Then Ulysses gave directions to his son, to go and mingle with the suitors, and in no wise to impart his secret to any, not even to the queen his mother, but to hold himself in readiness, and to have his weapons and his good armour in preparation. And he charged him, that when he himself should come to the palace, as he meant to follow shortly after, and present himself in his beggar’s likeness to the suitors, that whatever he should see which might grieve his heart, with what foul usage and contumelious language soever the suitors should receive his father, coming in that shape, though they should strike and drag him by the heels along the floors, that he should not stir nor make offer to oppose them, further than by mild words to expostulate with them, until Minerva from heaven should give the sign which should be the prelude to their destruction. And Telemachus promising to obey his instructions departed; and the shape of Ulysses fell to what it had been before, and he became to all outward appearance a beggar, in base and beggarly attire.
The queen’s suitors.—The battle of the beggars.—The armour taken down.—The meeting with Penelope.
From the house of Eumaeus the seeming beggar took his way, leaning on his staff, till he reached the palace, entering in at the hall where the suitors sat at meat. They in the pride of their feasting began to break their jests in mirthful manner, when they saw one looking so poor and so aged approach. He who expected no better entertainment was nothing moved at their behaviour, but, as became the character which he had assumed, in a suppliant posture crept by turns to every suitor, and held out his hands for some charity, with such a natural and beggar-resembling grace, that he might seem to have practised begging all his life; yet there was a sort of dignity in his most abject stoopings, that whoever had seen him, would have said, If it had pleased heaven that this poor man had been born a king, he would gracefully have filled a throne. And some pitied him, and some gave him alms, as their present humours inclined them, but the greater part reviled him, and bid him begone, as one that spoiled their feast; for the presence of misery has this power with it, that while it stays, it can dash and overturn the mirth even of those who feel no pity or wish to relieve it; nature bearing this witness of herself in the hearts of the most obdurate.
Now Telemachus sat at meat with the suitors, and knew that it was the king his father, who in that shape begged an alms; and when his father came and presented himself before him in turn, as he had done to the suitors one by one, he gave him of his own meat which he had in his dish, and of his own cup to drink. And the suitors were past measure offended to see a pitiful beggar, as they esteemed him, to be so choicely regarded by the prince.
Then Antinous, who was a great lord, and of chief note among the suitors, said, “Prince Telemachus does ill to encourage these wandering beggars, who go from place to place, affirming that they have been some considerable persons in their time, filling the ears of such as hearken to them with lies, and pressing with their bold feet into kings’ palaces. This is some saucy vagabond, some travelling Egyptian.”