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Where are you rushing, my mind? Grief, subside and do not hasten forward. Soon the time will come when, like a torrent when the dam has broken, my terrible anger will pour forth in a foaming flood and work a slaughter, in which the Suitors will pay their well-deserved penalties with their blood, and will also pay for half-consuming my household. This feasting will cost them dear. My spirit is eager to see them stretched out on the ground, their sides transfixed, to see the tables running with gore, to see the plates spattered with brains. Cherish this hope within. It is pleasant to laugh at your enemy. How much so to butcher him? There is no happier sight than a dead enemy. Sweet Revenge, you feed my strength, there’s no better goddess. Because of you alone, I bear up under all these evils. ([Enter Telemachus.] In this scene, each character speaks with Ulysses as he passes from the dining hall into the palace.)
TEL. Poor father, how long will either of us remain patient? Great god, what end to you appoint for our sufferings? I have taken the weapons away from the Suitors, as you commanded. Do you have any further instructions?
UL. Nothing, Telemachus, except that you bear up under this evil. Learn good luck from others, but fortitude from your father. Even if you see me being dragged by the hair, or along the ground by my feet, bear it and restrain your anger. It is a savage cause for compassion for a poor fellow to lose his father. But you must move along, Telemachus, lest someone overhear us conversing. The house has ears, the wall has eyes. [Exit Telemachus, enter Eumaeus.]
EUM. Greetings guest. Is your condition comfortable, or did the Suitors heap you with evils in their customary way?
UL. Let the gods avenge such heavy insults, Eumaeus, which they have insolently brought upon this royal house, and which I am careful to tolerate.
EUM. Oh, this ever-shameful thing! That these soft Suitors should want to sleep in a brave man’s bed! May it befall them as often befalls a doe who makes her nest in a lion’s cave and places her young therein. The lion comes along, seeking his cave at eventide, and terribly seizes the mother and her offspring. Thus if my master were to come home, what slaughter he would inflict on the Suitors! [Exit Eumaeus. Enter Melanthius.]
MEL. Are you still infesting the palace with your prying? Haven’t you left? Are you eager to get a taste of my hand? Get away, wretch. Seek somebody else’s food. Get away, tell your tale about Ulysses’ return elsewhere, that Ulysses whom divine vengeance justly overtook. [Exit. Enter Philaetius.]
PHIL. Poor man, what hostile god pursues you? You seem kingly in stature. Greetings, give me your hand in friendship. No guest has ever come more welcome to me. Jupiter, you are always unfair, nor is any god worse. For, though the father of the gods, you have no pity on men born of your own stock. And now a bitter memory of my dear master comes over me, and tears water my cheeks. Perhaps, clad in a cloak of this kind, he is wandering through barbarian cities, poverty-stricken, pitiful, and helpless, if he still lives. If he has died, oh the unlucky star of my destiny! Oh sweet Ulysses, who wanted his cattle to be under my happy care. And in my master’s absence these cattle are being devastated by the impudent band of Suitors, with fear of the gods held in scorn. They are making ready to kill the boy and divide his father’s property. I pray that this dire crime rebound on their heads. And so I have often decided to flee, but some hope for Ulysses’ return has always caused me to delay.
UL. Philaetius, you do not strike me as a cowardly man, and I have already learned that you are wise. And so let your handclasp, the clasp of friendship, testify to me, so help me the gods, that your master will come here in your presence, and will quickly encompass the Suitors’ slaughter.
PHIL. Would that Jupiter grant this! You would learn that my hands are not sluggish for such work, and that all my prayers have not been directed to the gods in vain. [Exit. Enter Melantho.]
MEL. Beggar, will you not cease turning up wherever I may be, cease running about the house peering at the serving women? Won‘t you go out, old man, and relieve our eyes of your unpleasant sight? To be sure, you tell us Ulysses is returning. You must first leave the house, distinguished prophet. When he returns, you may join him as a companion.
