Before Penelope went to rest she said sadly to Odysseus: “I feel that the end is drawing near. Soon I shall be parted from the house of Odysseus. My husband, who was always the best and bravest, used to set up the twelve axes ye see standing here, and between each axe he shot an arrow. I have told the wooers that I shall marry whichever one of them can do the like. Then I shall leave this house, which must be for ever most dear to me.”
Then answered the old beggar-man: “Odysseus will be here when they shoot. It will be Odysseus who shoots between the axes.”
Penelope, longing for his words to be true, went up to her room and lay crying on her bed until her pillows were wet. Then Athene sent sleep upon her eyelids and made her forget all her sorrows.
Odysseus, too, would have tossed all night wide awake, with a heart full of anger and revenge, had not Athene gently laid her hands on his eyes and made him fall asleep.
Next day the wooers came to the palace, and with rough jest and rude word they greeted Odysseus.
“Who harms this man must fight with me,” said Telemachus, and at that the wooers shouted with laughter.
But a stranger who sat among them cried out in a voice of fear:
“I see your hands and knees shrouded in blackness! I see your cheeks wet with tears! The walls and the pillars drip blood; the porch is full of shadows, and pale ghosts are hastening out of the gray mist that fills the palace.”
At this the wooers laughed the more, for they thought the man was mad. But, as in a dream, he had seen truly what was to come to pass.
Weeping, Penelope then brought forth from the armory the great bow with which Odysseus had shot in years that were past. Her heart was full of love for Odysseus, and she could not bear to wed another.
Telemachus then threw aside his red cloak and ranged out the bronze axes.
One by one the wooers tried to move the great bow and make it drive a swift arrow before it. One by one they failed.
And when it seemed as if no man there was strong enough to move it, Odysseus took it in his hands, and between each axe he shot an arrow. When the last arrow was shot he tore off his rags, and in a voice that rang through the palace he cried to Telemachus: “Now is it time to prepare supper for the wooers! Now, at last, is this terrible trial ended. I go to shoot at another mark!”
With that he shot an arrow at the wooer who had ever been the most insolent and the most cruel. It smote him in the throat, his blood dripped red on the ground, and he fell dead.
The others gave a great cry of rage, but Odysseus looked at them with burning eyes, and with a voice that made them tremble he cried:
“Ye dogs! ye said I should never return, and, like the traitors ye are, ye have wasted my goods and insulted my queen. But now death has come for you, and none shall escape.”