, and were getting their breath back, the two older men raised their eyebrows and looked at each other - puzzled. Then both turned to Telemachus and asked, with one voice:
"But how did you escape the pirates?"
"Were there pirates?" answered Telly carelessly "I didn't see any. A little bird told me to sail home a different way round the island, and land in the secret harbour".
"Crafty as father! A chip off the old block".
"There really was a little bird - a swallow. It perched on our topmast. I was so surprised to find a swallow so far out at sea, it started me thinking about the route to the island. That's when I decided to change my course. Look! That might be the very same bird!"
He pointed to where Athene sat, perched on a twig in one of her father's sacred oak trees, trilling merrily.
hat news from Menelaeus of the Loud War Cry?" asked Eumaeus; as prophet, he liked to get the news first.
"I remember that loud war cry from when we were fighting in Troy" murmured Odysseus reminiscently "It usually came from the rear".
"Well err...." replied shy Telemachos "..umm.. well .... the Great King received me with smiles. He and Queen Helen feasted me for weeks. It was quite embarrassing, because I wanted to return from my mission as soon as possible".
"Did the Great King lend you an army" asked prophetic Eumaeus, cutting straight to the point.
"Well ...err...umm... King Menelaeus did give me a parting gift. He said was quite valuable - a silver bowl, a wedding present that they didn't need. He kept it stored away, good as new.
Queen Helen also gave me a present: the very dress she wore when she was voted World's Most Beautiful Woman. It doesn't fit her now that she's fat and forty, but she says the little black dress never goes out of style. It's to be for my bride one day".
Telly stopped speaking, diffidently awaiting the reaction of the two older men.
"Very pretty presents" replied wise Eumaeus "but not very useful, it seems to me, for a young man whose home is under enemy occupation".
"I can show you a better present" Odysseus added with a grim smile "Courtesy of Princess Nausikaa".
"Who is Princess Nausikaa?"
"A thoroughly sporting girl. I may take you to meet her some day. But right now, we have work to do".
So the three men - father, son and loyal friend polished their plan, and put it into action that very afternoon. It was a plan in five stages. I shall not tell you now what the plan was (except to say that it nearly went wrong at one stage - as plans do). But you will see the plan unfold, and I shall let you know when each stage begins.
Stage 1: The Setup
Odysseus took his son down to the cave of the treasures, and presented him with the very beautiful (and now very useful) gold plated steel shield and seven foot spear, from Nausikaa. For a few hours, Telemachos practiced with these new weapons, under the expert eye of his battle scarred father. Odysseus showed his son some basic tactics that he had honed to perfection in the Trojan war - tactics that really worked. Telemachos was keen to learn, and he learned quickly. He became a different boy. Penelope, his sweet mother, had taught him to be a gentleman, with a voice always gentle and low - an excellent thing in a man. But now he had to cope with rebels who were not gentlemen, who occupied a house and did not listen when asked politely to leave in peace. So now his father, battle scarred Odysseus, was teaching him a different way to deal with bullies. Gentle Penelope would not have approved.
When young Telemachos said goodbye to the two older men in the godlike swineherd's hut, and made his way through the town toward the palace, there was a new spring in his step and a harder glint in his eye. The last rays of the setting sun gleamed golden from his burnished shield for a few moments, then flared - red as fire - from the polished tip of his sharp spear. A little swallow flitted above his head, as he swung in through the gates of the palace with a confident stride.
"Tirra lirra! Tirra lirra!" sang Telemachos.
His father had come home.
The story so far: Telemachos and Odysseus have each landed back in Ithaka after a perilous voyage. Now father and son, helped by Eumaeus the swineherd, are hatching their plan. We shall see their plan unfold in five stages.
Telemachos goes alone to the palace. He will set things ready for the arrival of the other two.
The first person who noticed Telemachos striding into the palace with all the vigor of youth, was an old lady called Eurykleia, whose eyes were everywhere. The family called her Nurse Eurykleia, or simply Nurse, because she had nursed Odysseus when he was a baby, long, long ago - while she was still a young woman. After that she had nursed baby Telly, twenty years ago - while she was still just middle aged. So now she was a little old lady with arthritis, all her joints were stiff, and she stooped - but she was boss of all the women servants, and none of the younger staff ever dared disobey Old Nurse Eurykleia. Queen Penelope depended on her to run the house properly; and I can tell you it was hard work, with forty suitors and their everlasting mess. Some lazy, shady lady servants (who had fallen for the suitors and their lying promises of an easy life) thought she was a horrid old witch.
But the loyal girl servants said:
"Nurse is strict, OK. But she's fair and she teaches you thoroughly. A girl who's been trained by Eurykleia can demand best jobs in best houses - just like that!"
And they would snap their fingers to show how much they were in demand - just like that!
Old Eurykleia's watery eyes were the first to spy Prince Telemachos, and her creaking arthritic joints were the first to hobble down the steps to welcome his safe return. Tears sprang to her eyes as she lifted herself, with a great cracking and popping sounds coming from her stiff old knees and elbows, to hug him with her swollen, thick knuckled hands.
"My baby! My baby Telly! Oh! it's so good to have you back!"
Telemachos gave an embarrassed little laugh. He wasn't a baby - he was a grown man holding a sevenfoot spear in one hand - but he loved his old Nurse, and half hugged her with his free hand and half pushed her away in embarassment, while the old lady blessed him and cried all over his chest, and the other female servants came crowding around them, cooing like doves.
Queen Penelope, up in her lonely apartment, looked down through her window at this sudden commotion. Seeing who it was, she gathered up the hem of her richly embroidered, trailing gown in one hand, laid the other hand lightly on the banister, and glided down the palace steps as fast and smooth as a stately sailing ship that races to gain the prize. When they saw her, the other women curtsied and made way. Penelope wound her lovely arms round the sturdy neck of her handsome young son. Tiptoe she stood, and kissed his two eyes with many, many a butterfly light kiss; kissed his smooth forehead; planted kisses on his plump young cheeks, round and downy as a pair of sun tanned peaches. She cried - and laughed through her tears. Then she cried out loud:
"Ah! You're back! You're back! Telemachos sweeter than sunlight, I thought you would never again bless my eyes. Back from such a dangerous mission - the gods and a mother's blessing have protected you!"
Telemachos squirmed with embarrassment at all this motherly schmaltz; but he leaned his great spear against an olive tree in the courtyard, and hugged his mother even while he was blushing at the giggles and coos that were pressing in around him. Penelope pushed herself away from his chest a little, so that she could ask
"But come, now, my great big boy! Tell your mother, was the mission successful? What news from Great King Menelaus about your father?"
Her face would have made a study for a psychologist, while she pressed her enquiries with suppressed eagerness:
"Come, don't be shy, tell us! Did he give you news of your father?"
"Not much. Great King Menelaeus thought that he had heard somewhere that Dad was still living ....."
Penelope's sweet face brightened at this news, and her eyes shone with joy.
"...... on a tropical island......"
Penelope was disappointed that her husband still seemed to be so far away. Her face took on its normal look of sweet sadness.
".... with the suntanned nymph, Calypso ....."
Penelope's tender lips tightened and her gentle eyes narrowed, although she retained her queenly composure. Telemachos saw from her face that his mother was not pleased by his news. He added hastily:
"... but I'm sure that's just a rumor."
To cheer her up, he opened his knapsack and showed her the gifts of the Great King:
"Look what King Menelaeus gave you!"
"Oh! A silver salad bowl - and with a gold rim! What exquisite workmanship!"
Then her expression saddened:
"But it's far too good for the suitors. How I wish your dear father were here to be served from it".
Telemachos was bursting to tell her that his dear father had already seen it; that her dear husband was not far away on some tropical island, but on their very own little island of Ithaka. However, he was afraid that his mother would shout her joy to the whole palace and spoil the plan. So he showed her the other present instead:
"Look! From Queen Helen, a beautiful gown - she said I was to keep it for my bride's trousseau".
The mixed emotions on Penelope's face would have made an even more interesting psychological study. Anger - at Helen and her pretty face which launched the War with Troy. Sadness - over those famous thousand ships, that sailed away with her one and only Odysseus. Sorrow - for those twenty weary, wasted, empty years. Admiration - of the gown and its classic lines; what a genius designer! Joy - at the thought that her son might have a bride. Wonder - but who would he marry? Scheming - where could she find A Suitable Girl?
Lastly - and this most strongly - sudden fear and blind panic!
"Telly! The suitors will never let you marry and beget an heir. They want me to marry, of course, one of them; but they plan to kill you afterwards. You must sail away now - before they learn that you are back. Promise me that! Go, now! Go! Go! Fly, Telemachos, fly away!"
Slowly, purposefully and very gently, Telemachos unwound her trembling arms, and said:
"No, mother, now that I'm back I think I shall stay. You must not be afraid. Why, it's a time for celebration! Tell the servants to prepare a great banquet for tomorrow evening - you know, to celebrate your son's return".
And he broke into the old song:
"Celebrations! Congratulations! May we celebrate again this time next year!"
Penelope looked at her son in puzzlement:
"But Telly, that will cost a lot - you know how much those forty suitors eat! You! who're always telling me not to make them welcome any more!?"
Telemachos laughed a loud, ringing laugh:
"Let them celebrate - with our best meat and our best wine. Because their quest will end tomorrow. The day after tomorrow, my mother will have a husband".
Penelope looked at her son in wonder. But something in his confident tone compelled her: she bade Eurykleia prepare a banquet. The loyal servants ran to start their work. The disloyal servants ran to tell the suitors the good news - or what they thought was good news. Silly creatures! The suitors thought they were being invited to a wild stag party, after which one of them would be Penelope's husband!
"Mother, one more thing. We must prepare for two new guests at the feast. Rev. Eumaeus is bringing a ragged old castaway, a poor asylum seeker, who may have news of father".
"Rev. Eumaeus is always welcome; and Zeus himself bids us give hospitality to all asylum seekers. But I doubt if that news will be true. So many beggars have come to me in the past, knowing how greedily I feed on any scrap of story about the dear man who sailed away to des-Troy that place whose name shall never pass my lips".
"So mother, be prepared to welcome a stranger - however strange that stranger may be. Now, Eurykleia, I have a special job for you".
"Yes, master Telemachos" said Eurykleia.
Penelope looked on dumbfounded - she was Queen of this palace, and Eurykleia reported to her alone. Never before had a man dared to give orders to Eurykleia directly - not even mighty Odysseus. But she said nothing. With a brief wave, Telemachos signed the other servants to leave, then spoke to Eurykleia in a low voice:
"The party might become a bit wild, because there will be lots of men and lots of drink."
"I know all about wild parties - with that lot in the house!" replied Eurykleia grimly "All their noise! Not to mention the mess they leave behind!".
"Well, Nurse, tomorrow night will be a sort of bachelors farewell party, so I guess they might shout louder and leave more mess than ever before. I want you to have lots of hot water ready to clean up afterwards. Plus a hot tub for our foreign guest. Got it?"
"Yes, master Telly" said old Eurykleia.
"Last - and listen carefully, Nurse, because this is most important - the suitors might start fighting when they are drunk. You know what some men are like when they've had a few".
"Especially that lot" added Erykleia "all they ever do is drink our wine and quarrel"
"So, Nurse, I want you to take some trusted servants - I'm sure you know which girls we can trust - and lock up every weapon in our secret strong room. Take all the axes and swords and daggers and bows off the walls of the great hall. If anybody questions you, say they need cleaning for the Guard of Honour at the wedding".
"Yes, young Telly" said his old nurse "I know how to clear away boys' toys."
"Only one weapon must be left hanging in the great hall - my father's great bow, that no other man has ever been able to draw. If they ask you, say that my mother ordered it to be always waiting for King Odysseus to use - whenever he returns. That ought to raise a laugh. Capito, Nurse?".
"Capito!" assented Nurse Eurykleia.
You see, Ithaka is quite near to Italy, so Ithakans sometimes speak a little Italian. In fact, they say that some of their clans came to Ithaka from Italy.
Penelope was struck dumb to see her head servant hurrying off to follow someone else's orders - even if that someone else was her own son!
But she had another shock coming:
"Lastly, mother, you are not to attend that party. It will be better for you to leave after dinner".
"Won't that be bad manners?"
"You can say you have a headache. I want you to lock yourself in your room. Don't come out until I come to give you the all clear. As I said, the party may become quite wild. Try to sleep. OK?"
Penelope saw that the voyage had changed Telemachos. When her son left, he was still a boy, who listened to her while she ran the palace. He had come back a man - ordering her about in her own house! She would see about that later! But right now, her heart swelled with pride:
"Menelaeus has had a good influence on him" she thought as she went to her room to sleep and prepare for the morrow's events.
Little did she know who had been the real influence.
Looking back from the top of the stairs in the gathering twighlight, she saw Telemachos strap a great shield on his left arm, and pick up his spear where it stood leaning against an olive tree in the courtyard. With the oncoming night, the palace was being lit by flaming torches. Little flames were quivering like the red tongues of hungry cats, and multiplying themselves by reflection from his gleaming shield and on the polished silver tip of his long spear.
"That thing looks sharp" murmured Penelope to herself as she went up to sleep in her lofty, lonely room "I hope Telly doesn't hurt himself with it".
The story so far: Telemachos has begun to carry out the plan. Stage 1 was the Setup. Telemachos went ahead to set up a lavish party to put the suitors off their guard. He also told Penelope to expect some extra guests. Now Odysseus is going to slip into his own palace, disguised as a ragged old asylum seeker.
