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PENELOPE, EURYCLEA, AUTONOE, EURYNOME, HIPPODAMIA
PEN. Euryclea, I am surprised that just now my son allowed a man of his age, and a guest in his own house, nevertheless to take a beating. Would, Phoebus, that the man who struck him would be stricken by your bow from one side clear to the other and die!
EURY. If we had our way, mistress, none of the Suitors would live to see tomorrow.
AUT. Queen, I think we have never suffered worse in this occupied house. These youths are playing the part of enemies, not suitors.
PEN. Autonoe, my mind is hostile to all of them, I know. But out of all of them, Antinous strikes me as most like a plague, or rather like death. When the others kindly gave a groat, he alone struck the poor man with a stool.
EURY. Would that the whole gang of Suitors would thus go away, as the guest drove Irus from the hall with blows.
PEN. A worse end awaits them, Euryclea, if my seer Theoclymenus prophecies the truth. Today Telemachus sneezed plentifully in my presence, and my mind expects some unknown good. Soon the stranger will be here whom Eumaeus told me has the frequent habit of speaking about my husband. But come now, while our hands are occupied in work let a sweet song lighten our spirits and help us pass the time. Sing the song of Phemius the bard, which he recently composed in honor of chastity.
Neither a purple-dyed robe, nor flaxen tresses, nor gold, nor a gem from India, nor any other ornament so adorns a woman as fair chastity in a fair heart. Cupid vainly attacks the home protected by such a good guardian.
Oh chastity, source and measure of bountiful child-rearing, oh sacred rule of the marriage bed! You alone separate us from the beasts, servant and friend of our beauty. It is your doing that a man sees his offspring are legitimate and his bloodline secure.
You alone endure as woman’s glory. Surpassing heaven, you lift up to the goddesses women who are more suited by a chaste homeliness than beauty marred by base crime. As a gem befits a fair ring, so a pure mind shines on a woman’s snow white countenance. [Ulysses stands at the door.]
UL.[To himself.] How singing always pleases my hearing, when a sweet song is joined with musical accompaniment! You may know that this pleasant song is by Phemius the bard. But see, the stranger enters the chamber. [He does so.]
PEN. Will someone bring a chair and cushion for our guest? Please take your place for a while and tells us your name, those of your family and city, and to what father you were born.
UL. Penelope, shining star of your race, whose glory is everywhere praised to the skies, like that of a great king beloved to the gods, who worships the god piously and rules widely over many powerful men, gives laws to his people in justice, and is kind to his populace, for whom the land bears crops, the trees bear fruit, whose cattle are productive, to whom the sea gives fish, whose people live peacefully under his easy yoke. I beg you not to ask this poor man’s name and nation within such a happy house, lest you burden my heart with greater grief as I recall the former goods which I have lost, to my unhappiness. Nor is it proper for me to weep in another person’s house or always be gloomy, lest perhaps your handmaids and you yourself dislike my tears and you think they are flowing because of the wine.
PEN. Poor man, you have no ideas of the evils with which I myself am tortured. The god has destroyed my happiness, from the time that my husband left for Ilium. If he were to return and govern his home and my life, I should be much brighter. Now I drag out a life sadder than death. For all the noble men who inhabit the islands of Zacinthus, Dulichium, Samos, and Ithaca have besieged me as ambitious Suitors demanding marriage, and they are destroying my home. In my unhappiness I have so far put them off by trickery. “Noble band of youths,” I said, “since my Ulysses is dead, I request you grant me a brief delay, while this funeral garment begun by my hands is finished for old Laertes, so that when the Fate takes him my weaving, already begun, will not go for nought, nor will it be said against me that my great father-in-law is lacking of his funeral garment.” My argument was agreeable to the youths. Whatever my hand worked at the web by day, at night it undid, weaving and unweaving. And for three years I concealed this well. Finally a serving-woman betrayed me, and they broke in at night and discovered the trick, and the Suitors are using threats to force me to finish the web. And now that there remains no way for me to escape them, I have let the government slip from my hands and now I have no care for ruling. But in sadness I always weep for my husband. The Suitors are urging marriage on me, staking a claim on my loyalty. Even Icarius my father is forcing me to leave my widow’s bed and grumbles at my delays. And now my son, having become a man ready to rule his own household, takes it amiss that our wealth is being depleted. I pray to the gods that he may equal his grandfather in years, his father in wit. But tell me, I pray, your name and lineage. For I scarcely think you are born of a rock or an oak tree.
