The bending of Ulysses’ bow.
Penelope, to put an end to the solicitation of the suitors, proposes to marry the person who shall first bend the bow of Ulysses, and shoot through the ringlets. After their attempts have proved ineffectual, Ulysses, taking Eumaeus and Philaetius apart, discovers himself to them; then returning, desires leave to try his strength at the bow, which, though refused with indignation by the suitors, Penelope and Telemachus cause it to be delivered to his hands. He bends it immediately, and shoots through all the rings. Jupiter at the same instant thunders from heaven; Ulysses accepts the omen, and gives a sign to Telemachus, who stands ready armed at his side.
And Pallas now, to raise the rivals’ fires,
With her own art Penelope inspires
Who now can bend Ulysses’ bow, and wing
The well-aim’d arrow through the distant ring,
Shall end the strife, and win the imperial dame:
But discord and black death await the game!
The prudent queen the lofty stair ascends:
At distance due a virgin-train attends;
A brazen key she held, the handle turn’d,
With steel and polish’d elephant adorn’d:
Swift to the inmost room she bent her way,
Where, safe reposed, the royal treasures lay:
There shone high heap’d the labour’d brass and ore,
And there the bow which great Ulysses bore;
And there the quiver, where now guiltless slept
Those winged deaths that many a matron wept.
This gift, long since when Sparta’s shore he
On young Ulysses Iphitus bestowed:
Beneath Orsilochus’ roof they met;
One loss was private, one a public debt;
Messena’s state from Ithaca detains
Three hundred sheep, and all the shepherd swains;
And to the youthful prince to urge the laws,
The king and elders trust their common cause.
But Iphitus, employed on other cares,
Search’d the wide country for his wandering mares,
And mules, the strongest of the labouring kind;
Hapless to search; more hapless still to find!
For journeying on to Hercules, at length
That lawless wretch, that man of brutal strength,
Deaf to Heaven’s voice, the social rites transgress’d;
And for the beauteous mares destroy’d his guest.
He gave the bow; and on Ulysses’ part
Received a pointed sword, and missile dart:
Of luckless friendship on a foreign shore
Their first, last pledges! for they met no more.
The bow, bequeath’d by this unhappy hand,
Ulysses bore not from his native land;
Nor in the front of battle taught to bend,
But kept in dear memorial of his friend.