Stage 2: The Wooden Horse
The next morning, Odysseus and Eumaeus woke early because they had a lot of work to do. They rose when the first light of dawn's rosy finger touched the hilltops outside the godly swineherd's mountain hut. They started with a hearty breakfast of savory bacon and eggs with fried bread and fresh cucumbers. Food first! It was important to maintain their strength, because they had a long, tough day ahead.
Then Odysseus started to disguise himself as an asylum seeker. He dressed in the dirty old clothes that Rev. Eumaeus wore when he was mucking out the pig pens. Godly Eumaeus also lent him a battered old bag, which made Odysseus look like a refugee who has lost everything except what he can carry. (Which was true: Odysseus really knew what it was like to have been shipwrecked and lost everything - only he was planning to win everything back).
The two men were too busy to notice that a little blue-grey swallow had settled on one of the rafters under the roof of that dark hut. Even if they had noticed they wouldn't have bothered, because swallows often build their nest in an farmhouse; if the nest is safe, they return to that same house year after year.
But this swallow was different. Athena just couldn't resist helping (just a teensy little bit) with the disguise.
("Only cosmetic" she explained to her father Zeus afterwards.
"Alright, as long as it's only cosmetic" growled Zeus "But mind you don't really help those pesky humans with their everlasting wars and get-rich-quick schemes").
Odysseus had made himself look poor, but now Athena made him look old. She gave him a bald head, shiny as the copper dome of a church. His eye sockets sank back in two dark hollows, his cheeks lanked, and his face sagged. His droopy mouth flapped loose as a hound's jowels. A double chin hung under his thickened neck and dark bags hung under his bleary eyes. His ears stuck out and his nose grew long. His teeth grew crooked. Deep wrinkles ploughed his face and forehead till he looked like a wrinkled old prune. His broad shoulders narrowed and his narrow hips broadened.
Athene couldn't help laughing at Odysseus when her game of makeup was finished. With a bulging bottom and a wrinkled top, he walked around as though he had a pear for a body and a prune for a head. Even Zeus, looking down from high Olympos, laughed and called the other immortal gods to enjoy the comedy.
Godly Eumaeus gasped when he saw what had happened to his friend. Off to town went the two men: Rev. Eumaeus in his ceremonial robe - the one he used for holding religious service - and Odysseus in his dirty old rags. But hidden at the bottom of his battered old bag lay a shiny new weapon - the steel sword that King Alkinous had given him. Eumaeus carried an axe. But this was no ordinary axe: it was a double bladed, two handed pole-axe, four foot long. Rev. Eumaeus had no need to hide his weapon: the double bladed axe was his ceremonial badge of office.
It was the sacrificial axe that he used to sacrifice his sacred swine at the altar of Midsummer Eve, when bonfires were lit through out the land, and the crispy odor of crackling was wafted up to the nostrils of the happy gods. Then people uttered prayers of thanks, and licked their fingers as they sat around the bonfires, feasting on the many succulent parts that the Reverend's axe had cleaved for them: boar's head, smoked ham, shoulder and leg, trotters and spare ribs, crisp bacon and sizzling sausages. When godly Eumaeus preached to the congregation, that axe was laid on the lectern in front of him; when he visited the Palace, he would carry it like a flag: that doublebladed axe was the official sign of his godliness.
So the townsfolk were not a bit surprised to see Rev. Eumaeus with an axe - in fact, they would have been surprised to see him in town without it.
As the two men strode down the wooded hill and took the road across the dusty plain that led to town, Odysseus saw many things which upset him: broken fences, deserted tumbledown houses and fields overgrown with weeds. He remembered the neat houses and richly tilled fields in Phaecia, and asked himself:
"Why does nobody bother to plough and sow?" He saw fruit rotting on the ground under unpruned trees. He remembered the lively markets in Phaecia, and he thought:
"Why does nobody bother to pick the fruit and send it to market?"
On the road they saw a fine herd of cattle. Odysseus's heart leapt, because he recognized his own red breed, rich in milk. Their creamy milk was used to make a firm cheese, so famous that it was exported all over the world. People would buy that savory cheese and slice it thin to make a tasty sandwich; or melt it to make a fondue; or grate it fine to pep up their pasta; or simply cut a little wedge onto a crisp biscuit as a little midnight snack "to settle the stomach" before going off to bed. Odysseus was very happy to see his own cattle after twenty years, but he was also puzzled:
"Why are my cows on the road? Why aren't they in the barn, chewing the cud and peacefully giving their rich milk to the gentle-handed dairy maids?"
Eumaeus recognized the cowboy who was driving the herd.
"Phil Aetios!" he called out "What brings you on the trail? Why aren't your cows in the barn giving their rich milk to the tender-handed milk maids?"
"Eumaeus, you old son of a sow!" said Phil the cowboy to Eumaeus the godlike swineherd, slapping him on the back "I wish I was still back on the range with this head of prize cattle. But them ornery varmints at court wants their steaks every day. They're eating up everything that's on the hoof. My old boss Odysseus will soon have nary a critter left on four legs. I wish he was back! His son can't stand up to 'em - there's too many of them two legged rattlesnakes at court for one man to handle." Abruptly, Phil stopped talking and stared suspiciously at the stranger.
"Easy on, Phil, this is a man we can trust" said Eumaeus "Phil, meet Mr Nomanios! Nomanios, this is Phil the cowboy".
"Pleased to meet you, Nomanios" said Phil. "Any friend of Reverend Eumaeus is a friend of mine".
"Likewise, I'm sure" answered Odysseus "I heard you want your old boss back. Well, let me tell you straight from the horse's mouth - he's on his way home right now!".
"He'll have a fight when he gets here. But boss never lost a fight that I know of. When nightmares have nightmares, they dream that they're fighting boss Odysseus. Wa'al, if boss is still alive and walking tall under the wide sky - this sky that's open the same to boss and men - you tell him that Phil the cowboy has a sturdy pair of hands to help. Yes sirree! Mah Bowie knife's sittin' easy in mah belt".
"Now we are four" thought Odysseus "so the odds are only ten to one against us. What's more we have a plan, and the advantage of surprise. Things are shaping up!".
The two herdsmen walked ahead, Phil and Eumaeus discussing which was the more peaceful critter - cows or sows - and which was the more dangerous when roused - bulls or boars. But Odysseus lagged behind, looking around and brooding on the changes in his home town. Everything looked dire and dismal. The houses were dirty. The streets were dirty and littered with garbage. People walked sullen and silent through those mean streets. They made way for Rev. Eumaeus as he passed with his double bladed axe of office, but they glared at the stranger. Nobody answered his cheery greeting. Odysseus remembered the white painted houses, the clean streets and friendly faces of Phaecia, and felt sad for his native land.
"If we win, we must make everything better" he vowed.
The story so far: The plan is still in Stage 2 - the Wooden Horse. Can Odysseus get back into his own palace without being recognized and killed by forty suitors? The two men set out, and on the way meet Phil Aetios driving a herd of prize cattle for the suitors to eat.
So the three friends walked along that dusty road that led to Ithaka town. Odysseus in his ragged old asylum seeker disguise was discussing plans with Eumaeus the godlike swineherd in his Reverend robes, while ahead of them cowboy Phil was driving his little herd. When they came into town, Odysseus could see how broken down and dirty it had become since the rebels occupied the palace. He was amazed to find that he wasn't the only beggar on the streets. He tried to say Good Morning to a few people but they just stared at him dumbly and glumly. He turned to Eumaeus in surprise:
"Why don't the people clean the streets? Why are there so many beggars? Why is everyone so morose?"
"Because the country has no leader, now that rival factions have occupied the palace. The people don't work together any more, because they don't know who's loyal or who's a spy for the rebels or which rebel is going to win. They hardly talk to each other, because they don't know whom to trust.
They just Look After Number One."
"But why is there no government if the Queen is still on her throne? asked King Odysseus, in his beggar's clothes.
Wise Eumaeus answered: "Poor Penelope, she does what she can. She keeps the palace clean and running smoothly, with the help of old Eurykleia and her loyal women servants. But without a strong caring man at her side, Queen Penelope finds it too hard to rule a rebellious country. So everybody does what the Queen does: they clean inside their own house - and toss garbage onto the street."
"I see" said Odysseus - and see it he did.
A large pile of garbage lay right in front of his palace! And on top of that heap lay an old dog.
This was the dog Argos, that Odysseus had raised from a puppy; but now he was very old for a dog - more than twenty years old! When they were both still young, Odysseus had trained Argos to be a champion hunting dog. He named the dog Argos because of its keen sight - like the lookout on the legendary ship Argos that sailed to find the Golden Fleece. In his prime, no dog was swifter than Argos along the track of wild deer on the wooded hills. But now he lay on a heap of trash, while flies buzzed around him and fleas hopped all over him, so that his body was forever twitching.
Why was Argos lying on that rubbish heap? Because he was so faithful! When Odysseus departed to his long war, Argos howled day and night at the front gate, waiting for his master's return. For twenty years he remained faithfully where he had last seen his master, while the servants threw garbage out of the front gate onto a pile that grew higher and higher.
Argos would not abandon his post - just fed off the scraps and climbed on top of the garbage heap for a better look, until his eyes grew dim with age. Now his dim old eyes vaguely saw an old beggar coming down the road, chatting to Rev Eumaeus. And at last his old ears faintly heard: His Master's Voice! At the sound of that voice, Argos lifted his tired old head and sniffed the air. Cutting through the various odors of garbage, the dog's nose detected an old familiar note: His Master's Smell!! Excitedly, old Argos wanted to jump up and lick that familiar skin as he had done when a pup - but he was now too weak. His old head and ears dropped again; only his raw, fleabitten tail wagged feebly as he tried to crawl towards Odysseus. The man instantly strode forward and stretched his hand out to the companion of his youth. Argos joyfully licked that familiar hand, his tail still wagging. At that happy instant darkness and restful death came upon Argos, who had waited twenty years to gain this one last, timeless moment with his master.
Odysseus wiped a tear from his eye with his dirty hand, and asked Cowboy Phil:
"When you take your cattle into the yard, could you kindly ask them to lend you a spade - and bring it to me, please?"
So Odysseus, dressed in beggar rags, buried his flea bitten old friend under a tree in the garden. Eurykleia saw him (she was back from the morning market with a basket full of delicacies for the evening feast) and said to herself:
"Why, Lord's sakes! that beggar has taken the trouble to bury the old dog. Why, there are even tears in his eyes. He must have a good heart, in spite of being so dirty. If he comes into the house, I'll tell the servants to give him some nice scraps. But That Lot won't allow it!"
Eurykleia pulled a face, because That Lot - she always referred to the suitors as That Lot - probably wouldn't allow Penelope's servants to give food to a poor asylum seeker. The suitors were only interested in one thing: Look After Number One. And that meant: eat till you burst - and what you cant eat, throw on the garbage. Looking After Number One means: never share with people who are poorer than yourself, because "if you give them a hand they will want your whole arm". Eurykleia spat on the ground when she thought of the suitors, and went inside mumbling to herself:
"If only my master were here! He'd soon sort out That Lot".
As she went in through the servants entrance of the palace - not the grand front door where the VIPs enter for the banquet, but the little door round the back, where the servants enter with the shopping, and asylum seekers sometimes come knocking timidly for scraps - Eurykleia curtsied to make way for Rev. Eumaeus, who was coming out.
"I've seen the Queen" Eumaeus whispered to Odysseus "You are invited you to come in and tell your story. No problem - Telemachos prepared her to expect an old asylum seeker with news. Our plans are going well".
By now the tears for Argos had dried, and Odysseus could smile again, as they entered the back door of the palace together.
"We've done Stage Two" he grinned in triumph "The Trojan Horse - we've penetrated enemy headquarters! Now Zeus help us - because enemy headquarters is my own house, and I must find a way to fight the enemy without hurting my own people. If the suitors recognized me, they would surely hold Penelope hostage".
Athene heard his prayer, even though she was still outside, a little grey-blue swallow sitting in the cypress tree that shaded Argos's fresh grave. She knew now that Zeus had decided not to help humans until we learn to help one another. She decided to fly back to Olympos for lunch and a spot of family gossip. Nothing much would be happening down in Ithaka until evening.
Meanwhile, Odysseus and Telemachos were swinging into Stage 3.
Stage 3 - The Challenge
Queen Penelope sat on her throne, listening intently to King Odysseus - who was kneeling far below her in his beggar's rags. Penelope was a gracious lady who made every guest welcome, even though this old asylum seeker was ugly and dirty. Even though he stank: of his own human sweat as well as of pigs and cattle, plus the garbage that he had picked Argos up from. He had also picked up not a few of Argos's numerous fleas, which were now busily hopping around his own dirty old body - but polite Penelope pretended not to notice.
She said kindly: "Stranger, you may rise from your knees. One of my women will bring you a stool padded with fleece, so you may sit comfortably while you inform us who you are and what is your news."
Crafty Odysseus dodged the question about who he was.
How he longed to say: "I am Odysseus, your husband, home at last!" How he longed to embrace her lovely form. But with great effort he restrained himself. Firstly, because he knew that he looked filthy and decrepit, in his asylum seeker's disguise. More important, it would have warned the rebels; they would have banded together and killed him on the spot. So he grimly stuck to his plan and lied, though his heart was aching to tell her the glad truth. Out of respect for his wife, he lied to her by telling the truth and nothing but the truth (only, not the whole truth):
"My lady Queen, no mortal woman on this rich earth can find a flaw in your beauty. Your patience and loyalty to long lost King Odysseus have made you famous over the whole wide world. But I beg you not to ask who I am, because my story is just like his. I have been in a long war of little profit, just like Odysseus; and I have been shipwrecked, just like Odysseus. So to tell you my disasters will only remind you of your own loss - and mine. Let us say, my name is Nomanios."
