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ULYSSES RETURNED , A NEW TRAGEDY
PERFORMED AT CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD
IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ACADEMIC COMMUNITY
FEBRUARY 6, 1592
TO THAT MOST ILLUSTRIOUS GENTLEMAN, SIR THOMAS SACKVILLE, BARON OF BUCKHURST, KNIGHT OF THE GARTER, MEMBER OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL, AND CHANCELLLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, BEST AND MOST BELOVED OF MEN, GREETINGS
NDEED, most noble Lord, I should be doing a most inappropriate thing and dressing a dancing stagecharacter in a toga, if I were to request you to assume the patronage of dramatic productions. Rather, I issue no such invitation, most distinguished Sir, nor indeed does this very honorable activity require such an invitation. Let them pursue it who chase after glory, imagining that through their writings they will earn greater favor and importance because they are your petitioners. But I understand that nothing of that kind pertains to me, since I have no desire that my literary work bring me any fame or livelihood. Let it be read or not, let it live or perish, it is all the same to me. I have no hopes or fears regarding such things. For why should I attempt to add pretense and weight to my trifles? Inasmuch as you, most honorable Chancellor, are the man to whom alone ought to pertain the awareness of all our academic affairs, on a daily basis many men earnestly commend to you their translations, their interpretations, their works scribbled by lamplight, their ingenious creations, I (who customarily take no greater pleasure in anything than in doing nothing whatsoever) have taken pains that we too might provide you with a rationale for our shows. If I do not strike your prudence as having wasted my leisure time, I have an abundant supply of arguments. I myself am readily aware that I am unable to excel in this branch of letters, but since tragedy is an excellent thing when it finds a craftsman, it would be disgraceful if out of our diversity of outstanding intellects nobody existed who could supply this and the entire spectrum of belles lettres. By my slowness I desired to provoke our gentleman, who do not exactly shrink from such endeavors but who are hardly addicted to them, and “I performed the office of a whetstone, able to sharpen steel, but unable to do any cutting.” Furthermore, I had greater hopes that this work of mine, however it turned out, would not be displeasing to you, inasmuch as in your youth you not only took pleasure in exercising this same talent, but even distinguished yourself. What should I say about Thomas Sackville’s most weighty introduction of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, into a tragedy, and about the tragedy itself? This indeed I shall say, that I have never read anything written in our language more magnificent and heroic, nothing more suitable for the tragic buskin and for eternity itself. What kind of decorum should I be preserving if I dedicated Ulysses to Ulysses? For in the dramatizing of his return, Ulysses is thus indebted to you, since he could never have returned to his homeland without your gracious help in outfitting our theater this year, any more than without Alcinous’ kindness. Sufficiently so that he would be a downright ingrate if he did not thank you, if not for his arrival at Ithaca, certainly for his advent on the stage. Just as certain paintings fail to give delight unless seen from a distance by candlelight, or as plays themselves are illuminated by candles rather than sunlight, just so I have fears lest my Ulysses, bereft of costume, voice, gesture, and the golden glow of torchlight, and propelled into the noonday glare of true criticism and the keen daylight of the reader’s eyes, might lose all his grace. And so I have taken special care lest he appear in the public light, and that he reveal himself privately to your honor and the sight of a few others in his own dim illumination, so that he might not stay more disguised on the stage itself than in the light. Let many other men enjoy more frequent opportunities of writing to you. I am only able to grasp this one occasion on which people may see my devotion to you, and so I shall make testimony of it. In my opinion, I and all of us academics should make it a matter of conscience that we each treat with honor, duty, love, and piety a man whom we acknowledge as our Maecenas and Chancellor. To the extent that we might distinguish ourselves in letters, we must render you illustrious to posterity, and we certainly should endeavor so to render you. Let the great and good God maintain and protect your eminence. Farewell. Written at Christ Church, Oxford, May 10, 1592.
