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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 Eumæus and Phi. lætius 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 Telem. achus 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; 5
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 gre Ulysses bore;
And there the quiver, where now guiltless slept 15
Those winged deaths that many a matron wept.
This gist, long since when Sparta's shores he trod, On young Ulysses Iphitus bestow'd:
Beneath Orsilochus's 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 employ'd 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, 30
Deaf to Heaven's voice, the social rite 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
35 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.
40 Now gently winding up the fair ascent, By many an easy step the matron went; Then o'er the pavement glides with grace divine; (With polish'd oak the level pavements shine ;) The folding gates a dazzling light display'd, 45 With pomp of various architrave o'erlaid. The bolt, obedient to the silken string, Forsakes the staple as she pulls the ring ; The wards respondent to the key turn round; The bars fall back; the flying valves resound; 50 Loud as a bull makes hill and valley ring, So roar'd the lock when it released the spring. She moves majestic through the wealthy room, Where treasured garments cast a rich perfumes There from the column where alost it hung, 55 Reach'd, in its splendid case, the bow unstrung;
Across her knees she laid the well-known bow,
And pensive sat, and tears began to flow.
To full satiety of grief she mourns,
Then silent to the joyous hall returns,
To the proud suitors bears in pensive state
The unbended bow, and arrows wing'd with fate.
Behind her train the polish'd coffer brings,
Which held the alternate brass and silver rings,
Full in the portal the chaste queen appears,
And with her veil conceals the coming tears :
On either side awaits a virgin fair;
While thus the malron, with majestic air :
“Say you, whom these forbidden walls enclose,
For whom my victims bleed, my vintage flows; 70
If these neglected, faded charms can move ?
Or is it but a vain pretence, you love ?
If I the prize, if me you seek to wife,
Hear the conditions, and commence the strife.
Who first Ulysses' wondrous bow shall bend,
And through twelve ringlets the fleet arrow send,
Him will I follow, and forsake my home,
For him forsake this loved, this wealthy dome,
Long, long the scene of all my past delight,
And still to last, the vision of my night!" 80
Graceful she said, and bade Eumæus show
The rival peers the ringlets and the bow.
From his full eyes the tears unbidden spring,
Touch'd at the dear memorials of his king.
Philætius too relents, but secret shed
85 The tender drops. Antinous saw, and said:
“Hence to your fields, ye rustics ! hence away,
Nor stain with grief the pleasures of the day:
Nor to the royal heart recall in vain
The sad remembrance of a perish'd man.
Enough her precious tears already flow;
Or share the feast with due respect, or go
To weep abroad, and leave to us the bow:
No vulgar task! Ill suits this courtly crew
That stubborn horn which brave Ulysses drew. 95
I well remember (for I gazed him o'er
While yet a child) what majesty he bore !
And still, all infant as I was, retain
The port, the strength, the grandeur of the man.”
He said, but in his soul fond joys arise, 100
And his proud hopes already win the prize.
“ To speed the flying shaft through every ring,
Wretch! is not thine: the arrows of the king
Shall end those hopes, and fate is on the wing !"
Then thus Telemachus: “ Some god I find 105 With pleasing phrensy has possess'd my mind; When a loved mother threatens to depart, Why with this ill-timed gladness leaps my heart ? Come then, ye suitors ! and dispute a prize Richer than all the Achaian state supplies, 110 Than all proud Argos, or Mycæna knows, Than all our isles or continents enclose: A woman matchless, and almost divine, Fit for the praise of every tongue but mine. No more excuses then, no more delay ;
115 Haste to the trial : lo! I lead the way. I too may try, and if this arm can wing The feather'd arrow through the destined ring, Then if no happier knight the conquest boast, I shall not sorrow for a mother lost;
120 But, bless'd in her, possess these arms alone, Heir of my father's strength, as well as throne.”
He spoke; then rising, his broad sword unbound, And cast his purple garment on the ground. A trench he open'd; in a line he placed
125 The level axes, and the points made fast. (His perfect skill the wondering gazers eyed, The game as yet unseen, as yet untried.) Then with a manly pace he took his stand, And grasp'd the bow, and twang'd it in his hand. 130 Three times, with beating heart, he made essay; Three times, unequal to the task, gave way; A modest boldness on his cheek appear'd; And thrice he hoped, and thrice again he fear'd.
The fourth had drawn it. The great sire with joy 135
Beheld, but with a sign forbade the boy,
His ardour straight the obedient prince suppress'd,
And, artful, thus the suitor train address'd:
“Oh lay the cause on youth yet immature !
(For Heaven forbid such weakness should endure !)
How shall this arm, unequal to the bow, 141
Retort an insult or repel a foe ?
But you, whom Heaven with better nerves has bless'd,
Accept the trial, and the prize contest."
He cast the bow before him, and apart 145
Against the polish'd quiver propp'd the dart.
Resuming then his seat, Epitheus' son,
The bold Antinous, to the rest begun:
From where the goblet first begins to flow,
From right to left in order take the bow, 150
And prove your several strengths.” The princes
And first Leiodes, blameless priest, appear'd:
The eldest born of Enops' noble race,
Who next the goblet held his holy place ;
He, only he, of all the suitor throng,
Their deeds detested, and abjured the wrong.
With tender hands the stubborn horn he strains;
The stubborn horn resisted all his pains !
Already in despair he gives it o'er:
“ Take it who will,” he cries, “I strive no more. 160
What numerous deaths attend this fatal bow !
What souls and spirits shall it send below!
Better, indeed, to die, and fairly give
Nature her debt, than disappointed live,
With each new sun to some new hope a prey,
Yet still to-morrow falser than to-day.
How long in vain Penelope we sought!
This bow shall ease us of that idle thought,
And send us with some humbler wife to live,
Whom gold shall gain, or destiny shall give."
Thus speaking, on the floor the bow he placed ;
(With rich inlay the various floor was graced ;)