Gracious Penelope answered with a modest smile: "Stranger, I shall not ask your name; and in return I request you not to praise my beauty. Time and sorrow have blown it away. My youthful looks have Gone With the Wind. As for my patience, what you say is true: for twenty years I have played Patient Penelope. I could wait out another twenty years just as patiently - but these men who occupy my palace have threatened to kill my son if I do not marry one of them next week. This evening is their bachelors farewell party - tomorrow everyone shall know my choice of husband. Ah, if only my real husband had not set out to des-Troy that place whose name shall never pass my lips!"
Answered crafty Odysseus: "Gracious lady Queen, I swear to you by Zeus - by the greatest of the immortal gods, by that god who is eternal truth itself - that your true husband is even now coming to claim his true kingdom. I know this because I was shipwrecked on the same island and by the same storm. Send your messengers to Phaecia, and they will tell you this same truth: the Royal Family of Phaecia - no less! - put King Odysseus on a ship to Ithaka, richly laden with gifts. I myself have seen that ship and his store of treasure".
Gracious Penelope smiled - a wellbred, worldweary little smile: "Stranger, who call yourself the Man with No Name, I thank you for your kindly lies - lies that I would love to believe were true. Perhaps you really mean to comfort a miserable Queen; my faithful Eurykleia tells me that you have a good heart. But even if you are only some crafty conman, even if you have only cooked up this implausible story because some asylum seeker told you that my Ithaka is a soft touch for beggars who bear good news of King Odysseus - you are none the less welcome. We must obey The Law of Hospitality - the first law of Zeus who sees all. Naturally a mere asylum seeker, a man with no name and no country, cannot expect to be seated at the same table with scions of our finest families. But you are welcome to walk between their tables, and beg my noble guests to fill your bag with scraps.
Eurykleia! Wash this man and find him some clean old clothes!"
Eurykleia came and led Odysseus down to the wash room as fast as her creaking joints would allow. She sat him down and placed a round copper washbasin by his feet. Then she mixed hot and cold water till it was just nice and warm. (Ithaka was not as advanced as Phaecia. They had no hot water on tap; instead, Eurykleia kept lots of big copper kettles full of hot water steaming away on the big stove, and big china jugs of cold water lined up against the wall. So she could prepare anything from a bath to a simple footwash, for any number of guests, at a moment's notice).
The old lady took up a sponge and a little vial of soft, olive oil soap. Then she placed Odysseus's left foot in the bowl and washed his leg, dirty from walking the dusty country road in sandals. She dried his left leg with a thirsty towel, and began to work on his right leg.
Odysseus was enjoying the bliss of being pampered for once, and dreaming of Penelope's lovely face which he had not seen for twenty years - so he was completely off his guard. Suddenly, Eurkyleia gave a start and upset her bowl of water. The copper basin clattered to the ground with a ringing noise, loud as an alarm bell. Still clutching his right leg - with a surprisingly strong grip for such an arthritic hand - the old nurse opened her mouth to scream!
His lightning fast reflexes told Odysseus in an instant what had given her such a shock. The scar! She had recognized the scar on his leg!
Faster than a mamba's strike, his powerful hand shot out and grabbed her larynx. With irresistable firmness - but with incredible gentleness for such a rapid reaction - he stopped the old woman's scream while it was still travelling up her windpipe.
"Please, Eurykleia, don't scream and I'll let you go. Yes, Nurse, it's me - but we'll all be in danger if the suitors find out. Promise you won't tell!"
She could not talk because that great gentle hand still kept the stopper on her voice, but with shining eyes Eyrykleia signalled "Capito".
So he let her go, and allowed his old nurse to embrace him with tears of silent joy running down her withered cheeks. (As for the noise of the dropped copper bowl, nobody noticed - because that day the whole palace rang with pots and pans preparing for that evening's feast).
"Now, Nurse, I have some very important work for you. Because I am sure you know which of your girls are loyal, and which are collaborators."
"I know them all" whispered the old lady, with a grim smile.
"This evening I want you and some loyal girls to hide all the weapons that hang on the walls of the great hall - all except my super bow. If anybody asks, say they need to be cleaned and polished for the Guard of Honour at the wedding ceremony. Lock those arms in our secret strong room, so the suitors can't use them."
"That's already been done, Oddy. Telly told me" She always knew them as Oddy and Telly, because she had nursed both - baby Oddy and baby Telly.
"Well done. Did he also tell you to send the disloyal girls on some fools errand far away from the house?"
"Yes, Oddy, we're ready for them" whispered the old woman, with a fierce joy burning in her bleary eyes.
"And once the fun begins, nobody is to leave the great hall. All your loyal girls must push against the great door. Jam it closed until I tell you. This will be dangerous work - because if I and Telemachos do not come out of that hall alive, you and your loyal girls will be tortured to death, for barring the door against them. Do you understand the risk?"
"Capito. We're with you, Oddy - all the way. Even if there's not many of us".
And she hobbled off on her duties.
Now you might be wondering why old Eurykleia recognized Odysseus when his own wife did not. But if you think about it, Penelope didn't know that much about Odysseus. She had met him when she was a young woman of eighteen and he was barely twenty three. They had soon fallen in love, got married and had a child. That is a most wonderful way for two people to know one another - but in real time, Penelope had known Odysseus for barely two years before they were forced to part. Penelope kept his picture in her mind and in her broken heart - but it was always the same picture: Odysseus as a handsome, caring, strong, brave, dashing, and sensible young man; the kind of hero that every mother dreams her daughter will marry. But Old Nurse Eurykleia had known Oddy for ever so much longer. She had wiped the baby food off his chin, and the snot off his little nose. She had wiped his bum. She had watched him grow into a little boy, then into a gawky teenager, and then into that brave, dashing etc young hero - who was the only Odysseus that Penelope knew.
Also, Eurykleia knew that when Oddy was sixteen he had dashed off bravely (and stupidly) to hunt a fully grown wild boar - on his own, accompanied only by his young dog, Argos. That wily, full grown boar knew that he weighed more than the boy and the dog together; so he just lowered his head, stuck out his jaw and charged to let rip with crescent shaped tusks. The heavy creature easily brushed past Argos
- simply knocked the dog flying - and sank a tusk in the boy's right thigh. That scimitar tusk ploughed a long gash from the boy's knee to his crotch (if the wound had been an inch longer, Telemachos would never have been born). Instinctively, Odysseus dropped down and played dead, while Argos yapped around the boar's ankles to distract its attention. The boar was not only wild, he was livid! So (not being a carnivore) he forgot all about the quiet "dead" boy, and went charging after the noisy live dog.
This time Argos turned the tables; the little dog easily dodged the heavier animal and, yapping away and snapping away to make that wild boar even wilder, Argos led the dangerous beast a dance deep into the forest, far from where his wounded master lay bleeding away life's blood. Then Argos sped home. When they saw the dog arrive without the master and barking furiously, they knew there must have been an accident. So huntsmen plus paramedics with a stretcher followed Argos at the trot, back into the forest. They found Odysseus coolly trying to stop the loss of blood with a tourniquet, which he had cut with his trusty knife from a stick and strips of his shirt.
It was Eurykleia who nursed the lad back to health. Twice a day she bathed that wound with herbal lotion to prevent infection, and massaged it gently to stimulate the tissue's own healing power. No wonder she knew that scar like the back of her hand. Now she mumbled to herself as went about her duties, with lips sealed but a fierce joy dancing in her steadfast old heart:
"Now Oddy's back, he'll soon sort out That Lot!"
The suitors were not great fighting men; instead, they kept a bully boy to fight for them. This man's name was Irus. He was a very big, very strong young man, with no skill and no business ability, so he could never get much of a job, because he was also very lazy. The most Irus could hope for in the job market was low paid casual labour, humping loads on his broad back like a donkey - only cheaper. So he was very happy when Antinous, the chief suitor, spotted Irus humping sacks in the market, and offered him cushy job with good pay: all Irus had to do, now and then, was beat up somebody that Antinous didn't like. Irus earned some extra money by prizefighting. The suitors bet on him - Irus often won because he was so big. But he was too lazy to train as a real champion.
This bully boy was going to be the suitors' downfall.
At lunchtime, Odysseus went round the tables to beg his scraps - and to size up the opposition. Only one of the suitors gave him a scrap of food. The rest jeered and shouted at him:
"Freeloader! You're an able bodied man - go away and work for your living!"
Then they started to eat Penelope's food and drink her wine that her servants had set before them.
"Hold it, guys" said the one righteous suitor "It ain't right to deny a man what's got nothing when we's got so much. Zeus may be looking down this very moment, and there'll be a mighty reckoning for such as breaks his law of hospitality".
"Wet! Softy!" shouted the rest of the suitors "There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Them as won't work, don't eat".
And while they said this, they were filling their own bellies with free food.
"Willy wetleg!" shouted Antinous to the one righteous suitor "Take your bleeding heart to back to mammy".
Antinous turned to Odysseus and shouted: "Here, beggar man, chew on this!"
He picked up a heavy stool and hurled it with all his might, aiming at Odysseus's mouth. If he had hit his mark, Odysseus would have suffered a broken jaw. But that long suffering man stood firm as a rock - did not budge an inch - because he wasn't going to give Antinous the pleasure of seeing him cringe. Also, that man of many fights could judge that it was a rotten shot: the stool missed his jaw and hit his chest instead, where thick muscles cushioned the impact. Even so, it hurt a lot - but that steadfast hero never winced. Antinous felt cheated and drank another glass of Penelope's best wine to drown his disappointment: he had given the beggar his best shot, but that old man had not even batted an eyelid. A couple of suitors began to snicker - they were glad to see Antinous look foolish, because they hoped this would improve their own chances to marry the Queen. Fools all! little did they know that their very next action was about to seal their fate.
Queen Penelope rose, and all fell silent. She spoke measured and restrained but her voice was shaking. She was very near to tears of barely suppressed rage:
"I implore you all to behave yourselves in a manner that will not shame your noble families. You are the elite of our country. Are you not ashamed to insult a guest - you who are perpetual guests in my house! I am a poor weak woman, so you need not be afraid of me - but are you not afraid of offending mighty Zeus, who sees our every action?"
The suitors fell silent with shame - but only for a few moments while the Queen retired, gliding up the stairs to her high lonely room. Gradually they resumed their gluttonous carousing. Telemachos rose - his moment of challenge had come:
"You swine of suitors!" he began - then paused as he caught Rev Eumaeus's eye "Beg pardon, your Reverence: to call these suitors Swine is an insult to pigs".
Then he went on: "My mother has implored you to go back to your own homes. Now I shall warn you: go on your own feet - or be carried home feet first. This is your second chance - I shall not give you a third!"
The suitors were dumbstruck. This was not the Telemachos they knew. Never before had that gentle young man dared challenge them. Didn't he understand that they outnumbered him forty to one? But they were more amused than angry: if Telemachos wanted trouble, they were ready to give it to him. Irus, their big bully boy was waiting for the signal to beat up Telemachos and dump his body in the sea. Odysseus, who was still begging his way round the tables, deliberately brushed past Irus. Irus glowered but, without orders from boss Antinous, he couldn't make a move. He only looked threatening, and shook his fat fist in the old man's face.
Antinous got up to answer for the suitors.
Antinous had lost his cool. He had just spent a thoroughly uncomfortable month being seasick on the "pirate" ship - but Telemachos had outwitted him. He had tried to chase away this no account Noman of an asylum seeker - but the old beggar had stood up to him. However, Antinous still held his ace: everybody now knew that Telemachos had failed to obtain military support from Great King Menelaus. With a sneer, Antinous now played that ace:
"So Telemachos, you are going to make us leave? All forty of us? You and whose army?"
The suitors roared with insolent, drunken laughter - they all knew that Telemachos had no army. They could crush him by sheer weight of numbers, any time they chose. And the time for them crush this cheeky young pup was very near...
Antinous sat down heavily, poured himself another generous draught of Telemachos's finest dry white Zitsa, raised the glass in a mock salute to his unwilling young host, and emptied the cup in a single gulp.
Telemachos stood up firmly and pushed his chair back. His clear eyes slowly looked each suitor in the face, as they sat downing his meat and drink. Then, with a mischievous smile, he pointed to Odysseus, who was still busily hobbling among the tables with his empty bag still held hopefully open, in case any of the suitors had changed their minds about not encouraging freeloaders. Pointing at his old man, young Telemachos said in a firm voice - but with a light, ironic laugh and that strange mischievous glint in his eyes that nobody had ever seen before:
"Me and that army - that old asylum seeker there".
The suitors went wild with raucous laughter. They were beginning to think that Telemachos had simply flipped under pressure. They were even more sure that he had gone round the bend when he said - with that same weird combination of steady voice and mischievous grin:
"I bet that old man can beat Irus. I'll lay you ten to one - any money you choose".
They were now quite sure he was mad - he would lose his whole kingdom on such a ridiculous bet. (It was like you betting that your Grandpa could beat Mike Tyson). Any decent guests would have said "You must be kidding" - or called in a psychiatrist. But these were not decent guests: they were blood sucking parasites.
Their motto was: "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break".
So, if they thought that their host had flipped and lost his marbles, they all rushed to help him throw away his money. Within a few minutes most of the suitors had bet more money than they could afford to lose, but they didn't care. They thought they were on to a sure thing: big young Irus was sure to beat this old Mr Nobody. Telemachos would lose his money and his kingdom. It would be like taking candy from a baby - and how these men loved taking candy from babies!
A ring was cleared while the contestants stripped for action. Irus was disconcerted when he saw how powerful the old man's muscles were: stripped of their rags, they stood out gaunt and gnarled as the ribs of an ancient, hollow-trunked oak. But Irus still had every advantage - youth, weight, height, reach and (he thought) speed. Everybody knows that some old men stay strong, but all old muscles slow down. What none of the suitors knew was: this was not really such an old man - thanks to Athena's magic.