UL. Rather, Melantho, aren’t you ashamed to cherish Eurymachus in your bosom? Oh the miserable lot of princes! How often do you nourish traitors at home? How rare loyalty is in a servant, although loyalty rarely enters a royal door, and on unsteady feet at that. But see, Penelope herself is coming outside. [Enter Penelope, surrounded by Telemachus and the Suitors: Eurymachus, Antinous, Pisander, Eurydamas, Polybus, Euryades, Ctesippus, Liocritus, Agelaus, Amphinomus, and the others.]
PEN. Troublesome band of youths, who have cost me dear by dragging out your stay in my house, which you have sorely oppressed by feasting day and night for nearly four whole years, you can manufacture no other excuse for your misdeeds than desire to wed me. So come then, Suitors, whichever of you is strong enough to draw this bow, and can strike a standing target with his arrow from afar, I have decided to cleave to him immediately as his wife and make his fortune out of my royal treasury, departing this home, whose sweet memory will never leave me wherever I may live, not even in my sleep.
EURY. Queen, bright light and glory of this island, you shouldn’t wonder if we Suitors refuse to quit your house before someone carries off a reward for our great delay. It is shameful to have stayed here so long and go home empty-handed. But if all Greece were to catch sight of your beauty, what a huge new band of noblemen would fill your house!
PEN. Eurymachus, Jupiter has taken away my beauty, such as it was, when Ulysses first sought Ilium with his ill-starred fleet. As he was about to depart, he clasped my hand and said, “Oh dear wife, I do not think all the Greeks will return, for they the Trojans are warlike and full of fight. I do not know whether the god will bring me back or kill me. And so let all of this at home be in your care. Take care of my two parents with your accustomed diligence. But when my infant son is grown to manhood, marry whom you will.” Thus he spoke, and the day he spoke of has already come and gone. And so, my servants, bring my husband’s quiver and bow, a great trial for the Suitors. Eumaeus and Philaetius, carrying the bow and quiver, weep at its sight.
ANT. Fools, why upset your mistress’ spirit with your tears? Do you want to provoke her into grieving? Does she not mourn her dead husband enough on her own? Stop this weeping, or do your lamentations outdoors, idiots. Do you now weep over ancient evils?
TEL. Alas, I’m out of my mind. See, mother is preparing to remarry, she will leave this house, and I am playing and joking, cheerful of spirit, nor are tears wetting my cheeks. Come now, youths. Suitors, begin this contest of the bow. The prize will be a wife, and no other land can produce an equal. You know her yourselves, why should I praise my mother? But let me first try my father’s bow. If I can bend it, nobody will carry off my mother. [Three times he tries to bend the bow, without success. He is trying a fourth time, and it looks as if he will succeed, but at a gesture from Ulysses he deliberately fails.] Oh, how feeble I am! But I don’t think my strength has yet matured. What a palm of victory remains! (The suitors try the bow, but all in vain.)
ANT. So come, friends, and beginning on the right, you start, Pisander.
PIS. Alas, what god curved this bow of iron, which no mortal ever flexed?
ANT. What’s that you said, Pisander? And so, since your strength fails you, can nobody bend it? But someone stronger than you will do the bending. Come, let Eurydamas take your place.
EUR. What numbness overcomes my limbs? I can scarcely budge it.
ANT. What should I think of this new marvel? You stretch it, Polybus.
POL. Let this evil unbendable bow be broken up!
ANT. Let Euryades try it.
EURYAD. Let someone else take my place, for my strength deserts me.
CTES. Neither is Ctesippus equal to this evil thing.
ANT. You try, Liocritus.
LIO. What god or wizard begrudges our little bit of glory?
ANT. So nobody can bend the bow! What hope is left of hitting the target? Let Agelaus have a try.
AG. Damn this bow and its quiver, which inflicts so much shame on me and you.