UL. Queen, bright consort of the lord of Ithaca, will you not cease asking my pedigree? Why do you wish to afflict both me and yourself with a new sorrow? For I have wandered through foreign cities for the same number of years as your husband has been away from his homeland. But if it pleases you to learn my lineage, Deucalion was my father, born of Minos. My brother was Idomeneus, king of the Cretans. My name is Aethon. I chanced first to see Ulysses as he was seeking Ilium with his fleet on the wave-tossed sea, and a great gale made him put into Crete by chance. Seeking my brother, he said he was his old guest-friend. This happened to be the tenth day since he had set sail for Troy. I made my brother’s guest my own, gave the exhausted man housing and a banquet, and as he departed I gave him a tunic and sword as a gift.
PEN. Now, guest, I shall make trial whether you actually gave my husband hospitality in your home. What was the appearance of his clothes and face? What manner of men were his comrades?
UL. You ask me about things blurred by the long passage of time, queen, and an old man’s memory grows tired. For twenty years have passed since I left my native land. But his garment was purple, I remember, and embroidered with gold on the front and a large golden hem, a wonderful rival of sunlight’s brightness. The skilled hand of a seamstress had striven to make this the rival of the sun in its wonderful splendor. The noble ladies were amazed at the soft garment and the craftswoman’s handiwork. But he himself was broad of chest, standing modestly. He stood upright, though not very broad of shoulder, had a happy expression, eloquent of tongue, and fluent of expression, and was said to be a contriver of schemes and deceits. A hunched-up man always stood by him with curly hair and a dark complexion, older than Ulysses. They say he was Eurybates, especially dear to his master.
PEN. I recognize the old marks of his dear body, I recognize Ulysses. That cloak was once embroidered by my hands. Bah, the impious race of Leda! You were the cause of the war, you were responsible for my catastrophe. Troy itself along with Priam was scarcely worth so much. What does its burning profit me, it I remain as I was before, if my husband is always to be lacking? Troy may be laid low for everyone else, but for me it still remains. Forgive me, land of Argos, but it would be better for me if Troy still stood. I would know where he was fighting, and my complaint would be shared with many others.
UL. Queen, I beg you not to ruin your eyes with heavy weeping. Perhaps your husband still fares well. And perhaps he will soon seek out Ithaca.
PEN. Surely I, who was a girl when he set out, will immediately strike him as a hag when he returns. But no hope of his return remains for me in my unhappiness, and the Suitors are greedy for marriage more than usual. For a long time I have had it in mind to produce my husband’s bow, so that he who bends it and hits a target with an arrow will bear me off as his wife. Oh harsh light, always hateful to me, in which I must leave the home of such a husband!
UL. Hasten, queen, and, set in motion this contest of the bow, which none of the youths will bend before your Ulysses himself returns home, or I myself will boldly bring him down with this bow.
PEN. My belief, stranger, is that no hand will bend such a strong bow. But, my guest, would that he would return! I would heap you with such good things could turn you from a wretch in to a blessed man. But, Euryclea, wash this tired man’s feet, let a bed be made for him, and new clothing. Could any guest be more welcome to me than my husband’s guest-friend?
EURY. Mistress, many wretched men have come here, but nobody who could be wiser, or nobody who could bring more to memory Ulysses in voice, gait, and body.
UL. So, mistress, everybody says who has ever been able to look at us.
PEN. Nurse, in my unhappiness I think that if he were were still alive, he would be such a man. And indeed he would please me being such, if only the god would bring him home. But see, Amphinomus is standing at the doorway. [Enter Amphinomus.]
AMPH. Queen, great glory of womankind, will you now grant our wishes? Sometime let pity enter your mind, and I beg you to remove the insult of such a long delay.
PEN. A thing that must be decided once and for all, Amphinomus, must be long considered. A thing is done quickly enough if it is done well. A man who has not exercised prudence often regrets his decision.
AMPH. Hasn’t this day been sufficiently foreseen by you?
PEN. For many people, it has often proven profitable to put off a day.
AMPH. Destiny is accustomed to govern marriages, not calculation.
PEN. This fatalism has always been folly.
AMPH. Who is ever able to manage love by exercising reason?
PEN. Whoever does not follow mistaken love as his leader.
AMPH. But let love bear the torch for our wedding.
PEN. That torch often gives us a steep downward path.
AMPH. I think it is scarcely granted even to the immortals both to love and be wise.
PEN. All the more reason for mortals to guard against this evil.
AMPH. Why do you think this sweet solace for the spirit to be an evil?
PEN. How often is poison concealed beneath sweet honey?
AMPH. Each passing day snatches away a young woman’s beauty.
PEN. But chastity’s reputation endures forever.
AMPH. Life goes better for whomever lives well with her consort.
PEN. Life goes less ill, when ill exists for her alone.