("Just cosmetic" she told Father Zeus "He's still the same man underneath").
So, for the second time, Odysseus found himself fighting not in a war but in a prize fight - just like in Phaecia. Only this time he did not want to get the crowd on his side: instead, he wanted to sting them, he wanted to make them so angry with him and Telemachos that they would bet anything to get revenge. Also this time, he was not facing a potential Olympic champion, a trained athlete that he could respect: no, this time his opponent was a big bully who abused his god given gift of strength by beating up people. Odysseus wasn't going to waste his skill on a goon. Besides, it would have made the rebels suspicious if he revealed how good a fighter he really was.
In olden times, boxers were allowed to fight with any kind of glove - they even fought bare knuckle. Irus wore his favorite brass knuckles with heavy metal spikes. If Irus landed with one of those, his opponent would suffer a crushed skull or broken ribs. Odysseus could not afford to risk injury now, because he had an even tougher fight ahead of him that evening. So he decided to make it quick, and go for speed: he chose to wind a simple leather strap round each hand and wrist. These gave some protection against the spikes, but were so light that they didn't slow down his punch. Odysseus knew by experience that a fast blow with a light glove can be just as effective as a slow blow from a heavy knuckle-duster.
The bell rang. Irus squared up his brass knuckles, and stood there, just waiting for the chance to reach out and land a single crushing blow on the smaller, older man. But Odysseus danced around him out of reach, waving his arms wildly, like a man who never learned to box.
Odysseus did not want the suitors to twig how good he really was: all they could see was that somehow Irus hadn't been able to lay a glove on him. Somehow, dancing around out of reach, with those fast whirling arms, he either avoided or blocked Irus's slow blows. The end came in less than a minute! Somehow, one of the old man's wildly whirling arms caught Irus a chop to the side of his neck, at that vital spot where the spinal nerves carry the brain's commands to the rest of the body. With its command lines disrupted, that huge body could do nothing but fall: thud; Thud; THUMP! First the knees buckled and hit the ground, thud; then the torso hit the ground without even trying to break its fall, Thud; then the head hit the ground, with that final, sickening THUMP!
The suitors dragged Irus away and abandoned him, propped against the garbage heap with his head lolling and dribbling. They were not interested in a loser. In fact, they blamed Irus for having lost them a bet.
"Pay up!" cried Telemachos.
"Not so fast" replied Antinous "It was just a lucky punch. We demand a rematch."
"Allright" replied Telemachos with surprising meekness. You see, if That Lot had won the bet, they would never have allowed Telemachos a rematch (the French call it "la Revanche" - the revenge). So they thought Telly was a real sucker to allow them a second bet. What they didn't know was: Telemachos was setting them up for Stage Four.
"Allright" said Telemachos "Double or quits. And I have choice of contest. So I propose ...."
He hesitated, then slowly, with that mischievous glint in his eye (which the suitors were beginning to recognize) Telemachos issued The Challenge: "... an archery contest. I bet the old man can do six rings".
Now the super bow was the only weapon that Eurykleia had left hanging on the wall, according to instructions. A wicked gleam lit up Antinous's eye, and his mouth twisted with a knowing grin, as he fixed his glance on that bow:
"Done!" shouted Antinous "Double or quits! But if you have choice of contest then I have choice of weapons. Your man must bend the bow of Odysseus."
Telemachos pretended to be outraged.
"That's not fair" he stormed "nobody but Odysseus has even been able to string the bow of Odysseus, let alone draw it. You tricked me! The bet's off!"
The old man hid his face in his rags, so nobody saw him chortle. A swallow twittered in the rafters. Together they thought: "Like father, like son"
Both Odysseus and Athene were beginning to enjoy the spectacle of young Telemachos learning how to con those false suitors.
Muzzy with Telemachos's wine, stung by that "lucky" punch, puffed up by his "smart" move, Antinous began to walk the walk that Odysseus had planned for him.
He sneered: "A bet's a bet! Who said anything about fair? Your man has to draw the bow of Odysseus and shoot six rings. If not, we're quits - and I marry your mother!"
Antinous had been conned into feeling too angry and too greedy to think straight. His thoughts were: "I'll get my revanche. Only Odysseus can draw the bow of Odysseus".
At the back of his mind, a guardian spirit of self preservation was whispering desperately: "Antinous, why is Telemachos being so sporting when he knows that we cheat? Why is he inviting us to a feast when he knows that we mean to ruin him? Why have they removed every weapon from the great hall - except the super bow of Odysseus?"
It was a pity that Antinous had wasted his cool. If he had listened to his guardian angel instead of manning a fake pirate ship; throwing a stool at an old man; drinking too much; rushing into a bet when angry; demanding an unfair handicap: if only he had listened, Antinous might have heard his guardian spirit whisper that last question - the question that might have saved him:
"Why has Telemachos become so strangely confident just at the same time as this stranger appears?"
This question would have raised other questions, and started his brain working:
"Who is this man who calls himself Noman, who says he was shipwrecked by the same storm as Odysseus, on the same island as Odysseus, and has seen with his own eyes the treasure of Odysseus? Could he be ....? And if he is...? And if I let him get his hands on that bow....? Could he...? Would he...?"
But if Antinous had kept his cool he would not have been Antinous - he would have gone home when asked politely. Like father, like son: Antinous's father was also a greedy, ambitious, hot tempered man. He wanted to be king, he wanted his son to be king - but neither father nor son knew the first responsibility of a king: to respect people and to make good laws. Like father, like son: both of them wanted to be a king on earth, but they broke the law of the King of the Sky - the Law of Hospitality.
And now a terrible thing was going to happen to both of them: like son, like father.
The story so far: Telemachos has conned the rebel chief, Antinous, into an archery challenge with the mysterious asylum seeker. Antinous thinks he was smart to insist that the old man must use the famous bow of Odysseus. Everybody knows that only Odysseus was strong and skilful enough to work the super bow. But this time Antinous has outsmarted himself - because that old asylum seeker is none other than Odysseus himself.
Stage 4: The Killing
This time Antinous had gone too far.
Step by insolent step, he had persuaded the suitors that they could get away with one crime after another, because they were so strong: 40 to 1 against Telemachos! Four times they had broken the Law of Hospitality. First, they had occupied another man's house while he was away. Second, they were forcing his wife to marry one of them. Third, they plotted to kill his son. Fourth, they had wagered their big goon, Irus, to beat an old asylum seeker, who was only begging for some scraps from their banquet. Antinous and his gang faced Odysseus and his son, and the situation was stark: no way out now - kill or be killed!
In four easy steps, Antinous had led his "friends" to imagine that they could go on forever flouting the First Law of Zeus himself. Zeus set up his Law of Hospitality to protect the strong as well as the weak. Because Zeus, who sees all, knows that the strong will become weak and the weak can become strong.
This time the suitors' arrogance will lead them into a trap of their own making. Their steps will be their own - but their walk will be the walk that Odysseus has planned for them. Right now they are strong, and they sneer at the weak. Soon they will be weak, and yell for protection: where will they find it once they have thrown away the Law of Hospitality?
The evening sky had lost its purple glow when the banquet began. Like a girl getting into her evening gown, the sky put on a dress of the deepest, darkest blue - that pure dark blue which only the Mediterranean sky knows how to wear - with the evening star and a couple of other bright planets sparkling like jewels on her shoulder. The trap was about to snap shut. Queen Penelope ordered the heralds to announce dinner.
The suitors tucked in greedily.
Penelope was radiant in a white gown with a diamond tiara sparkling on her head. But in her eyes was a worried look that she could barely conceal. Odysseus, munching a few nice scraps that Eurykleia had slipped him, sitting on a stool below the lowest table of the hall, exulted in the beauty of his faithful wife. But he was grieved to see her in such unpleasant company. How he longed to hug her and whisper: "Don't worry, darling! Here I am. Everything will soon be alright."
But that would have been suicide. His plan was reaching its most dangerous stage, and he needed to avoid any move that might rouse the suitors' suspicion. So he bit his tongue, and sat on his hands, and hid his true feelings - while he watched his wife play the gracious hostess to a rabble of rowdy louts.
She played the gracious hostess until the guests were finishing their dessert of fruit and sweet cakes. Then Telemachos whispered something in his mother's ear, and Penelope rose to excuse herself:
"Some of our guests are welcome" she said - looking at the beggarman, the swineherd and the cowboy "but many are unwelcome" she added - looking straight at the suitors, who were still busy stuffing their tummies with her food and drinking themselves muzzy with her wine.
"Alas, I shall be forced to marry one of the unwelcome guests. But which one? How to choose one among forty when every one of you strikes me as more repulsive than the rest? So I tell you how I shall choose. Let each one of you bring me a present tonight. Tomorrow we shall vote whose present is the finest - and that shall be the man I shall marry. Tomorrow will be the last time that people see this unfortunate queen without a husband. But believe me: I would rather see you all leave now - tonight - than receive your richest gifts tomorrow".
The silly suitors did not leave. They cheered the idea of winning her in a gift contest, because they were the idle rich who thought they could buy anybody. Their motto was:
"Every man has his price - and every woman".
These suitors were just ornery varmints. The only thing extra-ordinary about them was the extraordinary amounts of money they went through. They were so idle that they were no good at sports, no good at school, no good to anybody except themselves, not interested in anything except themselves and so not interesting to any body except themselves. The only way they could compete was by outspending each other. So those idle rich suitors cheered when Penelope suggested a gift contest. All the suitors sent their man servants running hotfoot back to their own houses, to fetch the richest presents they could lay their hands on.
Antinous was smarter. He sent also to his father's house, because his father was the richest man in the land, and Antinous knew how much his father wanted his son to be king. Said Antinous to his serving man: "Tell my father, now's his chance! Let him send you back with his most expensive works of art - all those artistic masterpieces that he bought and appreciates for their capital appreciation! Tell him he'll get back capital plus interest tomorrow. Because tonight I'm taking Telemachos to the cleaners. It's not a bet - it's an investment".
Each suitor hoped that his own present would win the Queen. Little did they know what was in lovely Penelope's mind. She was playing for time. She thought: "When it comes to the vote, which present will be judged the best, that lot will be sure to quarrel for days. They will want the votes to be counted and recounted. They might even go to law - for weeks, perhaps months. That will give me time to persuade Telly to run away. Telly's been so obstinate lately. He says he doesn't need to run because a bird has given a sign to Rev Eumaeus, that Odysseus will come to our aid. Perhaps that mysterious stranger is really telling the happy truth. Perhaps my beloved Odysseus is really near! Oh, what a silly dreamer I am!"
All these thoughts went racing round and round their race track inside Penelope's worried head.
But to the suitors she graciously said: "Now all you men you must excuse me, because I have migraine. Enjoy your entertainment".
Little did she realize that her beloved Odysseus was sitting less than twenty paces away - an asylum seeker in his own palace, wearing the secondhand clothes that she had bidden Eurykleia find for him. Odysseus shaded his face with a hand to hide his feelings. How his heart ached to see his beloved wife in distress!
But that same hand also hid a grin, at the cunning way Penelope was conning back expensive presents from her voracious suitors. A thrill went through him, because her behaviour tonight showed vividly that she was still the same Penelope, with the same qualities that he had always found so entrancing and so infuriating: her beauty, her brains, her innocence, her vulnerability - and her absolute genius for getting her own way in the end.
So the Queen rose, and glided up the broad stairway to her high, lonely room. Men stared after her, gawking with open mouth at her radiant beauty. In her evening gown of shining white, with a glittering diamond diadem on her raven hair, she looked as lovely as the luminous moon, when it rises among jewelled stars in the fragrant Mediterranean night.
Each suitor wished that the other thirty nine would get lost, so that he could have Penelope all to himself. That was the trouble with the suitors. They needed to gang up, because none of them dared to face Telemachos in a fair fight - man to man. But they all wanted something that they could not share - the Queen. Whoever won her would have to fight all the others afterwards. The little kingdom of Ithaka was already in a bad way, because they had wasted its resources to support their luxurious lifestyle of lounging around the palace. Whoever won her, the state of the State was going to be even worse - jealousy would turn to civil war. Their motto was:
"It's a Dog Eat Dog World: Look After Number One - and Devil Take Losers!"
Grim Odysseus, sacker of cities, craftily read their minds, and felt a moment of satisfaction.
What luck! Penelope's idea fitted in with his own plan! The suitors were sending away their men servants - that would leave fewer men to fight! And steadfast Eurykleia was sending the disloyal girl servants, those who had fallen for false promises from some of the suitors, to accompany their men servants, and help them carry back the presents. That meant there would be fewer traitors in the palace at the most dangerous time!
So now, with only suitors and loyal women servants in the palace, it was time to spring the trap! Prince Telemachos, presiding as MC (Master of Ceremonies) in place of the Queen, rose. The forty unwelcome "guests" hushed their half drunken babble as he spoke: "Before I open this archery challenge, which you will surely lose ....."
His voice was drowned by jeers from the arrogant suitors, drunk with pride and wine. How could that old asylum seeker, that man with no name, possibly bend the bow of mighty Odysseus?
Telemachos silenced the hoots of derisive laughter with a raised hand, and continued calmly: "I repeat ....which you will surely lose! You heard the Queen my mother speak: she would rather have your absence than your finest gifts."
Drunken Antinous rose unsteadily, jeering: "And who exactly is going to make us leave?"
"I am" Cool but firm, Telemachos replied.
"Yeah? You and whose army?"
Antinous grinned again. He thought his ace answer sounded even more witty than the first time he had used it. The suitors also liked it: they roared it in chorus, banging their beakers on the table.
