“Odysseus is surely dead,” they said, “and Telemachus is only a lad and cannot harm us.”
So they came to the palace where Penelope and Telemachus lived, and there they stayed, year in, year out, feasting and drinking and wasting the goods of Odysseus. Their roughness and greed troubled Penelope, but still more did they each one daily torment her by rudely asking: “Wilt thou marry me?”
At last she fell on a plan to stop them from talking to her of marriage.
In the palace hall she set up a great web, beautiful and fine of woof.
Then she said, “When I have finished weaving this robe I shall give you my answer.”
Each day she worked at it, but each night, when the wooers slept, she undid all that she had done during the day. So it seemed to the wooers as if the robe would never be finished.
Penelope’s heart was heavy, and heavy, too, was the heart of Telemachus. For three weary years, while Odysseus was imprisoned on the island of Calypso, the mother and son pined together.
One day Telemachus sat at the door of the palace sadly watching the wooers as they drank and reveled. He was thinking of the brave father that he feared was dead, when there walked up to the door of the courtyard a stranger dressed like a warrior from another land.
The stranger was the goddess Athene. At the same time that she gained leave from the gods to set Odysseus free, they had agreed that she should go to Ithaca and help Telemachus. But she came dressed as a warrior, and not as a beautiful, gray-eyed, golden-haired goddess with golden sandals on her feet.
Telemachus rose up and shook her kindly by the hand, and led her into the hall. He took from her the heavy bronze spear that she carried, and made her sit down on one of the finest of the chairs, in a place where the noise of the rough wooers should not disturb her.
“Welcome, stranger,” he said. “When thou hast had food, then shalt thou tell us in what way we can help thee.”
He then made servants bring a silver basin and golden ewer that she might wash her hands, and he fetched her food and wine of the best.
Soon the wooers entered, and noisily ate they and drank, and roughly jested.
Telemachus watched them and listened with an angry heart. Then, in a low voice, he said to Athene:
“These men greedily eat and drink, and waste my father’s goods. They think the bones of Odysseus bleach out in the rain in a far land, or are tossed about by the sea. But did my father still live, and were he to come home, the cowards would flee before him. Tell me, stranger, hast thou come from a far-off country? Hast thou ever seen my father?”
Athene answered: “Odysseus still lives. He is a prisoner on a sea-girt island, but it will not be long ere he escapes and comes home. Thou art like Odysseus, my son. Thou hast a head like his, and the same beautiful eyes.”