Most devoted to your honor,
TO THAT MOST NOBLE AND LEARNED NOBLEWOMAN, THE LADY MARY, COUNTESS OF PEMBROKE, GREETINGS
am acting extremely shamelessly, illustrious Lady, who am not known to you by sight and by scarcely by name, but am nevertheless thrusting myself on your Highness with my writings. But my sense of shame is alleviated, in the first place, by your kindness, which is so celebrated by all lovers of the Muses that it, or your very reputation, has impelled me to this audacity. Then too, there is my affection, out of which I have not only been devoted to your highly praised (although never adequately praised) brother, Philip Sidney, both in life and in death, but have also always cultivated the entire Sidney family, always deeming it worthy of all honor. Finally, your most learned Casey will excuse my action, in part by recently relating mention of me in your conversation, in part because by asserting your singular warmth towards all men he finally seduced me into drawing myself to your attention by some honorable means. And no way struck me as more honorable than that of literature, particularly of poetry. Not that I would be a poet or be considered one (who am I to dare hope this?), but because I appreciated that by no other activity could I ever approach you more well recommended and welcome. Because of this title of patroness of the arts,our poets are much indebted to your Serenity, because you so generously foster their talent and ability, and you win for yourself by far the most desirable reward, to wit, glory, in the absence of which what can strike you as worth seeking in this life? For a fund of all other things is yours in abundance. But there has never been sufficient glory either for you or for anyone else. And the fact that this desire is not inbred in any but the greatest souls and noblest natures is declared by no greater evidence than that love for those men by whose songs they imagine they can gain an immortal name. Therefore under whose protection can this my Ulysses (and no man has ever been more indebted to poets than he) better place himself, after he has left illustrious Buckhurst, our Ulysses and Chancellor, than yours? But just as certain paintings are not approved unless viewed in dim light, or as stage costumes are more pleasing by nocturnal torchlight than in the day, so I fear lest my Ulysses, stripped of gesture, voice, all the machinery of tragedy, and, as it were, the extra allure of lamplight, will not suffice to withstand not only the superior light of your intellect and judgement, but also the surpassing dazzle of your eyes and great beauty. Wherefore I ask of you, most noble Countess, that, like another Penelope, you extend your hand to be kissed by this Ulysses arriving, not at Ithaca, but now for the first time onto the stage. And I fully trust that you will grant this. In exchange for your great humanity, what more can I hope for you than that some Homer might arise by whose very fine poem you can be commended to eternity equally with Penelope? I can hope for a smoother fortune for you, but surely not for a more illustrious reputation. Farewell, Written at Christ Church, Oxford, May 10, 1592.
Most devoted to your highness,
Troy has witnessed that man of many devices returned safe; son, wife, and old woman have recognized him. The band of luxury-lovers has fallen, transfixed by arrows, he has subdued the maids with the noose and you, Irus, with his fist. Now that your Muse has sung this wearing the tragic buskin, give your applause. Our theaters have thrice applauded this poet.
An earnest writer’s pen has embraced in narrow compass the great adventures and lofty woes of Troy. You, distinguished and melodious artist, have brought together in a little scene the long afflictions of the wise and great Ulysses. Let him give place to you inasmuch as physical prowess gives a place to sweet singing.
Thus Pallas offered herself as a companion to wandering Ulysses and as a guide as he returned to his country, having suffered many ills. Let the Muse enter into the man who has chosen Ulysses as a literary subject, Pallas consenting. To be sure, the mind of blind Homer has narrated this, because Pallas herself bore her living torch. But she did not pour herself into great Homer to the extent that she is unwilling to enter into the tragic vein. See how Pallas always accompanies her Ulysses until he achieves his return, either on the one foot or on the other.
DOMINUS HENRY BUST, PHYSICIAN
Leave off, Penelope. Now you may abandon your funeral-weaving and abstain from invented delays. Lo, your husband comes back, we ourselves have seen him returned, at great length he is here. Lest he have to write home, he is here in person. I am not able to write how welcome he will be to you, but this I can set truly, that he was pleasing to us.