Except for the one righteous suitor who rose and said: "Maybe we oughter cool it, Antinous. Maybe we've gone too far. That no account old panhandler could be really the Avenging Angel in disguise. Who knows? I've heard my mama say that the gods sometimes visit us, disguised as poor folk, just to test our hospitality. That old man's eyes gives me the creeps! I vote we call off the bet. Pack up and git while the gitting's good!"
But this one righteous man was silenced by hoots of derision and shouts of:
"Poor Willie Wetleg!"
"Poor Billy Bleedingheart!"
"Mama's Little Milksop!"
"Go home to your Mama!"
And so on. The righteous man, cowed by peer pressure, shut his trap and sat down. He still felt uneasy - that he was following a crowd to do wrong - but he decided that he had no right to go against the majority opinion. Especially since they were headed by Antinous, leader of the snootiest clique in town. This righteous suitor dared not face the sneers of his highborn peers. From then on, the only time he opened his mouth was to drown his conscience in Penelope's wine. It was a pity this one righteous man kept his mouth shut, so there was nobody left to give the suitors the good advice that might have saved them; because that righteous suitor got only one thing wrong: the old beggar man was in disguise alright, but he wasn't some avenging angel - he was the avenging owner of the house!
Telemachos did not answer; the time to bandy words had passed - now was the moment for action. Suppressing the butterflies in his stomach, he started the proceedings.
He declared as MC, in a clipped, official voice that hid his inner tension:
"Let the contest begin!"
The MC made a sign to Phil the cowboy, who was acting as assistant. Phil took down the great bow of Odysseus from its hooks on the wall, where it had lain unstrung for so many years. It was the only weapon left on that wall: the rest had been removed by Eurykleia and her loyal girl servants "for cleaning". Telemachos made a sign to Eurykleia. His old nurse hobbled out through the great hall door, and closed it firmly behind her.
On the outer side of that door, loyal girls silently began to tie a great wooden bar that fixed it fast. The trap had snapped shut!
"Hold it, Telemachos! Let me see that bow!" snarled Antinous. "No cheating! Maybe you're giving the old man a weak bow - one that even a girl can bend".
Telemachos as MC made a sign to Phil, and Phil handed over the bow in silence. Antinous tried to bend the bow with all his might. His puny muscles barely made a bulge under their layers of fat, his arms began to ache and great beads of sweat ran down his flabby skin; but he couldn't bend that bow - not even one centimetre. Antinous called a friend to help him, and the two managed to bend it a little. The two of them called a third, who stood on the middle of the bow while the other two lifted up each end by pulling it with both hands. That way they bent the great bow - but no way could they string it - because they all three had their hands full. So the three of them called a fourth, who took Antinous's place in the middle.
Antinous then picked up the cord while the other three kept the bow bent. But Antinous just could not figure out how to string that bow - no way! There was just a plain notch on the bow, and he was given just a plain length of strong sinew, with no generous spare length to wrap around the way he was used to. Odysseus had invented a special knot that only he knew how to tie. (Both Penelope and Odysseus were very good at knots). With ordinary knots, that bow string simply slipped off the end of the bow.
Antinous's "friends" began to titter, for the second time. He was beginning to lose their respect, so he made the best of a bad job and said:
"OK! That's the bow of Odysseus, all right. Now let's see what your old timer can do with it".
He grinned in triumph, because he was sure that one poor, half starved old man could not succeed where four rich, well fed young men had failed. But to make quite sure he added: "Mind you! It won't be enough if the old timer only bends that bow. He also has to shoot an arrow clean through the six rings!"
Phil set six long axe handles in a line (he had already removed the blades, in case the suitors tried to use those axes as weapons). Each handle had a ring at the end, for hanging the axe on a hook in the wall of the great hall. But now the handles were standing in a row, with their rings all lined up - one behind the other. The aim was to shoot an arrow through six rings before hitting the target on the far wall.
Only the very best archers could do six rings.
Antinous sat down with a smirk and thought: "Tonight, I take Telemachos to the cleaners. Tomorrow, I marry the Queen. Day after, I'll be crowned King Antinous the First. I'll execute Telemachos for treason. Our family will be kings of Ithaka for ever. Dad will be pleased with me"
Antinous smiled to himself. He felt warm and happy as he poured himself another generous goblet of Odysseus's finest Cephallonian Robolla. He grinned with pleasurable anticipation while he watched the old asylum seeker pick up the bow of Odysseus.
By now Athene's magic make up was beginning to wear off, and Odysseus was no longer looking so old. His back was becoming straighter, his muscles began to swell, his chest was expanding, his skin was becoming taut, the hollows in his face were fleshing out, his bleary eyes regained their keenness. Also he was no longer dressed in dirty rags: Penelope had had him scrubbed up, and Eurykleia had found him some good secondhand clothes. So, the mysterious asylum seeker was beginning to cut quite a formidable figure. One or two of the suitors began to suffer a slight twinge of nerves, when they saw those brawny arms and mighty thighs.
Odysseus's muscular hands lovingly closed around his trusty old bow. He held it up to the light, twisting it this way and that to see if it had developed any cracks or wormholes during the years of disuse. But the polished surface looked clean. Penelope had ordered that the wood should be regularly oiled, and Eurykleia had seen to it that her orders were strictly carried out.
Satisfied with the bow's polished surface, Odysseus then carefully tested the wood itself. First he held the wood to his ear, tapping it with his finger nail. The wood sounded out with a clean, clear sound: no hidden crack flawed its tone. Then he hung it loosely between finger and thumb, bouncing it a couple of times on the stone floor. It bounced lightly: the wood was still springy.
Satisfied with the soundness of the wood, Odysseus next carefully examined the bowstring. He held the cord up to the light, a little at a time, to see if there were any cracks or frazzled threads. Satisfied that it was whole, he then carefully tested its strength. He tugged it with his mighty hands. He chewed it lightly with his front teeth like spaghetti, to test if it was still elastic (what the Italians call "al dento"). He rubbed and twisted it between his fingers, to test whether it had gone brittle with age. No! It was a fresh string, in perfect condition.
Eurykleia had made sure that a brand new bowstring lay always ready and waiting for its master. Penelope had ordered strings to be purchased regularly from her husband's old arms supplier, Dan the Archer. Dan Archer knew how to twist the longest, strongest sinews into a thick, tough bowstring that would not snap, even under the supreme tension of the super bow.
Satisfied with bow and bowstring, Odysseus next carefully examined the arrows. They were a complete set of his own arrows, still in their original quiver. Odysseus held one close to his eye and peered along its length to check that it had not warped with age and damp. Satisfied with its straightness, he ran his fingertip along the flights to test if its feathers were still stiff. Satisfied with the feathers, he next touched the bronze tip against his palm, to test if it were sharp.
Satisfied with this one arrow, he carefully tested another forty, counting them out one by one.
The suitors snickered, and shouted out: "Hey! No spares! How many chances do you want?"
"That's right!" snapped Antinous "No spares! You only get one chance".
"But that's not fair" replied Telemachos as MC. "The contestant ought to be allowed a few practice shots for warmup".
"Who said anything about fair?" sniggered Antinous "Fair play makes losers."
The suitors cheered. Their motto was: "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break".
Telemachos began to be really worried. His father hadn't handled that bow for twenty years. Surely he must need a little practice?
But crafty Odysseus had not forgotten his former skill. Like you riding your bicycle, that skill lay sleeping inside him, once learnt, never forgotten - and now it awoke. Instinctively, his mighty muscles snapped into action: one, two, three!
One! Crafty hands notched one end of the bow with a cunning knot. Just as Penelope, weaving her cloth to fool the suitors, had invented a cunning knot that came undone at the slightest pull; just so, Odysseus had invented an opposite sort of cunning knot. The harder you pulled that knot on his bowstring, the tighter it held.
Two! His powerful knee and mighty thighs bent the bow at the middle.
Three! Nimble fingers swiftly notched the other end of the sinewy bowstring with his cunning knot.
One, two, three - and the superbow was strung!
The suitors were aghast: "We thought this fellow was an expendable old beggar - but he's stronger and craftier than any of us!"
Then they reassured themselves: "He may be a strong beggar, but only us upper class men are allowed to study archery. Where could a beggarman learn to do six rings? Also, even if he
is strong and crafty, he's only one man against forty".
They forgot something that Zeus, who sees all, has seen many times: that a king can sometimes become a beggar, and a beggar can sometimes become king. Zeus knows that the strong always become weak, and the weak sometimes become strong.
So those foolish men comforted themselves in their short sighted pride. However, a bolt of fear shot through them, when Odysseus twanged that mighty bow. The taut bowstring sang out loud, its pure, clear tone echoing throughout the great hall, and slowly fading away to a low hum.
At the same time, a grey owl swooped silently through a high window, and perched on a rafter under the dark roof. The bird was Athene - but no longer a swift darting swallow, trilling with joy in the daylight. Now she was Athene Promachia (Athene Ready-for-War). And her bird was the owl that hoots forebodings in the night; the owl of dark secrets; the owl whose relentless talons swoop on their victim in silent flight; the owl of ultimate wisdom - the bird of death!
If the suitors had not been so puffed with pride, if they had thought coolly , they might have realized that they were no longer 40 to 1. At the far end of the hall stood the mysterious asylum seeker, ready to shoot. On his left stood Telemachos, as MC: that made two. On his right stood Rev Eumaeus, as judge: that made three. And at a side table, helping with the accessories, stood Phil: that made four. So, if it came to a battle, they were 40 versus 4: "only" 10 to 1 against Telly's side.
Even worse for them, the arrogant suitors failed to note what was under Phil's table, hidden by a long tablecloth. Under the draped table lay armor for three. There lay the presents from Nausikaa: Telly's steel shield and his seven foot spear. There lay the present from her father: Odysseus's steel sword. Also there was an ordinary shield of bronze and leather for Phil, plus a bronze spear. Phil also carried his Bowie knife in its sheath. And Rev Eumaeus, as always, hefted his long-hafted, double-bladed, two-handed axe. The suitors only remembered that the axe was the Reverend's badge of office. They forgot one thing: Rev Eumaeus was a godly man - but he was also a goddam good fighting man.
To sum up: those foolish suitors were too drunk with pride (and wine) to make 2 and 2 equal 4. They did not suspect that they were now up against four armed fighting men: four tough, loyal men with a plan. On the other side of the hall sat forty unarmed, half drunken, selfish louts, whose only idea of a plan was:
"Grab What You Can, While You Can"
The MC rose and asked officially: "Are the rings set true?"
Phil lifted a long, straight rod from his table of accessories. He poked it through all the rings to show that they were set in a straight line. Antinous put his hand between the rings to make sure Phil hadn't done any monkey business. Then Rev Eumaeus checked that Antinous had not set the rings crooked again. When all three were satisfied, the MC asked officially:
"Is the contestant ready?"
Odysseus picked up his bow, and slung the quiver with its 41 arrows over his shoulder.
He nodded: "Ready!"
The MC announced officially: "You have only one scoring shot - and no practice shot. To score, your arrow must pass cleanly through all six rings. Do you understand?"
Again Odysseus nodded: "I understand and accept".
"In your own time then, Mr Nomanios" said the MC.
There was breathless silence in the hall, and butterflies flittered again in Telemachos's stomach, while Odysseus took aim.
He paused a long while, just concentrating, Zen fashion, with his mind emptied of stress. Then he notched his arrow and drew the bow. Again he stood a while, just concentrating, Zen fashion, emptying every worry from his mind. His feet were planted firmly on the ground. He imagined that all his skill was slowly flowing up from the soles of his feet, then up and out through his arms and into his strong fingers. Then he imagined it flowing through out his fingers, and into the arrow that he aimed at the target. Then he imagined the straight arrow flowing effortlessly through the rings as he let loose the shaft. So he was perfectly relaxed when the arrow thudded into the dead centre of the bull's eye at the other end of the hall, having passed through all six rings in its path.
"Miss! You missed! It's a miss!" yelled Antinous in fury. "Those rings didn't wobble a hair's breadth - that arrow couldn't have gone anywhere near them!"
Judge Eumaeus and MC Telemachos calmly invited Antinous to accompany them and inspect the rings. Silently they pointed to a long black thread that led right through all six rings; the end of the thread was still tied to the arrow that stuck out of the bullseye in the centre of the target at the far end of the hall.
There could be no argument: Odysseus had cleverly threaded all six rings with his single arrow!
Still Antinous would not agree: "It's a trick! The bet's off! It's not fair! You let us think Nomanios was just an old bum - but he's not .... He's really ....."
Antinous never gave voice to the dreadful suspicion that was surging into his fightened mind; because Odysseus had already notched the first of his 40 "spare" arrows. The eager shaft winged straight at Antinous. The point of pitiless bronze pierced his throat, puncturing the carotid artery. His voice became a gurgle as the blood gushed from his neck. His knees buckled under him, his body sank to the ground. Never would that body rise again; but his pale ghost rose into the thin air, squeaking and gibbering to join the empty headed dead.
The suitors thought it was an accident.
"You clumsy ape, you'll pay for this!" The second suitor wanted to say what tortures lay in store for the clumsy ape - but the second spare arrow struck him in the heart. His body writhed on the floor, gushing blood; while his pale ghost slowly rose, squeaking and gibbering, to join the empty headed dead.
Before those befuddled louts realized what he was up to, Odysseus' swift arrows had sent twenty ghosts squeaking and gibbering to join the empty headed dead. By that time the remaining 20 had all ducked for cover behind their tables. Now they were 20 unarmed men against the 4 armed men at the other end of the hall!