ANT. Come youths, Elatus, Liodus, famous Eurynomus, Demoptolemus, Amphimedon, Suitors. What’s this? Amphinomus, you erase this stain.
AMPH. What Ocean has swamped us? I think it a lesser evil to die than to be cheated of such a hope.
ANT. Eurymachus, now the final lot awaits you and me.
EURY. Although the loss of this marriage moves me (whom would it not move?), since Ithaca produces so many noble ladies, it does not pain me so much to be resisted as that in strength we are by far unequal to Ulysses. Our posterity will never erase this blot.
ANT. Not so, Eurymachus. See here, at length I recall this is Diana’s feast, and who would hope to draw the bow on her festal day, if the goddess were unwilling? So put down the bow in good spirits, Suitors. Let us sacrifice fat offerings to Diana and Apollo, and when dawn breaks anew let us resume the contest with refreshed spirits.
UL. Great-hearted band of noblemen, perhaps tomorrow the god will give you strength. Meanwhile let it be permitted for me to try the bow, and see if anything of their old strength remains in my limbs, or whether long effort has consumed it.
ANT. Poor vagrant, what great madness provokes you? Do you think it a small thing that you have won a bed and the right to associate with us? Do you also want to try the bow? Get some food for your belly.
PEN. Antinous, you should not have hurled insulting words at Telemachus’ guest, who has entered my home. Or are you afraid he might bear her off as his wife if he stretches the bow? Have no fear, he’ll never win me.
EURY. We do not fear this, lady, nor indeed should we. We are afraid of this, that with his strength he might bend the bow, and that somebody might reproach us and a person could say “Oh soft gang of youths! The bow which all these youths, these outstanding young men, were not strong enough to bend, an elderly guest bent with ease.” This fear gnaws at us.
PEN. Eurymachus, it can’t be that rogues who are ruining a home by feasting are pursuing a good reputation in the world’s eyes. But the man who is being scorned boasts that he is born of royal stock, nor does his appearance prevent one from thinking this to be true. Permit our guest to make the attempt. If Apollo grants him this glory, so that the poor fellow draws the mighty bow, I shall give him the gift of a fine cloak, javelin, knife, shoes, and clothing, and I shall send him back to his paternal hearth when he wishes.
TEL. Reverend mother, there is no youth more suitable for denying or giving this bow to whomever he wishes. For who will forbid it, if I want to give it to our guest? But, dear one, go up to your chamber, and concern yourself with weaving, servants, and spindle, allowing us to worry about this situation, especially myself, who has the power over this household. [Exit Penelope.]
TEL. Eumaeus, take the quiver and bow to our guest.
ANT. Where are you going, swineherd? If you give the bow to this scoundrel, the dogs will soon have you to eat.
UL. Antinous, if battle’s bugle were to sound, I would have a helmet, sword, and shield. You would see me fighting in the forefront among the greatest captains. Don’t insult me this way. Now you are provoking a fight with me, because out of all the Suitors you are trying to be preeminent. But if Ulysses were suddenly to return,although they are wide open now, how narrow these doors would seem for a man attempting to flee! Thus you would prefer to be carried from here by your feet, rather than shine in your golden raiments.
EURY. Do you impudently strive to insult us, wretch? You are hastening to bring down a great evil on yourself. Is your head heavy with wine, or is your ancient beggar’s mind constantly set on abusing us with that that chattering tongue of yours? If that man of whom you speak were to return now and dared drive us from his home, being one against many, his return will bring a short-lived joy to his adherents.
TEL. Why not give him the bow, Eumaeus? Why are you hesitating? Do it, or I shall bombard you with stones, albeit your junior, and drive you back to the countryside with a clubbing. If I could defeat the Suitors as easily as you, with boldness I’d quickly drive them from the house. The bow is given to Ulysses, who turns it this way and that, inspecting it lest it has been eaten by worms in his absence.
PIS. This man is an admirer of bows, or a maker. Or has he left behind one like it in his own house? Does he want to make one like it? See how he balances it back and forth in his hands.