MATTHEW GWINNE OF ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE
Homer was the best fugleman for wise Odysseus, and Ulysses the fodder for tuneful Homer. Penelope gave shape to Homer’s verses, by his verses Homer bestowed fame on Penelope. Penelope and Ulysses, Homer sings your praises. For their benefit, Gager, you go over the same ground as Homer. Hasten, Homer, with gladsome step.
RICHARD LATEWAR OF ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE
Greek Homer was blind, but now has eyes, to whom the Latins have lately given keen eyesight.
FRANCIS SIDNEY OF CHRIST CHURCH
I am the actor who played Ulysses, you the author of Ulysses Redux. Oh, if I could bear off the second palm after yours! He indeed came home, so welcome that it would be difficult to say whether he arrived more welcome to the stage or to his nation.
Go outside, Homer, if you arrive naked. The proud stage spurns an unadorned old man. Gager, the Muse fashioned you a golden buskin. And now, Homer, I do not think you will go out.
When Socrates was about to take his last gulp of hemlock, he bore his death more cheerfully because he was soon going to see the lord of Ithaca in the Elysian Fields. But if Socrates were alive today, I think he would want to return from the Elysian Fields to see the lord of Ithaca on the stage.
WILLIAM BALLOWE OF CHRIST CHURCH
Let Ulysses mount the stage, or return to his nation. Both the nation and the play are pleasing to Penelope.
JAMES WESTON OF CHRIST CHURCH
Ulysses, you have arrived, welcome to two Telemachuses, to the real one and to me, a Telemachus. Penelope bore him to you, the stage bore me; he is your son by nature, I by art, but thus that it is debatable whether nature has surpassed art, or whether your Telemachus yields to me in affection.
THE AUTHOR’S POEM TO ZOILUS
Zoilus, I beg you forgive me. This is not Grecian Homer, not complete nor even by half. This is only a part, badly shod in a Latin buskin. Could you recognize such a Homer? Indeed, let my Penelope and Ulysses be forgiven, whose reputation a Latin play now fosters. Are you making ready to savage such a man? Come, Zoilus, I cease to beg you. Possibly you should make such a one well known.
TO A CRITIC
HY an epistle,” you ask? “Are you going to kill us with a harangue? Isn’t it enough if your verses are read? Who is so patient as also to put up with a preface? Can’t we get on to the poetry itself? What else will you say here, that you couldn’t have said in a prologue, or at least in an epilogue?” You would be right, critic, if I were writing epigrams. For in epigrams there is no need for letters, as it can be seen on every page that epigrammaticists regularly indulge in letter-writing. But it is always permissible for tragic poets, who cannot speak for themselves, to add prefaces, and I am a tragic poet. “But,” you say, “this is certainly no tragedy.” Why not, critic? “Because,” you say, “it offends in a certain poverty. It is for the most part comic in diction, and it raises laughs in the bit about Iris, which is improper in a tragedy, and therefore an offence. It lacks tragic pathos: who is going to weep at the death of the Suitors, who are rascals, or at the hanging of the little sluts? Finally, it has a happy ending.” Indeed you ought to be a critic, you rail so cleverly, and for my part I do not know if these things are true. Possibly they’re not far from the truth. But still, I’d like to answer. First, I shall respond with the words of Horace. “And often the tragic character laments in everyday language, when Telephus and Peleus, both poverty-stricken exiles, abandon bombast and huge long words.”