This was where Odysseus's plan nearly came unstuck. Odysseus had counted on picking off unarmed men with his 40 arrows - one for each suitor - in his own time. But a disloyal man servant was watching from the high window. This man, whose name was Melanthius, wanted to be Chief of Staff at the palace, so he was jealous of Eurykleia. He expected to be promoted if the rebels won. Melanthius had the key to the secret strong room, and he ran to fetch armour. He dared not try to open the great door because it was guarded by Eurykleia and her loyal girls; instead, he threw armour down to the suitors through the high window. So now it was 20 armed men against 4 armed men: 5 to 1 against Telly's side. The famous four were now outnumbered and outarmed!
Fortunately, these idle suitors had never bothered to learn tactics, because they thought they would always be able to hire poor goons to do their fighting for them. So, having buckled on their armour - what do you think they did? Did they stick together, all 20 of them, to crush the famous four by superior numbers? No - instead of rushing the four, they made a rush for the door! Each suitor thought his armor would protect him long enough to run outside and yell for help. Their fists hammered on the door. Those at the back trampled those in front:
"Let me out!"
"No! Me first!"
"Get out of my way!"
"Every Man For Himself"
The huge door would not budge. Outside were loyal girls, hanging onto the great wooden bar with all their strength. The idle suitors, too lazy to do military training, did not realize that their ancient Greek armour only protected their front - because the ancient Greeks always fought face to face. While the suitors hammered against the closed door, clawing each other out of the way, their backs formed an easy target. Odysseus's swift shafts hissed into eight bare backs, each merciless point piercing clean to the heart. So eight more ghosts rose to join the other twenty, squeaking like bats and gibbering like gerbels.
After that, Odysseus had to change tactics in a hurry, because the last 12 rebels realized they had no chance unless they turned to fight their 4 opponents face to face. This was more like a fair fight: "only" 3 to 1 against!
Odysseus lay aside the bow that kills from far, and took up the sword that kills from near. While the twelve suitors were in a huddle behind the tables, discussing their charge, Odysseus swiftly outlined his new plan. The four men had only two shields to protect them, so this is what they did: formed a diamond shape, like so.
They put Telemachos in front, with his great steel shield and his long spear. Close behind him (and partly protected by that same shield) came: Odysseus covering Telly's left with the steel sword; and Eumaeus covering Telly's right with the battle axe. Phil protected their rear with his shield and spear.
Odysseus guessed that the suitors would charge in a simple line, like so.
The 12 * * * * * * * * * * * *
He guessed right. The 12 lined up at the far end of the hall and started to charge; but the famous four were ready for them. They started their own charge at the same time; so the two sides collided violently in the middle of the hall.
The sharp, compact diamond shape would easily break through the suitors' thin line - by sheer, concentrated force. Phil at the back was pushing Odysseus with his left hand and Eumaeus with his right hand. Odysseus was pushing Telemachos with his right hand while holding his sword in his left; on the other side, Eumaeus was pushing Telly with his left while holding the axe in his right; and all the time Telemachos was pushing his great steel shield and holding his long spear in front of him as the four men charged headlong at the thin line that faced them. Before they collided, the suitors' had thrown some spears, but those bronze tips simply bounced off Telly's steel shield, because steel is much harder than bronze. But the hardened steel tip of Telemachos's long spear pierced one of the suitors, who went down with the blood gushing from his portal vein: that vital vein that carries all the blood from from our liver - who can live without it?
And then the diamond collided with a suitor in the centre of the line; crashed into him like a ton of bricks, with the famous four pushing that great, impenetrable shield. The poor man was simply crushed to death: first the shock of the steel caved in his chest, so that his ribs pierced his lungs; then as he sank to the floor, the four of them trampled over him so that blood and guts squashed out through his mouth. Telemachos killed 2 in that charge.
While they were breaking through the line, Eumaeus crashed his axe through a suitor's helmet, so his skull was split in two. Odysseus' sharp steel sword easily slashed through a suitor's bronzed kilt, slicing the femoral artery in his thigh. The man's lifeblood soon emptied through his cut leg while he lay writhing on the floor, unable to walk. (Odysseus remembered how a wild boar had inflicted a similar gash in his own leg; then he had been saved by his faithful dog Argos. But now this wounded suitor found no friend to rescue him: they were too busy looking after Number One). And last of all, as they crashed through, Phil in the rear, with a backhanded stab of his Bowie knife, despatched yet another suitor.
So a further 5 ghosts flew squeaking and gibbering to join the empty headed dead. That left only 7 against 4 - less than two to one!
What is more, the famous four had managed to get behind the suitors' line - to their unprotected rear! Moving as one, they wheeled smartly around to attack the remnants of that broken line.
Like a man who starts to gamble holding lots of chips but suddenly realizes that he has very few left, and he begins to play wildly: so those seven silly suitors began to run wildly around the room - Every Man For Himself!
Athena saw that their time was up, so she changed back into her goddess shape, preparing to fly to Olympos and report to Zeus - who sees all, but likes to hear her analysis of what he has seen. Athena also wanted to tell her mother, Hera, and two of her sisters, Aphrodite and Hestia, the latest news.
Sometimes, those who are about to die catch a glimpse of the invisible world: the world of the gods, that runs parallel to our visible world. So those last, doomed suitors caught a glimpse of Athene Promachia just as she was changing into goddess shape. They glimpsed an immense, shadowy figure, her head nearly touching the high roof and rising all the time. Everything that had been so solid all their lives - bricks and timber - began to dissolve around them, while that immense form became more solid. They saw her helmet with its fearsome crest, the man-eating Sphinx: a lion as big as a house and a mouth as big as a door, but with a human face that was grinning at them like the cat that has swallowed the canary. They saw her shield, decorated with the snake-haired face of Gorgon, whose writhing hairs made them feel as though all the poisonous creatures in the world were about to strike at them. The awesome vision panicked them even more, and they began to flap around like frightened chickens. In the end, the famous four simply cut them down where they stood shivering and paralyzed with fear.
All except the last suitor - the one righteous man among "that lot". He threw away his armour, and knelt down: "Mercy! I beg for mercy! I am a guest in your hall - please remember the Law of Hospitality!"
"I thought you lot didn't believe in that Law" answered Telemachos.
"But you heard me trying to stop the others!" pleaded the one righteous suitor "I warned that the gods might punish them".
"Yes, I heard you" replied Telemachos "And I saw you afterwards, weeping your crocodile tears into goblets of my best Santa Mavra".
"You ordered me to slaughter most of of my prize steers" accused Phil the cowboy.
"You laughed when I warned you not to make bacon from my sacred swine" said Eumaeus, the prophetic swineherd.
"You did not resist a gang of parasites who were pestering my wife and plotting to kill my son" added grim Odysseus, sacker of cities. "But, because of your good intentions ....."
"You will spare my life?" asked the righteous suitor, his face brightening.
"No, I shall not spare your life" replied grim Odysseus "because your good intentions were not backed up by good deeds. But I shall give you an easy death".
The righteous suitor never knew what hit him. The iron hard edge of Odysseus's right hand karated the back of his neck as he knelt humbly down, clasping Odysseus' knees to invoke the very Law of Hospitality that he and his friends had so arrogantly thrown away when they were strong. He fell at once into the longest, deepest sleep, the sleep from which there is no awakening. So the ghost of the one righteous suitor floated away, squeaking and gibbering, to join the empty headed dead. And his good intentions never had another chance to become good deeds.
Odysseus, covered in blood but unhurt, checked over his companions. They were likewise covered in blood but amazingly unhurt. Phil and Rev Eumaeus had received a couple of minor gashes, but Telemachos had been completely protected by Nausikaa's steely present.
"Are you alright, son?" asked the father.
"I'm OK, Dad" replied the son "But I could sleep for a week".
"Catch some rest, but you'll have to get up early" said Odysseus "We have more work tomorrow - but no more killing". Then he turned to Eumaeus: "Is that gash bad?"
"I've had worse from a boar's tusks" answered the godly swineherd.
"I know!" laughed Odysseus, fingering the old scar on his thigh, the one that Eurykleia had recognized.
Then he made sure about Phil: "Are you hurt bad?"
"I've had worse from a steer's horn" grinned tough Phil through clenched teeth.
"Eurykleia has some herbs that will put you right" said Odysseus, patting his shoulder.
Then Odysseus strode to the door and bellowed: "Nurse, bring Sulfur to purify this hall. It is I, King Odysseus, who command here!"
While he waited for the loyal girls to loosen the great wooden bar and swing open the huge door, he took a last look at the shambles in his hall. Like a place where animals are slaughtered to make meat, the floor was all sticky with blood and slippery with guts. The sickly sweet smell of fresh cut meat filled the air. Forty bloodstained corpses sprawled on the floor, forty ghosts gibbered for revenge. He knew that, once the thirsty earth has drunk blood, the ancient Earth Gods come thirsting for more blood. He had killed all the suitors - now all the suitors' families would want to wipe out his family. How could he break the spiral of violence?
High in her lonely bedroom, Penelope snuggled down and dreamed that her beloved husband had returned, and all their troubles were over. She had heard the bangs and shouts, and thought to herself: "What a wild party! I'm glad Telly asked me to leave early - that noise would really have brought on my migraine!"
So she had pulled the bedclothes over her head to muffle the noise, and drifted back into sweet dreams. Little did she know that she was dreaming the truth!
Downstairs, her bloodstained husband took a last look at the shambles in his silent dining room. He pondered over all the terrible things his mighty hands had done, and murmured to himself: "I'm tired of killing. There has to be a better way!"
The story so far: Odysseus, aided by his son and their two companions, has slain every suitor in the great hall. But will their victory bring peace?
Stage 5 - The Healing
The heavy door of the great hall slowly swung open, and Eurykleia peered in. Her old eyes lit up with fierce joy when she saw the forty corpses sprawled on the floor: "I knew Oddy would soon sort out that lot".
Odysseus repeated his commands:
"Nurse, bring sulfur to purify this hall!
Bring water to wash away this blood!
Prepare baths to cleanse our bloodstained bodies!
Prepare herbs to help our bodies heal!
Remove these mangled corpses, but treat them with respect".
Eurykleia tackled the biggest job first: she called her loyal servant girls to clean the hall. Some girls fainted when they saw the corpses. Some vomited, and their sick added to the mess of blood and guts on the floor. But steadfast Eurykleia would stand no shirking. They all piled in with buckets and mops. Their good training helped: they were amazed to see how quickly the hall was restored to normal.
Soon it was clean, shining and tidy. Each dead man was laid out in the garden and covered with a sheet, waiting for grieving relatives to come and weep over his silent body.
Old Nurse called two of her trained young nurses to dress the wounds of Rev Eumaeus and cowboy Phil. The two young nurses gave them something to ease the pain, disinfected each gash with healing herbs, and dressed the wound with a clean lint bandage. They had those two tough men back on their feet in an hour.
Phil fell for his nurse and dated her on the spot; after that they began to see a lot of each other; eventually they fell in love, got married and lived happily ever after.
But, this night, tough Phil and prophetic Eumaeus had to get back on their feet and finish the plan. Together with some loyal girls, these two loyal men guarded the palace gates - Rev. Eumaeus the front gate and cowboy Phil the rear. The dead suitor's man servants began to return, bearing the presents they had been sent home to fetch.
Rev Eumaeus and Phil told each manservant: "No Entry while staff are cleaning after the party, but tomorrow morning you will see your master. Hand over your master's present to the Queen's loyal servant girls here in the palace, and we shall guard it. Then hasten home with this important message".
So the men servants gave up their presents, and carried back this message to the relatives: "King Odysseus has returned and in command! He desires all loyal subjects to gather at the palace in the morning, to hear an important speech".
The news spread like wildfire through the sleeping town; people knocked on doors to wake up other people. Most persons, as soon as they heard that King Odysseus was back, decided to show their loyalty by assembling in front of the palace that morning.
But meanwhile, back at the palace, it was still night, and Eurykleia was still busy. Once the hall was clean and tidy, she lit two huge candles of yellow sulfur, ordered everybody out, and closed the door on the empty hall. The sulfur burned all night with a blue flame; it gave off a pungent gas, which purified the hall by fumigation.
Eurykleia also despatched some girls to prepare two huge, hot tubs for grim Odysseus and his brave son. As they lay soaking in the hot tub, the dried blood was being washed off their bodies. Odysseus felt that twenty years of grim horror were being washed from his mind. The girls brought large, thirsty towels for the two men to dry themselves. Eurykleia went to a chest and brought Odysseus his favorite old dressing gown.
"Good old Nurse!" smiled Odysseus, and gave the old lady a peck on her withered cheek. "And now, I guess it's time to summon the Queen".
Telemachos dashed off to wake his mother with the happy news. Odysseus, wearing his comfortable old dressing gown, felt warm and cosy while he stood waiting for his wife and son to return. But his crafty mind just could not stop planning.
He knew that some of his subjects had sided with the suitors. Even now, the disloyal girls (the ones who had fallen in love with suitors) were returning to the palace from the fools errand that Eurykleia had sent them on. As each girl returned, Eurykleia made her wash the mangled body of the suitor that she had loved. The poor girl cleaned the corpse of her lost lover; made it look decent; strewed flowers over it; and sat up all night, weeping and waiting for grieving relatives to join her in misery.
These girls were going to be severely punished - but it wasn't all their fault. They had given away their precious loves to worthless men. But you can't Blame Aphrodite really, because Aphrodite never means any harm. Aphrodite's strong magic had also made Penelope fall in love with Odysseus; made Queen Arete fall in love with King Alkinous; made cowboy Phil fall in love with his nurse - and all these were good things.
