Book 21

Penelope proposes to the suitors a contest with the bow, herself the prize. They prove unable to bend the bow; when Ulysses having with some difficulty possessed himself of it, manages it with the utmost ease, and dispatches his arrow through twelve rings erected for the trial.

   Minerva now, Goddess cærulean-eyed,
Prompted Icarius’ daughter, the discrete
Penelope, with bow and rings to prove
Her suitors in Ulysses’ courts, a game
Terrible in conclusion to them all.
First, taking in her hand the brazen key
Well-forged, and fitted with an iv’ry grasp,
Attended by the women of her train
She sought her inmost chamber, the recess
In which she kept the treasures of her Lord,
His brass, his gold, and steel elaborate.
Here lay his stubborn bow, and quiver fill’d
With num’rous shafts, a fatal store. That bow
He had received and quiver from the hand
Of godlike Iphitus Eurytides,
Whom, in Messenia, in the house he met
Of brave Orsilochus. Ulysses came
Demanding payment of arrearage due
From all that land; for a Messenian fleet
Had borne from Ithaca three hundred sheep,
With all their shepherds; for which cause, ere yet
Adult, he voyaged to that distant shore,
Deputed by his sire, and by the Chiefs
Of Ithaca, to make the just demand.
But Iphitus had thither come to seek
Twelve mares and twelve mule colts which he had lost,
A search that cost him soon a bloody death.
For, coming to the house of Hercules
The valiant task-performing son of Jove,
He perish’d there, slain by his cruel host
Who, heedless of heav’n’s wrath, and of the rights
Of his own board, first fed, then slaughter’d him;
For in his house the mares and colts were hidden.
He, therefore, occupied in that concern,
Meeting Ulysses there, gave him the bow
Which, erst, huge Eurytus had borne, and which
Himself had from his dying sire received.
Ulysses, in return, on him bestowed
A spear and sword, pledges of future love
And hospitality; but never more
They met each other at the friendly board,
For, ere that hour arrived, the son of Jove
Slew his own guest, the godlike Iphitus.
Thus came the bow into Ulysses’ hands,
Which, never in his gallant barks he bore
To battle with him, (though he used it oft
In times of peace) but left it safely stored
At home, a dear memorial of his friend.

   Soon as, divinest of her sex, arrived
At that same chamber, with her foot she press’d
The oaken threshold bright, on which the hand
Of no mean architect had stretch’d the line,
Who had erected also on each side
The posts on which the splendid portals hung,
She loos’d the ring and brace, then introduced
The key, and aiming at them from without,
Struck back the bolts. The portals, at that stroke,
Sent forth a tone deep as the pastur’d bull’s,
And flew wide open. She, ascending, next,
The elevated floor on which the chests
That held her own fragrant apparel stood,
With lifted hand aloft took down the bow
In its embroider’d bow-case safe enclosed.
Then, sitting there, she lay’d it on her knees,
Weeping aloud, and drew it from the case.
Thus weeping over it long time she sat,
Till satiate, at the last, with grief and tears,
Descending by the palace steps she sought
Again the haughty suitors, with the bow
Elastic, and the quiver in her hand
Replete with pointed shafts, a deadly store.
Her maidens, as she went, bore after her
A coffer fill’d with prizes by her Lord,
Much brass and steel; and when at length she came,
Loveliest of women, where the suitors sat,
Between the pillars of the stately dome
Pausing, before her beauteous face she held
Her lucid veil, and by two matrons chaste
Supported, the assembly thus address’d.

   Ye noble suitors hear, who rudely haunt
This palace of a Chief long absent hence,
Whose substance ye have now long time consumed,
Nor palliative have yet contrived, or could,
Save your ambition to make me a bride—
Attend this game to which I call you forth.
Now suitors! prove yourselves with this huge bow
Of wide-renown’d Ulysses; he who draws
Easiest the bow, and who his arrow sends
Through twice six rings, he takes me to his home,
And I must leave this mansion of my youth
Plenteous, magnificent, which, doubtless, oft
I shall remember even in my dreams.

   So saying, she bade Eumæus lay the bow
Before them, and the twice six rings of steel.
He wept, received them, and obey’d; nor wept
The herdsman less, seeing the bow which erst
His Lord had occupied; when at their tears
Indignant, thus, Antinoüs began.

   Ye rural drones, whose purblind eyes see not
Beyond the present hour, egregious fools!
Why weeping trouble ye the Queen, too much
Before afflicted for her husband lost?
Either partake the banquet silently,
Or else go weep abroad, leaving the bow,
That stubborn test, to us; for none, I judge,
None here shall bend

  By PanEris using Melati.

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