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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Greece and Turkey in Europe: Vol. XIX. 1876–79.

Greece: Ithaca

Ulysses and Laertes

By Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)

(From The Odyssey, Book XXIV)
Translated by W. C. Bryant

ULYSSES passed

Into the fruitful orchard, there to prove

His father. Going down and far within

The garden-plot, he found not Dolius there,

Nor any of the servants, nor his sons.

All were abroad, old Dolius leading them.

They gathered thorns to fence the garden-grounds.

There, delving in that fertile spot, around

A newly planted tree, Ulysses saw

His father only, sordidly arrayed

In a coarse tunic, patched and soiled. He wore

Patched greaves of bullock’s hide upon his thighs,

A fence against the thorn; and on his hands

Gloves, to protect them from the prickly stems

Of bramble; and upon his head a cap

Of goatskin. There he brooded o’er his grief.

Him when the much-enduring chief beheld,

Wasted with age and sorrow-worn, he stopped

Beside a lofty pear-tree’s stem and wept,

And pondered whether he should kiss and clasp

His father in his arms, and tell him all,

How he had reached his native land and home,

Or question first and prove him. Musing thus

It pleased him to begin with sportive words:

And thus resolved, divine Ulysses drew

Near to his father stooping at his task,

And loosening the hard earth about a tree,

And thus the illustrious son accosted him:—

“O aged man! there is no lack of skill

In tending this fair orchard, which thy care

Keeps flourishing; no growth is there of fig,

Vine, pear, or olive, or of plants that grow

In borders, that has missed thy friendly hand.

Yet let me say, and be thou not displeased,

Thou art ill cared for, burdened as thou art

With years, and squalid, and in mean attire.

It cannot be that for thy idleness

Thy master treats thee thus; nor is there seen

Aught servile in thy aspect,—in thy face

Or stature; thou art rather like a king;

Thou seemest one who should enjoy the bath

And banquet, and lie soft,—for this befits

Old men like thee. Now say, and tell me true,

Who may thy master be? whose orchard this

Which thou dost tend? And, more than this, declare,

For much I long to know, if I am come

To Ithaca, as I just now was told

By one who met me as I came,—a man

Not overwise, who would not stop to tell

What I desired to learn, nor bear to hear

My questions, when I asked him if a guest

Of mine were living yet in health, or dead

And in the realm of Pluto. Let me speak

Of him, and mark me well, I pray; I lodged

Once, in my native land, a man who came

Into my house, and never stranger yet

More welcome was than he. He was by birth

Of Ithaca, he said, Laertes’ son,

And grandson of Arcesias. Him I led

Beneath my roof, and hospitably lodged,

And feasted in the plenty of my home,

And gave such gifts as might become a host,—

Seven talents of wrought gold, a silver cup

All over rough with flowers, twelve single cloaks,

Twelve mats, twelve mantles passing beautiful,

And tunics twelve, and, chosen by himself,

Twelve graceful damsels, skilled in household arts.”

And then his father answered, shedding tears:

“Thou art indeed, O stranger, in the land

Of which thou dost inquire, but wicked men

And lawless now possess it. Thou hast given

Thy generous gifts in vain; yet hadst thou found

Ulysses living yet in Ithaca,

Then would he have dismissed thee recompensed

With gifts and liberal cheer, as is the due

Of him who once has been our host. Yet say,

And truly say, how many years have passed

Since thou didst lodge my son, if he it was,

Thy hapless guest, whom, far, away from home

And all his friends, the creatures of the deep,

And the foul birds of air, and beasts of prey,

Already have devoured. No mother mourned

His death and wrapped him in his shroud, nor I,

His father; nor did chaste Penelope,

His consort nobly dowered, bewail the man

She loved upon his bier with eyes dissolved

In tears, as fitting was,—an honor due

To those who die. Now, further, truly tell,

For I would learn, what is thy name, and whence

Thou comest, from what tribe, thy city where,

And who thy parents. Where is the good ship

At anchor which has brought thee and thy friends?

Or hast thou landed from another’s bark,

Which put thee on the shore and left the isle?”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:

“I will tell all and truly. I am come

From Alybas; a stately dwelling there

Is mine, Apheidas is my father, son

Of royal Polypemon, and my name

Eperitus. Some deity has warped

My course astray from the Sicanian coast,

And brought me hitherward against my will.

My bark lies yonder, stationed by the field

Far from the city. This is the fifth year

Since parting with me thy Ulysses left

My native land for his, ill-fated man!

Yet there were flights of birds upon the right

Of happy presage as he sailed, and I

Dismissed him cheerfully, and cheerfully

He went. We hoped that we might yet become

Each other’s guests, exchanging princely gifts.”

He spake, and a dark cloud of sorrow came

Over Laertes. With both hands he grasped

The yellow dust, and over his white head

Shed it with piteous groans. Ulysses felt

His heart within him melted; the hot breath

Rushed through his nostrils as he looked upon

His well-beloved father, and he sprang

And kissed and clasped him in his arms, and said:—

“Nay, I am he, my father; I myself

Am he of whom thou askest. I am come

To mine own country in the twentieth year.

But calm thyself, refrain from tears, and grieve

No more, and let me tell thee, in a word,

I have slain all the suitors in my halls,

And so avenged their insolence and crimes.”

And then Laertes spake again, and said:

“If now thou be Ulysses, my lost son,

Give some plain token, that I may believe.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:

“First, then, behold with thine own eyes the scar

Which once the white tusk of a forest boar

Inflicted on Parnassus, when I made

The journey thither, by thy own command,

And by my gracious mother’s, to receive

Gifts which her father, King Autolycus,

Once promised, when he came to Ithaca.

And listen to me further; let me name

The trees which in thy well-tilled orchard ground

Thou gavest me; I asked them all of thee,

When by thy side I trod the garden walks,

A little boy. We went among the trees,

And thou didst name them. Of the pear thirteen,

And of the apple ten thou gavest me,

And forty fig-trees; and thou didst engage

To give me fifty rows of vines, each row

Of growth to feed the winepress. Grapes are there

Of every flavor when the hours of Jove

Shall nurse them into ripeness from on high.”

He spake; a trembling seized the old man’s heart

And knees, as he perceived how true were all

The tokens which Ulysses gave. He threw

Round his dear son his arms. The hardy chief,

Ulysses, drew him fainting to his heart.