My fixed plan was to follow, insofar as I could, in Homer’s footsteps and, so to speak, never to depart from the good master’s side. For who would willingly deviate from such a bard by the width of a fingernail? Or who would trust himself to produce something better and grander? The result is that the man who carps at the lowliness of my plot and diction is not criticizing me but Homer himself, the very prince, pattern, and divinity among poets. And truly, whoever berates him must be a Zoilus. Furthermore, in the Cyclops Euripides brings on Silenus, the satyrs, and Polyphemus himself chattering ridiculously, and Seneca introduces a Thyestes who is not excessively sober. And what in deed about Sophocles’ swan song, Oedipus at Colonus, which he wrote when nearly a hundred years old, so admired in antiquity? What, I ask, does it contain of a particularly grievous nature, besides the peaceful death of Oedipus at an advanced time of life, when he was consumed by old age? What is the plot of the Electra other than the highly justified killing of Clytemnestra, that worst of women, and of adulterous Aegisthus? Finally, what other endings do Philoctetes and Seneca’s Hercules Oetaeus have than happy ones? Why mention all of Euripides’ plays here? There is scarcely a one that is not liable to all this criticism. I could defend myself with weighty authorities and proofs, but I’m hanged if I am fond of squabbles, especially ones that have to do with criticism, which is to say futile ones, which, critic, is to say yours. For, just as in living, so in writing my method is somewhat free and relaxed, of a sort which pleases the learned less than the unskilled. What more rotten than what you are wont to do, to accuse usof erring in a matter in which we are not troubled if we should err? For my part, I have produced this tragedy, or play, or historical narrative, or whatever it is right and proper to call it, not according to the exacting standards of the Art of Poetry employed as some sort of goldsmith’s balance, but rather measured according to the exacting standards of popular taste, and I have poured it forth rather than composed it. In this effort my ingenuity was less taxed because virtually half of the Odyssey’s plot substituted for my own invention. And in arranging this material I had less need of cleverness than of an ability to pick and choose, I did not have to worry about finding a supply of ideas but about the method. And just as I should be the most arrogant of mortals if this play were to be more displeasing to anyone else in the world than to myself, so you are acting improperly in deploying your cleverness against another man’s work. “But,” you ask, “what business do you have with tragedy? What’s your business with Homer, rather than with Bartolo?” Who profits, if in your presence Ulysses is made to speak cleverly, or Penelope chastely? Now forgive me, I pray. Now, by Hercules, I think you are speaking the truth, critic. Hang me if I dare answer further, and so the reader is in your debt, which is to say he is indebted to your evil tongue, because, although I had planned on a lengthy rebuttal, I shall not bore the reader with a more wordy epistle. Farewell.
PHEMIUS THE BARD
IRUS THE BEGGAR
Homer, divine bard, first wonder of Greece, the unparalleled light of your genius shines on the world, having illuminated both men and gods. You, out of all the bards that were, are, or ever will be, justly bear off the laurel by the splendor of your songs. Inventor and perfector of your art, imitating none and yourself inimitable, he who thinks you to have been blind from your mother’s breast is instead deprived of the sight of his own reason. Let eternal glory remain for you on earth, and may deep peace always lie on your bones, wherever they may repose. You strip mortals of their mortality and, evoking them long after they have been interred in the tomb, make the dead to live. Let me sip a measure from your generous fountain, let me take a tiny grain from your full storehouse. I pray that your great majesty deigns allow me to don the actor’s slipper; let me summarize you and your verses in a nutshell.
Thus far my piety to the greatest of men has indulged itself. Our chorus has asked me to convey to you this next wish and humble request, that you condescend to give a friendly ear and your attention to our new play. You will hear nothing grand, written in the style of Sophocles or Seneca. Now indeed Ulysses, shattered by land and sea, will discard his bombast, nor will he stride about in tragic buskins, as he has been made a humble beggar and an old man. Rather, bewailing his fate in almost everyday language and a pauper, he walks about in comic slippers. This entire affair requires your sharp attention, as it wholly depends on the thread of its plot and action, rather than on grossly exaggerated emotions. It is not necessary to outline the story. Which of you is ignorant of the tale of Ulysses’ return? After the passage of twenty years and Troy’s burning, after so many long sea-wanderings, Ulysses has lately been taken from the court of his host Alcinous. Surviving his shipmates and ignorant of his fatherland, buried in slumber on a single Phaeacian ship, he puts in silently to the port of Phorcys, avoiding the ruler of the sea, far from the crowd. Lo, the gang of sailors have put him off the ship while sleeping. I ask you to accept that he is returned, as is reasonable. But now keep still, until the Suitors have been killed and he gets back his chaste wife, the glory of his realm. Our author, who places your entertainment ahead of his convenience, asks all of you to maintain your silence as the sole payment for his effort.
