Phemius came and the wooers called upon him to sing them a tale. And the minstrel, in flowing verse, began the tale of the return of the Kings and Princes from Troy, and of how some god or goddess put a trouble upon them as they left the City they had taken. And as the minstrel began the tale, Penelope, Telemachus’ lady-mother, was coming down the stairs with two hand-maids beside her. She heard the words he sang, and she stood still in her grief and drew her veil across her face. ‘O Phemius,’ she cried, ’cease from that story that ever wastes my heart—the story that has brought me sorrow and that leaves me comfortless all my days! O Phemius, do you not know other tales of men and gods that you might sing in this hall for the delight of my noble wooers?’
The minstrel would have ceased when Penelope spoke thus to him, but Telemachus went to the stairway where his lady-mother stood, and addressed her.
‘My lady-mother,’ said he, ’why should you not let the minstrel delight the company with such songs as the spirit moves him to give us? It is no blame to him if he sings of that which is sorrowful to us. As for you, my mother, you must learn to endure that story, for long will it be sung and far and wide. And you are not the only one who is bereaved—many another man besides Odysseus lost the happy day of his homecoming in the war of Troy.’
Penelope, his lady-mother, looked in surprise at the youth who spoke to her so wisely. Was this indeed Telemachus who before had hardly lifted his head? And as she looked at him again she saw that he carried his head—that head of his that was so like Odysseus’—high and proudly. She saw that her son was now indeed a man. Penelope spoke no word to him, for a new thought had come into her mind. She turned round on the stairs and went back with her hand-maids to the chamber where her loom and her distaff were. And as she went up the stairway and away from them her wooers muttered one to the other that she would soon have to choose one of them for her husband.
Telemachus turned to those who were standing at the tables and addressed them. ‘Wooers of my mother,’ he said, ‘I have a word to say to you.’
‘By the gods, youth,’ said one of the wooers, ’you must tell us first who he is who has made you so high and proud of speech.’
‘Surely,’ said another, ’he who has done that is the stranger who was with him. Who is he? Why did he come here, and of what land has he declared himself to be?’
‘Why did he not stay so that we might look at him and speak to him?’ said another of the wooers.
’These are the words I would say to you. Let us feast now in peace, without any brawling amongst us, and listen to the tale that the minstrel sings to us,’ said Telemachus. ’But to-morrow let us have a council made up of the chief men of this land of Ithaka. I shall go to the council and speak there. I shall ask that you leave this house of mine and feast on goods that you yourselves have gathered. Let the chief men judge whether I speak in fairness to you or not. If you do not heed what I will say openly at the council, before all the chief men of our land, then let it be on your own heads what will befall you.’