"No, the trouble with my sister is ..... " softly hooted the grey owl, who was sitting on the branch of a cypress tree in that garden, watching these girls in their grief
".... that she never thinks ahead. Aphrodite just wants everyone to fall in love. Her heart rules her head".
The grey owl's pet human, Odysseus, was also troubled: "Killing was the easy part" he pondered "Healing will be much more difficult. I must act fast -- but not too fast. I must also give people time to forgive and forget".
His troubled thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Penelope, beautiful as the moon in her white silk nightgown. She could hardly believe what Nurse and Telly were telling her: that the suitors were gone, and this strong, smiling, forty five year old man was her husband! She was afraid she might be still dreaming her beautiful dream. But Telly and Nurse and all her girls were so happy and excited - what's more, there wasn't a suitor in sight!
"They won't trouble us any more." said Telly "And now, Mum and Dad, I'll leave you two lovebirds. I'm very sleepy. It's been a long, hard day".
"Get some rest, Son" said Odysseus "but remember, we have more work tomorrow".
At last! With tears of joy and relief, Penelope relaxed her stately body, and nestled against her husband's shoulder as Odyssyeus gently folded her in his arms.
Odysseus had shed tears of joy and sorrow twice since his homecoming: when his faithful old dog Argos had licked his hand; and when a strapping young man had knocked at Rev Eumaeus's door, and he could at last hug his son. But now that he could at last embrace his wife, did Odysseus again shed tears, this third time? No! Odysseus had no time for tears now - not even tears of joy - because he was too busy hugging and kissing Penelope!
Suddenly Penelope's graceful neck stiffened as she raised her noble head. With a worried frown she peered at Odysseus's battle scarred mug, at his balding dome. Anxious thoughts raced round and round the racetrack of her mind: "Who is this middle aged man who is hugging and kissing me so freely? Telemachos calls him Dad. But Telly's just a boy - what does he know? Nurse calls him Oddy. But Nurse is only an old spinster - what does she know? I'm a married woman - how come I didn't recognize my own husband? Of course he's very brave; he rescued us from the suitors; he's obviously a good influence on Telly; and I must admit, it's very nice to be kissed again - but it would be only prudent to give him a test. After all, he might be some Odysseus look-alike who's hoping to cash in on the resemblance."
Prudent Penelope flashed the "stranger" a charming smile, and gracefully extricated herself from his warm embrace. Turning swiftly to her servants, and concealing her suspicion behind a screen of disarming laughter, she called out gaily:
"Oh, happy day! Girls, hurry to make up the bed in the master bedroom! No! On second thoughts, carry that bed up to my high room, where it's cooler!"
And she flashed Odysseus another one of her charming smiles - but she was only smiling at him so that she could observe his face better when she gave her merry orders.
The "stranger" gasped when he heard that casual command to move the bed. He turned red, and sucked in such a deep breath, she thought he was going to explode. Then Odysseus let out his breath with yell of rage that made the girls scurry from the room. Eurykleia closed the door behind her and stood guard, so no one else could hear what Odysseus and Penelope were saying. She knew what was coming - but she didn't want any of the girls to learn Penelope's secret. Eurykleia knew every secret in that house - but they were all safe with her. Wild horses could not have dragged a family secret past Eurykleia's wrinkled lips.
"How could you, Penny! How dare you move our bed!" he bellowed at his wife. For the first time in his life, Odysseus was really angry. Till now he had always prided himself on his ability to keep a cool head through any war or adventure. But now he lost his gentlemanly sang froid:
"I spent ages carving that bed from a solid olive tree, eight feet thick, its ancient trunk still rooted deep in earth. I built our bedroom around it. The only way our bed could have been moved was, if you had asked some carpenter to saw it away from the base of that olive tree. Oh, Penny, how could you have done a thing like that!"
He was almost sobbing with rage and disappointment. Odysseus might have let fly many more a winged and wounding word through the slits of his gritted teeth, had his wife's eyes not lit up with sudden mischief. Pertly Penelope put her face to his, and stoppered his lips with a plump and loving kiss. She whispered as she wound her affectionate arms around his sturdy neck: "Oddy, our marriage bed still stands rooted in the firm earth. You really must be my husband, because no other man on earth knew that secret".
Odysseus was elated by the cunning of his lovely loyal wife. He picked her up light as a feather, and the two laughed together as he carried her to the bedroom. The girls peeked through half-open doors in the long corridor, glad there was no quarrel after all. When the two entered their bedroom, Penelope flashed Odysseus another one of her charming smiles, and said: "Wait a little, I have to get ready". Then she left.
"Don't take long" muttered her husband "It's been a hard day".
As soon as Penelope had left their room, Odysseus couldn't resist the temptation to test whether she had been telling the truth. So he applied his mighty shoulder to the wooden bed, and pushed. And shoved. He dug his toes into the floor and strained his back. But he could not budge that bed - not by one single millimetre - from its firm roots in the deep earth. Satisfied, Odysseus thought he would just rest a little, while waiting for Penelope to get ready. He sat on the bed in his dressing gown - and promptly fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Penelope hurried down to the kitchen with an extra candle in her hand. As you know, she lit a candle religiously, every night, to her favorite goddess: homely Hestia, goddess of the hearth. There stood her first candle, already lit earlier that crowded evening, its tiny flame glowing with a soft light in the dark kitchen. Now she hastened to add an extra one - because she and Odysseus were a couple again!
And as she lit that candle, she said grace: "Thank you, Lady Hestia, for your great gift. You know that I am only a poor weak woman. Forty suitors came to occupy my home - forty men against one woman. They wanted to take me, and take away my child. But I cheated them, Lady Hestia. On my own, I alone - little patient Penelope - kept them feasting and dancing and guessing showing off, one against the other. For ten dark, anxious years, Lady Hestia, your kindly light has guided and comforted me. And now your mighty sister, Athena Promachia, goddess of wisdom and goddess of victory, has brought my husband home. Lady Hestia, Lady Athena, accept the humble thanks of a poor, weak woman".
So now there were two candles shedding their warm glow in the dark kitchen. Penelope gently shut the door behind her. Then she tiptoed quickly and quietly down the long corridor to their bedroom, with a spring in her step and a light in her eye. She smiled when she saw Odysseus asleep on top of the bedcover, still in his dressing gown. She sprang onto the bed, and proceeded to wake him by blowing gently in his ear, and tickling his neck ......
Up in Olympos, Zeus found himself suddenly confronted by four of his women folk: Hera, Hestia, Athena and Aphrodite. It was a deputation: the four lady goddesses had got together to ask the king of the sky a favour.
"Couldn't you make this night a little longer?" pleaded Hera, winding her soft arms around her husband's mighty neck.
"It's been so long since Odysseus had a chance to talk to his wife .... " added Athena.
" .... and Penelope has been faithful to him all the while ...." continued Hestia.
" .... so it's True Love!" Aphrodite concluded the argument. As far as Aphrodite was concerned, anything was worth doing for true love - even the impossible. Her motto was: "Love Will Find a Way".
But Zeus really couldn't do what they asked. As head of the family he was pleased to see them so united - it was a refreshing change from their usual squabbles - but they were asking the impossible.
"I can't make the night last longer - it would upset everything else" replied Zeus, who sees everything. "If I fiddled with time in one place, that would upset all the other places. Children would come to school and find their friends had already gone home! Teachers and parents could never arrange a Teachers/Parents meeting! Sorry, can't be done".
Zeus wasn't just saying "sorry". He really was sorry. He did not like to refuse his family when they came together pleading for the same thing. Seeing the disappointment in their faces, he suggested: "Couldn't you try some of your newfangled psychology stuff? Make Odysseus and Penelope think that the night is longer - even though it really isn't."
The goddesses liked this idea. So the three sisters, Hestia, Athene and Aphrodite, joined hands while Aphrodite did the magic. And we must admit that Aphrodite is truly skilled at psychological magic. With her elder sisters there to keep a sense of proportion, Aphrodite did a very good job: the man and the woman still had only as much real time as there really was - but they felt as if they had all the time in the world.
So those three divine sisters - Love, Wisdom and Domesticity - held hands and watched over that mortal couple, while Penelope and Odysseus talked through their happy night.
What did Odysseus and Penelope talk about? Did they discuss that epic Trojan War, which has filled so many books, been painted in so many pictures, and is still famous to this very day? Did Odysseus tell Penelope about his fabulous battles with giants and monsters?
No. Odysseus and Penelope talked about the things that really mattered: they shared everything that they had been longing to share with each other in those twenty lost years. They talked about baby Telly's first steps; and his first tooth - and they laughed over how surprised Penelope was when that sharp little tooth first bit her nipple. They talked about what age Telly started to walk. And to talk. And all the cute things he said as an infant. And all the scrapes he got into as a boy. And now that he was a young man:
"Who will he marry? He is so shy. We must try to invite some Suitable Girls" said Penelope.
"I met a very jolly girl in Phaecia - Princess Nausikaa. Splendid family".
"Where is Phaecia?"
"I don't exactly know. It didn't seem to be very far from here, sailing time. It's a very honest country, full of good people. But so far I havn't been able to find its exact location on any map."
"Won't that make it rather difficult for us to visit the grandchildren?" asked Penelope "What about Princess Catharine of Cephallonia? That's only a few hours away. We could visit them every week".
"We'll think about it. Plenty of time" replied Odysseus sleepily.
"And another thing" his wife added "Now that you're back, there are such a lot of jobs that need doing around the palace."
"I already have a little job that needs doing first thing this morning" replied Odysseus. And he rolled over, to snatch some sleep before the first light of Dawn drew a rosy fingered end to their super long night.
Penelope snuggled up against his broad back, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep that was more refreshing than her most beautiful dream.
Morning came with an excited crowd that pressed into the piazza in front of the palace gates. When the Royal Family appeared on the balcony - all three together, safe and sound - a cheer went up that just never seemed to cease.
King Odysseus was wearing his glittering sword, the superbow on his shoulder - strung to show that he was the real thing. Beside him stood young Prince Telemachos in shining armour.
But Queen Penelope wore her usual house dress, and had only come up for a moment, because first thing that morning she had been busy in the kitchen, cooking Odysseus his favorite soup: the aroma that he had longed to sniff at the end of all his wars and wanderings; the soup that only Penelope could properly prepare. She wanted to give it all her attention, because today Penelope wanted that soup to come to table at the very peak of its perfection.
Odysseus addressed the crowd with this speech: "My loyal subjects! My family and I are overjoyed to see how many loyal people have come to cheer my safe return. I have good news for everybody. We have all suffered a great deal since the Trojan War. That cruel war reaped its harvest of men but brought no profit. And the suitors who occupied my palace made our country even poorer through their conspicuous consumption. Just look around - our houses are falling apart, our streets need paving, some children don't even have basic food and shelter. But good times are just around the corner. Now that I am back" (cheers!) "just you listen to this good news . Your beloved Queen..." (more cheers) "has conned the suitors out of many valuable gifts..." (even more cheers) "and she is going to give all that money back to the people" (wild cheering) "And I have brought a shipload of treasure back to Ithaca from my voyage. I know that you will use that money to rebuild our beloved country - to make it a beautiful place, full of healthy, happy people. And believe me, there will never be civil strife again. It was the suitors who caused the quarrel, not the people. A house divided cannot stand. Our people will never be divided again. All you loyal people know that the suitors did wrong. Hands up anybody who thinks that the suitors were right".
Nobody raised a hand - not even the parents of the suitors. The parents did not yet know that their sons were dead (because their men servants were not yet allowed inside the palace). But seeing how the crowd around them was one hundred percent loyal, the parents did dare to declare that they thought different. Besides, seeing that Odysseus was alive and strong, they really did begin to believe that their sons action had been ill advised.
"Tom ought not have followed a multitude to do evil".
"Dick got into bad company".
"Harry was misled by Antinous"
So the parents began to repent the folly of their sons. Then Odysseus allowed them to enter the palace garden, one by one, to grieve over the unhappy end of their errant offspring.
"It was all Antinous's fault." they told each other "He tempted them to set camp in the lion's den - and now the lion has returned".
So these grieving relatives claimed their dead sons, and gave each one a decent funeral. At last, those restless ghosts could stop flitting about, squeaking and gibbering in the empty air. At last, those forty shades could all join hands and sink silently into the dark earth.
There they met the special messenger, that Zeus sends to conduct all souls across the three underground rivers of inescapable mortality - each in its sacred color: the river Styx, which is the ice cold white river of death; wide Acheron, which is the muddy red river of transport, where captain Charon plies a ferryboat for his ghostly passengers; and black Lethe, which is the still water of forgetfulness.
Zeus sends one of his own sons to act as messenger and guide for souls in the underworld. It needs a god to do this work because it is so important to conduct each soul to its rightful destination. His son (Athena's youngest brother) is called Mercury the Good Conductor, because he conducts every soul across those three great rivers, which we all must cross one day. And when you come to the last river of all - Lethe, the water of forgetfulness, the Good Conductor will ask: "Tell me, who are you and where do you come from?"
Then you must answer:
"I am the child of Earth and of starry Heaven.
My body is made of earth, and Earth is made of stardust.
My soul is made of good deeds, and Heaven will never forget them".
If you answer true, the Good Conductor will warn you not to drink from the River of Forgetfulness. Athena's brother will conduct your soul to drink wisely and deeply from the crystal clear Pool of Memory. Then he will conduct you down through the fiery radioactive centre of the Earth, and up again to the other side, where a space ship will come down and beam you up to a better world, further than the deepest space: to the invisible world where the immortal gods live, and where you will play forever with all those other souls whose good deeds Heaven has never forgotten.
But the suitors had done no good deeds, so the Good Conductor was not able to conduct them to a better world. Instead, he conducted them all to a sad place called Hades, where they met the ghost of Great King Agamemnon.