King Alcinous of the Phaeacians kindly sends away shipwrecked Ulysses, whom he had received hospitably and who desires to return to Ithaca, supplying him with a ship and crew. So when the Phaeacian ship has quietly put into the Ithacan harbor of divine Phorcys, the sailors carry Ulysses ashore while still asleep and place him on the shore, a blanket and pillow beneath him and a cloak thrown over him. When the prologue is finished, he begins, as if having awakened.
Am I alone? Where’s the crew of sailors? Come here, friends! Will nobody answer? What’s this? Hey, does anyone hear me? What mischief should I think this to be? I have no idea what this is, and I’m terrified of everything. Where in the world is this place? What region? Alas poor me, misfortune always oppresses me, whom earth, land, and losing my way have condemned to wandering. But what about it? Didn’t Alcinous just now cheerfully send me away from his court? Didn’t he give me a ship and crew? Have I not sailed? Am I not awake? Am I not speaking? Now look here, if you are that son of Laertes and lord of Ithaca, summon your old cunning, the whole Ulysses. You who cleverly devised so many schemes, untie the knot of this deception. Well then, who deposited me on this shore? Sailors, surely. How? Possibly when sleep overcame my limbs. But what kind of deep sleep so relaxed my faculties that I was aware of nothing in the meantime? But why have I been left here, alone and buried in slumber? As a joke? That’s it. Why didn’t they toss me into some deep ocean? I am lost, cheated by some knavish Phaeacian trick. Alcinous promised me my Ithaca, but the treacherous sailors put in here. What ground am I treading? What nation is this? What race dwells here? Savage or hospitable? Barbaric or god-worshipping? Now where should I direct my hesitant steps? But I think I’ve spotted a nymph. I’ll talk to her. [Enter Minerva.]
UL. Whether you are a nymph or a divinity, greetings, goddess. I beg you, think no ill of me. Since I have chanced upon you first, tell me what land this is, what inhabitants dwell in it, and whether it is the mainland or an island.
MIN. Stranger, surely you must have come here from abroad, since this island is unfamiliar, though it is known from the rising to the setting of the sun. Although it hangs affixed to craggy rocks, like a nest, and though the land is unsuited for horse-rearing, it is useful for crops and vines. Here there are always rains and fresh dew, and famous pastures for cattle and goats. There’s every kind of timber, and always water for irrigating the fields. This island’s reputation, the celebrated name of Ithaca, has spread as far as Troy, which they say is located far from here.
UL. So this land is Ithaca? I recall that I heard many good things about this famous island in Crete. And I myself bore much in the war at Troy. But Crete is my homeland, where recently (now I can admit it safely) I killed a nobleman because he unjustly tried to snatch my booty. And then, procuring a Phoenician ship for my fearful escape, I asked them to take me to Pylus or Elis. But a great storm arose and we were forced to put in to this coast. And while deep sleep held me as I lay on the shore in the dead of night, they spread their sails to the North wind. Hence I have been wandering on this shore, marooned and miserable.
MIN. Certainly Crete can be your homeland, since you show yourself to be a Cretan in coining lies, you who are always a clever manufacturer of stratagems. Oh, you subtle rogue! Oh, you artist at trickery and fraud! He must be exceedingly wily, who outdoes you at those skills, even if he is a god. Clever Ulysses, have I, Minerva, completely slipped your mind, I who have always been your protectress on your travels by land and sea, and the guardian of your reputation?
UL. Forgive me, wise goddess, powerful at arms, since your great majesty escaped my sight. Nor have I been permitted to look on you since the day we sacked high Pergamum. You goddesses can dim mortal eyesight when you wish, and then when you want you can make it keen again, and you can quickly change yourself into all manner of shapes. Divine one, I confess I am entirely in your debt. No day will ever show me forgetful of you, or ungrateful. But I ask you by your godhead and by all the gods, is this is the island of Ithaca? I am rather afraid that this is said in jest, so that you might trick me and take pleasure in the deceit.