AMPH. Ah, my lady, why do you invent this vain fear for yourself? Possibly an untouched virgin might shudder at a husband, but an experienced one should desire him. Who has married well once should wed a second, because she has once married well. But one who has married a bad husband should wed a second, so that at last she might marry a good one. But a widow should always hasten to a new marriage.
PEN. Amphinomus, I hold in mind a different opinion. For she who once has married a good man should fear to marry a second, lest she marry a bad one. But who has been so unfortunate as to marry a harsh man should shun a second, since she has once married a bad man. Thus a widow should always refrain from a new marriage.
AMPH. The power of good husbands is great, and such would remove your fear. Your choice is a hard task, and the large number of Suitors impedes your choice.
PEN. The number of my ills has never been small.
AMPH. Why do you accuse us by alleging the bond of your first marriage?
PEN. Does not my enduring faithfulness defend me?
AMPH. But what husband is this piety of yours reserved for? A husband you imagine to have preserved your mutual fidelity? Military service has always been a faithless guardian of the marriage chamber. You would bind a soldier to the marriage bed? How often in amorous coaxing has he told his mistress how rustic his wife was, who alone would not allow the wool to go uncarded?
PEN. Will you, who have never been a warrior, condemn a warrior’s loyalty? For when captive Venus carried off so many preeminent lords to their mistresses, what smallest rumor or suspicion ever touched my Ulysses? Do you want to brand an innocent man? Or do you always measure others according to your own yardstick? Thus it should be (which is evidently your desire) that a conqueror of cities should permit himself something which neither a wife or a prudent mistress ought to think upon. There is one rule for a royal marriage, another for a private one. Nor is it right for a wife to impose severe laws on her husband, a wife who must always preserve more careful chastity and greater fidelity than a man.
AMPH. But nobody owes fidelity to someone dead so long. If he were to return now, what else would he bring home except an empty name, a mere ghost, wrinkles, a hoary head, old age, and sluggishness?
PEN. Would that this ghost would return, wrapped up in rags and broken by his years! What a disturbance this ghost would create! With him recovered, nothing would be unhappy for me, death would be welcome in Ulysses’ embrace. Greece has never borne his equal in courage, reputation, lineage, wit, strength, or in both the arts of fostering peace and war. A wise girl should always seek a noble, brave, wise, distinguished husband. A modest wife shines in the reflected light of such a husband.
AMPH. I beg you change your heart and let the wishes of so many youths finally divest you of your harsh attitude. Do not assail us, cast this great thing, whatever it may be, in our teeth, for we do not deserve such treatment. Have mercy on your lovers. For, even if it belongs to an exalted person, your great nobility should not be sullied. Do not Ithaca, Dulichium, Samos, Zacynthus, or all the neighboring isles produce one man whom you might ennoble by marriage? Will your weaving always exhaust your tireless hands? Will you always lie cold in a widow’s bed? Will you always take pleasure in watching the days pass slowly, and in lamenting through entire nights? Do you think this is the way to cherish his insubstantial ashes and dead ghost? You are not the only one to have lost a husband, you alone have not loved. Troy did not take away one man. Other ladies have wept for their dear husbands, taken by the fury of war or the sea. But the long passage of time and the prospect of a new marriage have diminished their grief. Now Troy is an ancient evil. And I pray, queen, forgive me if I offend out of love for you. A man who has sinned out of love is all but innocent.
PEN. How a spate of words has always battered my ears, sufficient to uproot an oak tree! Nor does any hope of improved peace remain for me, and so I have decided to put an end to this evil. Noble boy, allow me this final task, let it win just a brief delay. I promise to be compliant, just wait a short while, and ask the Suitors this in my name. Now I shall cleave to the husband the god gives me. [They go into the palace leaving Ulysses alone.]
UL. Ah, loyal wife, Penelope’s sweet glory, what sorrows torment you on my account! Pious Philomela, torn from her nest, the dove mourning her dear lost mate, do not grieve as you do. Unless my eyes were made virtually of iron, I should have shed tear upon tear. Now I cannot keep them from overflowing their fountain. Should I reveal myself? Should I not have mercy on you and myself? Should I fear the faithfulness of such a good wife? Neither Troy herself, nor the wars and the scepter of Ithaca, nor my pedigree, derived from Zeus, will make me as famous to posterity as will my chaste wife. But whence this softness? Think of Scylla and Charybdis, the terrible cave of the Sicilian Cyclops, of all your hardships. Assume the hardness of stone, or three-ply iron. Be hard, Ulysses, summon your old vigor, your old spirit, ever-mindful of the son of Atreus. I warned you, Agamemnon, I shall always be mindful of you. Small faith is to be placed in all women. Trust in none, not even your own wife, if your life is at stake. Now I am well-concealed, but I would betray myself by speaking. Now I shall hide myself here, where I can easily witness the Suitors’ evil deed. [He hides. Enter Melantho and Eurymachus.]