AG. Would that the wretch were as energetic in this as in his prying, so he could pull ANT bow with all his might!
ANT. May some god damn this wicked wanderer! Where did he come from? Would that he had died somewhere else before setting foot in this house! Now we would be having more quiet and less strife. What trouble has this vagrant long been making for us! And so we shall have no pleasure in our feasting, he insults us so. But let us depart and devise a remedy for this evil. Ulysses easily bends the bow, twanging its resonant string, and fits an arrow. The Suitors are amazed, glancing at each other, and exit into the dining hall.
UL. You see, Telemachus, I have no trouble in stringing this bow; their old strength remains in my arms. And now the occasion warns me to reveal myself to these two, so that we may join forces. [To Eumaeus and Philaetius.] Eumaeus, and you, cowherd, I do not know whether I should speak to you or remain silent. My mind urges me to speak, and speak I shall. If some god were to plant Ulysses in front of you now, and if he were to desire to inflict well-deserved death upon the Suitors, would you be willing to play a man’s part? What does your mind persuade?
EUM. Let father Jupiter grant all our humble hopes and prayers that he return. If the god were to bring him back, you would assuredly learn what my hands can do.
PHIL. I ask this one thing of the gods, that before I quit this life I be allowed to see my sweet master with these eyes. Once I saw him, I would happily die on the spot.
UL. Behold, I have come home, returning to my homeland after twenty years’ hardships. So that you will be more certain, let this scar convince you, which I received on the knee from a boar while in my youth. Touch it.
TEL. Make no delay in believing. From Minerva I myself learned that he was my father, Eumaeus, when he first reached your home.
EUM. Master, have you finally reached your native soil? Have you finally come home, dearest master? Do I see my lord? May I feast my eyes looking at you, may I fill my breast with tears?
PHIL. Great ruler of the gods, now I admit there are gods in heaven, now that he has come back. Give me your hand to kiss, let me hang on your neck. What words suffice now? Oh me, master, have you come home at last?
UL. Most loyal pair, the sun would sink in the sea while we were weeping. But this day demands your hand for fighting, not tears, if the god is to allow us to defeat the Suitors. I shall give you wives, homesteads, and farms, and henceforth you shall be my comrades and brothers. Let your loyalty guarantee your silence in this undertaking. See, here comes the whole band of Suitors. Let us secretly steal away. [Exeunt. Enter the Suitors, together with Theoclymenus and Melanthius.]
ANT. Suitors, the crimes we have often begun in vain must now be carried to completion. Whatever necessity commands must not be deemed a crime. You see the disgrace that has been cast on us. Come, let us wash away this stain with blood. By some means let us encompass the killing of Telemachus. Let us make an attempt on his life. With him alive, for what good can we hope? Now he is clever with that strong mind of his, and I fear lest soon he arouse the people against us. So let him find death in the fields or at home. Let us divide what’s left of his wealth, and let the man who marries her give his mother her dowry. If this suggestion displeases you, and you prefer your enemy to live, why linger here any more? Is anyone who would refrain from this endeavor at length seeking another wife?
PHIL. Antinous, I mislike this idea of murder. It is a grave crime to eradicate a royal stock, and often the god averts such a deed. For how often has he avoided our grasp, saved from danger by some great miracle? So as long as I live and see the light of day nobody will lay cruel hands on the lad. In the old days, how often has his father Ulysses held me on his knees and feed me in my infancy?
ANT. No dead man wages war, Amphinomus.
AMPH. But a dead man has been the cause of dire struggle. His ghost strikes back, his ashes have Furies.
ANT. What sane man wants his enemies to live?
AMPH. I want him dead, but this manner of destroying him is scarcely to my liking.
ANT. Any manner of destroying an enemy is a fine one.
AMPH. Rather, it will help us to have abandoned this hatred.
ANT. Let anger disappear in boys, hatried endures in men. Hatreds have a honeyed sweetness. It is pleasant to loathe.