MIN. How a clever mind always fears being deceived! Be confident, Ulysses. For I swear by Jupiter and the Styx, never to be safely foresworn, with your feet you are standing on the soil of Ithaca.
UL. Hail, beloved land! Nor can I contain myself lest I kiss your bosom. Oh, dear land! Often I prayed the gods for your sight, I longed for your smoke more than for immortality. What more welcome sight could greet my eyes? In my misery I had no hope of seeing you, but see, I am looking at you. What could be sweeter for a man than to touch his native soil, his paternal gods, his familiar sky, when he has lacked these for a long time? Greetings, Naiad nymphs, I pray you desire my homecoming to be a happy one. Soon I shall give you your customary offerings, and for now rejoice in my good wishes and prayers. But tell me, goddess, what band of sailors set me here unconscious, and why did they leave me lying on this expanse of beach, their ship quickly departing?
MIN. While you had left King Alcinous’ home and were sailing, cleaving the sea, I cast deep sleep on you and your senses, dimmed your heavy eyes with slumber, and I persuaded the sailors to do that which you say. I commanded them to desert you, for it was destined that your return home be secret. This is the harbor of Phorcys, the Old Man of the Sea, and I arranged that I be the first to met you, lest perchance someone come across you and your life be endangered. For as many young noblemen as Zacinthus, Dulichium, Samos and Ithaca produce, all of these have set their sights on your wife’s bedchamber for the last three years. She has cheated the Suitors with one hope, and unhappily awaits the sight of your heart. And I warn you, come home disguised in the clothes of a beggar. And see, here is the costume, prepared by my industry. [She produces the costume, but at first Ulysses is reluctant to wear it.] Why be ashamed? Put it on, poor man. Don’t think it base, since the extremity of fate commands. It is proper to save your neck by any means at all.
UL. Oh unhappy fate, my cruel lot! Alas, at home the fate of Atreus’ son awaits me, goddess, unless you prevent it. Aid me, breathe your usual strength into my heart, give me back my courage, as it was in the sack of Troy. With you assisting, Minerva, I shall scarcely fear to approach three hundred Suitors.
MIN. I shall always be present. For I pity you, having suffered so much, such a prudent man. Win by forbearance. Be patient, and you have conquered the Suitors.
UL. Patience is a miserable thing for one’s good reputation, a pitiful virtue. Nobody whom everybody heaps with praise willingly exercises it.
MIN. Pitiful though it may be, it is still a virtue, and accomplishes much that the sword cannot. It is a wonderful thing to destroy an enemy by deceit.
UL. But I am afraid that I cannot hide safely with this costume. I shall be betrayed by my face.
MIN. Have no fear, for I shall make your body and face appear ancient to everyone. Be confident, for the Suitors will soon pay the penalty to you, they will stain your table with their brains and blood. You must see and bear much at home that you will not like. But endure and hold out, summon Ulysses’ courage. In your house you can better wander about unrecognized. You can examine how faithful your family is, what has been done, who awaits your return and who curses you. Banish sad concern for the future from your heart. The Fates will provide you with a way. Leave the rest to the gods. Eumaeus will soon be with you, Telemachus himself soon speedily join you. This business is my concern. I shall never abandon you. I shall always plant in your mind suggestions about what to do. And now the swineherd will receive you. See, he is coming outdoors. (She disappears. [Enter Eumaeus.])
UL. May the gods always be kindly to your family, yourself, your wife and excellent children. May you always dwell peacefully in your native land. But have pity on me, who have wretchedly gone without the good things of life for many years.
