Penelope left the hall and went back to her own chamber. Next Eumaeus went away to look after his swine. But still the wooers continued to feast, and still Odysseus sat in the guise of a beggar on the threshold of his own house.
There was in Ithaka a common beggar; he was a most greedy fellow, and he was nicknamed Irus because he used to run errands for the servants of Odysseus’ house. He came in the evening, and seeing a seeming beggar seated on the threshold, he flew into a rage and shouted at him:
’Get away from here, old fellow, lest you be dragged away by the hand or foot. Look you! The lords within the house are giving me the wink to turn you out. But I can’t demean myself by touching the like of you. Get up now and go while I’m easy with you.’
Odysseus looked at the fellow and said, ’I have not harmed you in deed or word, and I do not grudge you anything of what you may get in this house. The threshold I sit on is wide enough for two of us.’
‘What words this fellow has!’ said Irus the beggar. ’He talks like an old sit-by-the-fire. I’ll not waste more words on him. Get up now, heavy paunch, and strip for the fight, for I’m going to show all the lords that I can keep the door for them.’
‘Do not provoke me,’ said Odysseus. ’Old as I seem, I may be able to draw your blood.’
But Irus kept on shouting, ‘I’ll knock the teeth out of your jaws.’ ‘I’ll trounce you.’ Antinous, the most insolent of the wooers, saw the squabble, and he laughed to see the pair defying each other. ‘Friends,’ said he, ’the gods are good to us, and don’t fail to send us amusement. The strange beggar and our own Irus are threatening each other. Let us see that they don’t draw back from the fight. Let us match one against the other.’
All the wooers trooped to the threshold and stood round the ragged men. Antinous thought of something to make the game more merry. ’There are two great puddings in the larder,’ he said. ’Let us offer them for a prize to these pugilists. Come, Irus. Come, stranger. A choice of puddings for whichever of you wins the match. Aye, and more than that. Whoever wins shall have leave to eat every day in this hall, and no other beggar shall be let come near the house. Go to it now, ye mighty men.’ All the wooers crowded round and clapped the men on to the fight.
Odysseus said, ’Friends, an old man like me cannot fight one who is younger and abler.’
But they cried to him, ’Go on, go on. Get into the fight or else take stripes upon your body,’
Then said Odysseus, ’Swear to me, all of you, that none of you will show favour to Irus nor deal me a foul blow,’
All the wooers cried out that none would favour Irus or deal his opponent a foul blow. And Telemachus, who was there, said, ’The man who strikes thee, stranger, will have to take reckoning from me.’