AMPH. But it has often been most praiseworthy for heroes to spare an enemy.
ANT. But mercy is pointless and savage. Who spares an enemy is spendthrift of his own life. He is attempting to soften someone always implacable and harsh, who feels pain, remembers, rages, and saves his baleful wrath for its proper moment. If a man is your enemy once, he is such forever. Once he is hostile, consider him always such. Great hatreds can perhaps broken, but are scarcely bent aside.
AMPH. Youthful anger is vigorous at its first onset, but tires easily and does not long endure.
ANT. Amphinomus, I ask that we be less bashful among ourselves, and that it be permissible to speak openly of the situation as it is. He hates us, and we him. On both sides there is fear, suspicion, menace, on both sides deceit. We have offended much more gravely than anybody could suffer without seeking revenge, let alone Telemachus, the true son of a brave and resourceful father. Therefore let his downfall put out the flames. The safe route for our crime is by doing wrong, and imposing a limit on evildoing often harms one. When malfeasance has exceeded the limit of the forgivable, there is no room for penitence or relaxation, and to which for either is the mark of a timid man. Shame for what we have done ought to incite us against Telemachus. Being guilty is a powerful stimulus to hate. And perhaps Telemachus himself is preparing to do to us the very thing you think over-savage. It is most reasonable to inflict harm, when you are afraid. Furthermore, he should be put down before he consolidates his power, lest he put us down while we are holding our peace. The opportunity lies in the middle for either side to seize first. Whenever it is necessary to do or suffer ill, you must commit a crime lest one is done to you. [Enter Theoclymenus the seer.]
THEO. What god has stripped you of your senses, poor men? Alas, how many evils I saw last night! What evils are you to undergo! The walls were flowing with blood, the beams dripped with gore, Erebus moaned, freed from his cave, the earth groaned from deep within, and a crowd of walking specters filled the house. Apparitions snatched from their tombs filled the palace. Ghosts howled, dark night hid the day. Alas, flee, wretches, flee this huge evil.
AMPH. Somebody give him a beating. What lunacy has robbed Theoclymenus of his wits? Leave, or I will eject you. Go, issue prophecies to your children. These things which you report are all alike.
THEO. Antinous, I did not ask you to furnish me with an escort, since I still have the use of my two legs, my eyes and ears, and especially of a mind untainted by deceit. Led by these, I shall gladly depart. Behold, raging, furious Ulysses has returned, and he has seen all that has been said and done. Your final banquet is being laid out. Alas, what slaughter is assailing us? What butchery do I see? One which none of you can avoid, who have done so much evil to this house in its master’s absence. My reliability as a seer will confirm what I have said. (Exit to the city.)
AMPH. Good riddance to the silly prophet. But, friends, let us straightway prepare to dine, and let us indulge ourselves all the more in feasting, washing away this terrible night’s threats with the best of wines. Melanthius, prepare a magnificent dinner that our renewed joy might prove the prophet wrong.
MEL. But I urge you, lords, unless you wish to go into exile or die, forever living without these good things, quickly to kill Telemachus by any means at all, for your salvation lies in his death. Else he may bring soldiers from Pylus or forestall you by sending to Ephyra for poisons to mix in with your food. [Exeunt.]
Everything falls apart, turning out for the worse. For humanity the most recent day is always the worst, and always will be. Do exhausted plants now deny us their juice? Or has the strength of their fruit vanished, which used to feed our generations? Has desire ruined everyone? What kind of bodies does the earth now produce? Whither has ancestral strength and good old virtue departed from our children? Hercules and Theseus would never find a partner. Who nowadays is preeminent in old-fashioned vigor? For now strong sons of strong fathers do not exist. See how eagles have begotten doves. Shamefully, all our youths are unequal to Ulysses’ bow, which their fathers once bent. A hard generation of fathers has produced soft sons, who will soon give the world offspring even weaker.
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