EUM. Whoever you are, you ought to be miserable, wandering far from your ancestral hearth, unwillingly missing your homeland. Now see, a wound is reopened by the sound of your voice and begins to bleed afresh, a wound no hand can heal into scarring. I myself have a master. Poor me, I said that I have! Ah, I fear I had one, but I don’t know whether I have one. He was made a comrade of the Atreid kings and did many brave deeds in the Trojan War, from which he will return; or else he is dead upon the sea or wandering through foreign cities, the poor man. May the god destroy Helen and her entire family for inflicting great butchery on so many men! And the horrible woman took away my kindly master. But now I shall take you to my house to ward off evildoing, lest you be brought to a far worse condition. For paupers and strangers are sent by Jupiter. My estate is is humble, but you’re welcome to it. Young lord, a servant must always be frugal.
UL. May the gods repay you with equal favor. But tell me, friend, who was this lord of yours, in case I have perhaps seen or heard of him. For I have seen much, passed through many lands.
EUM. Alas, nobody has ever come from some distant foreign nation truly reporting that he has seen my master. But many, compelled by hunger or an empty belly to acquire food, have invented some fiction to please us. And mistress Penelope happily supports these types, avidly asking for evidence and, as if distraught by such varying reports, weeps for her husband, and bestows a cloak or tunic on the liars. Meanwhile I am afraid that he is dying, unlamented and unburied. Perhaps you are bringing us another false report, so that you can win a similar reward for your needy self. Meanwhile Ulysses is dead. Either he is feeding the dogs and birds, or the fishes of the vasty deep, or perhaps his bleached bones are lying far from here, miserably unburied. But even if he is dead I speak his name with awe, as if he were a god whose name I do and always shall revere on this earth. He gave me a wife, home and fields, putting me in charge of his sty and his herd of pigs, whom the evil Suitors are ravaging as they besiege Mistress. But in dying Ulysses has taken away from me all that he gave in his happy life.
UL. Friend, since you deny that Ulysses will ever come, and since all hope for his return, hear what I myself say to you, and not in jest but establishing my trustworthiness by oath. I hate the gates of Hell no more than a pauper of sneaky mind and rascally tongue, nor do I ask for any reward for my happy news before the true facts agree with my words. And so I ask that Jupiter, father of gods and men, and your hospitable right hand which I am clasping, and the house of Ulysses itself which I seek, all bear witness that I am speaking no falsehood. I myself have seen Ulysses, soon to return in his ship. Ulysses will return this year, I tell you he will be here at the end of the month. He will regain his home, and he is seeking the deserved destruction of the wicked Suitors.
EUM. Ah, guest, cease trying to win my favor by lying. Nobody would be more welcome to me. But it behooves a wretched man such as you to have more reverence for the gods. After such a long passage of time, after so many vain prayers, nobody will persuade me that Ulysses is returning. At hearing his sacred name I cannot restrain my tears, both for the sake of the man and also because of his young son, who has shot up and continues to grow like a flourishing sapling, exceeding my hopes. Now he does not yield to his father in his lofty nature, or in handsomeness and strength, but I pray that he surpass his father by having a better destiny. But see, Telemachus is approaching us. [Enter Telemachus.]
TEL. Greetings, Eumaeus.
EUM. Greetings, my sweet star. What reason has brought you to our countryside?
TEL. Nothing other than the usual, Eumaeus. You know how disdain for those impudent fellows puts me in a high stomach, their insolent madness which is destroying our palace like a plague by rioting, dancing, crime, and impious feasting. And so I came here, since I can scarcely be present there without drawing deep sighs, and I can at least rest my eyes from looking at those I have left behind me, living according their habit, roistering and capering in our house.
UL. Noble boy, I ask you too to condescend to accept my greetings, if perhaps I can give to another what I lack myself.
TEL. Whoever you are, this salutation of yours is welcome to me. May the gods give you what you are lacking. Eumaeus, who is this very wretched man?
EUM. He claims he has visited many places as a wanderer, that he knows Ulysses, whom he swears will be here soon, if he can be believed. Telemachus, if only to satisfy your curiosity I want you to question him too, while I make everything ready at home. (Exit.)