MEL. (She sings something sweet to the accompaniment of a lyre.) Eurymachus, shouldn’t you be ashamed to occupy a maid’s bed, when you are courting the great mistress of the house?
EURY. Fairest Melantho, what can I say? Let nobody pass strict laws for us youths. Neither a king nor love tolerates a master’s yoke. I confess I am wooing your mistress, for she is a wealthy widow and will keep me in clover as long as her father lives. But if I marry her, no spoils would be pleasant for me if I didn’t have you. Your tender age is closer to my own, sweet Melantho. And, if I may speak frankly, who could stand the tedium of such a long delay?
MEL. Thus it is, Eurymachus. While mistress Penelope strives for some insubstantial glory or other, how many nights has she wasted in weeping? A moment despoils a body of its charm, for beauty is an evanescent thing. Use it while you may. Let her be forever miserable who creates sorrow for herself. But there is another, pleasant way for you to obtain your wish. You Suitors are acting badly.
EURY. How so, Melantho?
MEL. Because your stingy band arrived here much less interested in love than in our kitchen. We women adore generosity. Gifts please even the gods, they are more powerful than Jupiter. When Danae shut out all suitors from her citadel, Jupiter came in the guise of a golden shower and victoriously bore off his prize. No woman can resist a shower of gold. It can break down iron-shod timbers, let alone girls, and lay them low.
EURY. But her heart is hardened against love. I believe she will cleave to that husband she mourns so much.
MEL. Eurymachus, her mind is cautious, not hostile. Because she was deeply in love and has mourned so long in her unhappiness, she offers great hope that she will take a second husband. This does not show a heart set against love, but rather a soft one, since she is always moaning over her husband. Trust me, she will feel the old torch’s flame. Some spark remains out of such a great conflagration, hidden in the ashes, and it will flare up when fed new tinder. So far she has set great store by honor and reputation. And the very number of Suitors has perhaps delayed the fulfilment of your wish. [She catches sight of Ulysses.] But look, our miserable guest is lurking in the corner. I fear he has overheard us [To Ulysses.] Go somewhere else, I beg you. Or are you going to lie here all night, wretch? Does this spot suit you? Why not leave? Why not get out? Do you want to be driven?
UL. [Emerging.] Ah, mistress, why do you attack me with such harsh words? Do I strike you as shabby, dressed in this foul cloak? The lot of vagabonds has always been a hard one. But since you are the chief handmaid, I beg that you not desire to strip me of happiness altogether, lest Penelope perchance grow angry at you or Ulysses himself appear. So far, all hope for his return is not lost. But if he is long dead, a son just like him survives. No deeds of the serving women at home can escape him, and, when the god grants him power, he will exact penalties.
MEL. Do you want to make trouble? Where has your brain gone? Won’t you keep your peace, vagabond, in this proud house? Will you always chatter aloud, bold mouth? Defeating Irus has given you a swollen head, so now you are arrogant. But take care lest somebody arise stronger than Irus, who will smear your head with your filthy blood and chuck you out of the house.
UL. Impudent bitch, I’ll tell all to Telemachus so he’ll beat you with a club, and carve you up limb by limb. [Exeunt Melantho and Eurymachus.]
My heart is burning with wrath, my rage is welling up. Should serving women thus be divisive throughout my hall, smirch my house with wantonness, corrupt everything, consume another man’s substance with wicked feasting, set snares for Telemachus, seek to take my life, snatch the throne from my family, to whom it belongs, brand Penelope with infamy, and all but drag her to a marriage bed against her will? But be still, save your resentments for this revenge we are concealing. Whoever has borne his sufferings patiently will be able to repay them. Hatred which is concealed inflicts damage. Open anger loses the opportunity for revenge. [Exit.]
Loyal wife of a great husband, queen and star of our Ithacan lord, at length put a limit on your cares, caused by your husband’s long delay. We pity you, queen, and at the same time you ought to pity yourself. Ignore this insignificant rumor of marriage. Enough has been spent on weeping and loyalty. The ten-year siege of Troy has finally been surpassed. You, stronger than the Dardanian city, now having endured for twenty years, have borne the sufferings of a widowed marriage, but have remained unconquered and loyal to your husband. The gods have never given mankind anything better than a good wife. Behold an wife who cannot be swayed from the path of righteousness by flattery, prayers and entreaties, by all the youth of Ithaca, or twenty years in a widow’s lonely bed. How I am ashamed to heap reproaches on the race of womankind! Nobody surpasses this wife in such things. Even Ulysses scarcely surpasses Penelope, if he still lives and breathes.
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