"What's this?" asked Agamemnon in amazement "I havn't seen such a big bunch of fresh killed men for years - not since my Crusade against the Axis of Evil. Who are you and where do you come from?"
"We were the noble suitors for Queen Penelope and we come from Ithaka".
"Ah, faithful Penelope! How different from my own woman. Klytemnestra, that treacherous bitch, she killed me!".
"Because you were a bad husband and a worse father" replied the suitors "No wife could have stayed loyal to you. Not even patient Penelope!"
"Well, Penelope didn't think much of you lot" jeered Agamemnon in return "What a bunch of wimps - forty to one in your favor, and you lost!"
That is the way those miserable ghosts carried on in Hades. They were the shades of men who had done no good deeds, so their empty heads could hold no good thoughts. Those lost souls just carried on like that - jeering and blaming - for ever.
Meanwhile, Antinous's father was still alive and still scheming to overthrow Odysseus. Only now, grief etched lines of pain in his face because his darling boy had been the first to fall before Odysseus's bow. So he called his clan together and made a speech: "My friends" he gasped, choking with grief and anger "what an atrocity! What sort of worthless rascal is this Odysseus? He led our soldiers to a profitless war, and now he has returned alone, having lost all his troops on foreign soil! No sooner has this traitor returned, then he commits another atrocity - kills my son, the future leader of our clan! Vengeance, I say! Let's get that cowardly scoundrel before he runs away to Cephallonia! Why, if he escapes our revenge, we shall be disgraced forever! People will laugh as we pass: 'There go the weak clan, too scared to avenge the son that Odysseus slew!' I would rather die than suffer such shame! I say we call up the clan to hunt the rascal down and finish him. While he lives, there can be no peace between our clan and his!"
Odysseus in his palace did not want to worry gentle Penelope. So he waited till they had finished lunch (he really enjoyed that soup!). Then he sat back and sighed with satisfaction: "That was a truly marvellous meal, my dear. You havn't lost your touch. But now I must go and visit my father, to see how the old man is getting on. I'll be back in time for dinner".
"Roast duck a l'orange" said Penelope.
Penelope was pleased. Their first lunch together in twenty years had been a success. But it had been only a plain soup; so (even though plain cooking was the kind that Odysseus liked best - and he said so) Penelope was planning something altogether more ambitious for supper: something that would knock his taste buds for a loop!
"Lovely!" said her hubby and gave her a bye bye peck "You'd better come along too, Telemachos. Grandad will be glad to see us both. Let's show him our fine presents from Phaecia" he added, donning his sword and bow. Telemachos likewise picked up shield and spear. Then the two men strode out of the hall, father and son together - the two generations.
Odysseus's father, old Laertes, was not really all that old (around 67) but he had retired early. Now he lived alone on his little farm, with just an old woman to look after the housekeeping.
Old Laertes's father (Odysseus's grandfather) had been Autolycus, the most celebrated thief in Ithaka. Ordinary thieves burgled houses or picked pockets or mugged old ladies in the street; but Autolycus stole wholesale. He stole businesses and real estate and banks. He had started in a small way as a pirate, but had seen the light after filling his treasure chest with loot, and decided to make his treasure grow through legitimate investment. Ordinary thieves broke the law and were sent to prison; but Autolycus was a good friend to the lawywers and a generous donor to the legislators. He hired the leading legal eagles to keep his thieving strictly legal. His specialties were: savings and loans; leverage buyouts; takeovers and asset stripping. Autolycus was an extremely respectable thief: a prosperous solid citizen, a pillar of society, a big wheel in the political machinery.
So his son, Laertes, inherited an excellent social position, owning much property on the the island and more real estate on the mainland. Laertes was also a very brave young man, very strong and a very cool leader - so the Ithakans made him their first king. But Laertes had no use for money - he gave most of it away to charity!
Fortunate Autolycus did not live to see the reign of his son. It would have broken the old pirate's heart to see most of his hard won loot given back to the suckers.
People used to ask a joke question:
Q: "How do you make a small fortune?"
A: "Leave a large fortune to Laertes".
Likewise Laertes was not interested in power: he much preferred to study Nature. So, as soon as his son, Odysseus, was old enough to be king (21st birthday) Laertes retired to a little farm. There he spent the rest of his days happily digging vegetables (he wasn't interested in flowers) and studying insects - especially ants, but sometimes bees. He fed an old horse called Hobo the Horse, and he fed stray cats (though he could not allow them in the house because of his allergy).
Old Laertes always greeted strangers kindly; his first words were usually: "Hello! It's interesting ....."
So when he saw Odysseus and Telemachos arrive, Laertes - dressed in his oldest clothes as usual - waved to them from where he was examining a beehive: "Hello, young Telly. Hello, Oddy, so you're back. It's interesting, I've found a dead mouse in this beehive, must be a month old - but it hasn't decomposed. I wonder if the bees make something to purify their hives. What do you think?"
"I think we'd better go and find out what Antinous's father is up to" replied Odysseus.
"An ambitious man" said Laertes "Always wanted my job. Can't think why. Wait till I get my spear. I see your sword is silver instead of bronze color. Interesting ....."
So off they went, grandfather, father and son together - the three generations - till they met up with the Antinous clan. Odysseus tried to talk peace: "I'm truly sorry that I led our young men to die in the Great Crusade of the Twin Kings" he said "I argued for a month to prevent it. How I wish that I had fought even harder to resist Great King Agamemnon. But I finally capitulated and collaborated in wasteful war, where bronze blades reap a harvest of scant profit when weighed by Zeus in his Scales of Justice. I have borne the shame of that collaboration for half my life; and I fear it will shame the name and fame of Odysseus for ever. Also, I am truly sorry to have killed your son, Antinous - but you should not have encouraged him to woo my wife while I was away. If you will admit that you were wrong as well as I, then I can assure you that I have returned with a great deal of treasure, which we can share out for the common good. Come, let us join together to make our little country a peaceful, happy, beautiful place - a place where all the clans can live together without fear."
"Never!" replied the ambitious man. "I should have been King instead of you, Laertes. And my son should have been king instead of your son"
"Think it over" said Odysseus "Let us talk again, when your grief for your son has had time to heal".
Odysseus and Telemachos turned to walk back to where old Laertes stood watching. As they turned, black anger filled the father of Antinous. He lifted his spear, and made to stab Odysseus in his unprotected back. But old Laertes had always been quicker on the draw than Antinous's father. Laertes threw a swift flying spear, and struck him dead.
"Ouch!" shouted Laertes, as his sudden spearthrow almost dislocated this old soldier's frozen shoulder.
Mighty Odysseus and stalwart Telemachos turned swift to punish treachery. Panic struck the Antinous clan, and they began to run away - exposing their unprotected rear. Instinctively, Odysseus whipped a pitiless arrow from his quiver, and notched its eager shaft to the superbow.
There would have been yet another slaughter, had Athene not looked up to Olympus and pleaded: "Father Zeus, help me! I can no longer handle these humans on my own".
Zeus threw down a mighty thunderbolt. It exploded like an earthquake, opening a chasm between the two sides.
"Let your pet human see things as we see them, for a moment" said the Skygod King to his daughter "Perhaps he will learn something."
In the flash of divine lightning, Athene illuminated a mental eye inside the mind of crafty Odysseus - that inner eye which we humans call conscience. He ceased his pursuit of the cowardly clan, because in that flash of divine light he had seen the invisible world of the gods. Now Odysseus could see the angry face of Zeus above him, growing ever angrier at the damage which we mischievous human apes are doing to our beautiful blue and white planet. And he saw a long line of sad ghosts rising from that deep chasm which Zeus had opened in the dark earth: old ghosts gibbering, ever thirsting for fresh spilt blood to avenge old spilt blood.
Then he caught a glimpse of the goddess herself - not all of her, but her divind smile that seemed to light up the sun and the blue sky with its white clouds; he heard the lilt of her laughter behind birdsong and wind whisper. He sensed her love of discovery, her joy in finding better ways; and with that flash of inward light came to him the momentary vision of a new and kinder society.
"Enough!" cried Odysseus "Telly, come back! Let them be! Give them time to think it over!"
And there the story ends.
With both Antinous and his father dead, the rest of their clan decided to join in the common wealth. Ithaka became a peaceful place for a hundred years. Odysseus and Penelope enjoyed another forty five years of life together - more than twice as long as their twenty years apart. The longer they lived together, the better they knew one another - and the better they knew each other, the more they loved one another.
But one thing I have not found in any book: did the Odysseus family manage to find Phaecia? And did Telemachos marry Nausikaa? I would dearly like to know. Perhaps some day, I'll find the book in which that story is written.
Perhaps you'll write it yourself; who knows? The world is full of stories, if only you sit down and imagine.
Oh yes - and what about the gods?
Well, after reading the adventures of Odysseus, the Greeks grew especially fond of Athena. They even built her a very special city, called Athens. The Athenians tried to be interested in everything (just like Athene) and to fight bravely against the odds (just like Odysseus). More conservative nations used to say: "The Athenians will always come running to hear anything new".
The Athenians indeed invented many new things - most of which are used to this day. For their new things, they invented new words - most of which are used to this very day.
Although Athene is formidable in war, she is really the Goddess of Wisdom: she knows that we can solve more problems with words than with force. Now the Greek word for our English word "word" is "Logos". So the Athenians went in for a lot of ".....Logy". For instance, they invented Psycho-Logy. And Bio-Logy. And a lot of other Logies - including Logic. All of which you're bound to learn in school, sooner or later. (Incidentally, our English word "school" comes from their word for leisure: so make sure your teachers give you children lots of free time, so that you can think your own long thoughts far from the deadly deadlines of homework).
The Athenians also got tired of ambitious men who kill to be king. So they invented Demo-Krassy, which is government of the people by the people and for the people: no Kings! This infuriated The King! (No, not one of the Twin Kings, but THE KING, period). The King was a king so great that he was no longer "King of Thisland" or "King of Thatland" - he was THE king: the Greatest of the Great Kings. The King assembled his gianormous army to destroy the Athenians and their dangerous new thing, Democracy. Little Athens bravely faced that huge army of The King, just as the famous four had face the forty suitors - and once again Athene Promachia helped her crafty people to win against the odds.
The Athenians saved the world for democracy. It is because of their courage, long ago, that Government of the People, by the People and for the People has not perished from the Earth, to this very day.
The Athenians called themselves: "Land of the Brave; Home of the Free".
They minted coins out of solid silver, stamped with a picture of Athena's owl to show that it was honest money. Other countries had confidence in that solid currency: with owls in your purse, your business would be welcome anywhere in the Med.
With their good business sense and their stable currency and their inventive new products and their Democracy and their courage and their naval craft, the Athenians soon grew rich and powerful. I wish I could say that they lived happily ever after - but success went to their heads, and they began to bully their allies. (Sounds familiar?).
You can read read the story of their pride (and their fall) in a book by Thucydides the Athenian. My story is just a story, but His story is History: no gods, no heroes - just the facts, by a man who liked to check his facts.
Like Euryalus, the Athenians had to learn a bitter wisdom: "When you think you're great, you're finished". This humble wisdom is like the good food that Athene taught her people to extract from the bitter olive.
Today Athens is no longer what it once was - the most important city in the world. But it is still a nice, lively, modest city - and happy to be hosting the Olympic Games, same as their ancestors did nearly 3,000 years ago! The difference is: then it was only the Greeks who had Democracy and the Olympic Games - but now the whole round world is joining in!
As time passed (first a few hundred years passed, and after that a couple of thousand years passed) Zeus gradually got promotion - partly from seniority and partly from ability. Every time he got promotion, he took his clever daughter with him as Special Adviser. The new jobs sometimes meant they had to relocate to new lands, and learn new languages. Sometimes they even had to adopt new names. But with each promotion, Zeus got more responsibility.
After the first thousand years, they moved to Rome. Instead of just ruling the sky over Greece, Zeus had to rule the sky over the whole Mediterranean, plus a lot of dry desert sky in the Middle East, plus the damp grey sky over foggy England. (Trying to rule the British weather convinced Zeus that the universe was even more impossible than he had imagined). Because they were now Romans, they had to adopt Latin names. Zeus change his name to Jupiter, and Athene called herself Minerva - but she was still Goddess of Wisdom.
Another thousand years passed, and Zeus finally made it bigtime - he was promoted Ruler of the Entire Observable Universe. Instead of raising just little storms on earth, he now has fun on a cosmic scale with quasars and pulsars and black holes: "Yippee!"
Zeus has had to change his name once again - to Deus. But Zeus doesn't mind, because Deus is still an old family name (his ancestors were always called Zeus or Deus or Theos or Dios or Diwas or just plain Dis). Athene is now called Hagia Sofia (Holy Wisdom) which tickles her. But she has a very interesting job, designing new things so that the Universe always stays full of surprises. She has built her father a super computer, with a fantastically fast broadband connection to the whole observable universe. Zeus's new computer is so small that it fits into one tiny point of light in the palm of his hand. With a single glance at that point of light, Deus (alias Zeus) can see the entire Universe at the same time - every single atom and quark of it!
The more he sees of the Universe, the more Zeus complains to Hera: "Snakes alive! This Universe is not only more impossible than I had imagined: I'm beginning to fear that it's even more impossible than I can possibly imagine!"
Nowadays, Zeus is far too busy to pay special attention to Little Blue (alias Spaceship Earth). But however far or near she is, Athena smiling goddess of wisdom always keeps a soft spot in her heart for that crafty man from Ithaka.
Praised be Zeus, who set this law in his Sky,
That humankind must learn human kindness from suffering;
Who set us humans here on Earth,
That each may learn to help the other.
(C) NG Maroudas