TEL. To me everyone is suspect to me, and every news-bringer has always rung hollow, since some Aetolian fellow, playing on my vain trust, reported that he had seen Ulysses repairing his boat on distant Crete, and that he would be home that very summer, or at very least by year’s end. Now the third year has past, and the poor man had not come back, nor does any hope of his return remain for us.
UL. So it will be difficult to make you believe in his return. But see here, since you think me worthy of your conversation, I shall dare ask you, who was your father?
TEL. It certainly is a wise son who knows his own father, but my poor mother Penelope says I’m the son of Ulysses. But I don’t know this for a fact. Would that I could be the son of some happy man who could grow old at his own hearth, with his only-begotten son and dear wife. As things are, they say I am the son of a father who is the unhappiest man alive.
UL. Whoever your father was, you scarcely seem to be of ignoble blood, born of your mother Penelope. But see here, what if I swore that your father Ulysses will return this year?
TEL. I wouldn’t believe what you say.
UL. What if I said this month?
TEL. Even less.
UL. And if I said he’s in Ithaca?
TEL. I would think you’re lying.
UL. What if I said he was right here?
TEL. I’d say you were joking.
UL. And if I said you are looking at him?
TEL. I’d think you crazy.
UL. Nonetheless I do swear to you, Telemachus, and call Jupiter to witness, that except for me you will have no father.
TEL. I agree. For my father will never return to me.
UL. But, Telemachus, he has returned to you, he is speaking to you, and seeking your embrace.
TEL. Stop it. You’re certainly not my father. Surely you are newly rescued from a great peril and have taken leave of your senses.
UL. Poor me, where shall I turn me? Minerva, I beg you to be present and untie this knot. [She reveals herself.]
MIN. Lo, Ulysses, I am here. And you, Telemachus, must acknowledge your distinguished father, and abandon this hesitant delay. I am that Minerva who was your companion and guide when you sailed to Elis and Pylus, and also when you returned, in the guise of Mentor. I am here, the champion and patron of your father. Let not his torn rags offend you. He put on this costume lest possibly he be recognized and come home as a victim to be butchered by the horrible Suitors.
TEL. Dear father, have you come back to us? Are you that Ulysses who achieved so many feats of arms at Troy, and gave so much counsel?
UL. Sweetest boy, are you my Telemachus, Ithaca-born, who I left behind in my home already babbling? Are you the babe Palamedes wanted to cast before my plow? I acknowledge that your nature is worthy of your father, and I greatly congratulate myself for having begotten such a son. Do I now see you a man, Telemachus? Am I now looking at a man? Ah, I am ashamed. I, Ulysses, cannot now talk, for my tears deprive me of the power of speech. Nature, how powerful your dominion over us is! But, Telemachus, let there be a limit to our weeping. More serious work awaits us, a greater concern. Don’t ask me about my tribulations now, or tell me yours. The more appropriate place for story-telling is within the house. Let Eumaeus entertain you for three days. Afterwards you will provide the hospitality. Bid Eumaeus conduct me to your home. But if you are my true son, take care lest you tell either Eumaeus or your mother that Ulysses has returned. I am quite familiar with the nature of women, I know the quality of servants’ loyalties.
TEL. My famous parent, such loyalty and also fear are in my heart, but my loyalty will do the concealing. [Exeunt.]
Oh great glory of Ithaca, but also its sorrow, what strait, what land restrains you? Will some god bring you here in safety? What end will there be to our longing for our dear master? As a mother longing for her son, or a wife for her husband, whom the sea has kept away from his sweet home for more than a year, offers up her prayers, always standing on the shore with fixed eyes, thus Ithaca, wounded by her perpetual grief, seeks her wandering Ulysses, seeking her son, her bridegroom. Lord of Ithaca, restore the light to your nation. When your face appears for us, like the springtime, then the year will be much more welcome, the sun will shine all the brighter. May the pillar of his kingdom and ruined home, which the Suitors wickedly plunder and pillage, light of Ithaca, father of his country, finally return, our Ulysses.