The Bigger Begger Gets the Bitter Batter

Penelopos and Telemakhe ignored the suitors in their mutual joy—So the suitors were tossing their cloaks about upon chairs and into corners; so they were choosing yet again the finest pigs, goats and steers for the slaughter—Penelopos was engrossed in listening to his daughter's adventures. Despite his fears he was proud to hear of her courage. She was certainly her mother's daughter.

As the meat was being prepared for the evening's feasting, Eumaios the swineherd entered the hall. He walked over to the family table and joined Telemakhe and Penelopos. While Penelopos was calling Phemios the harper to play, Eumaios mouthed silently to Telemakhe, "Your mother is on the way." Telemakhe carefully nodded.

At the door a broad shouldered old woman carrying a tall braided staff and a knapsack shuffled in. Seeing the woman Telemakhe glanced at Eumaios who raised his eyebrows. "Who joins us in my homecoming feast?" Telemakhe called out. The suitors turned from Telemakhe to the old beggar. "Here, let me give you bread and meat," she said handing Eumaios generous handfuls of food to deliver to the woman. "And, please, your shyness does you no good as a hungry beggar. Feel free to go amongst the people here and ask for alms. I'm in a partying mood."

The woman took the food then looked upward exclaiming, "Zeus on Olympos, bless this young lady and give to her all that she desires." She sat down with her knapsack before her, and placing the food she had been given upon it, began eating. When she had finished she pulled herself up and began shuffling from suitor to suitor. With strained smiles Telemakhe's direction they gave the woman more meat, bread, vegetables and various tidbits.

Eurymakhos commented, "Telemakhe why are you further depleting your stores of good food on this riffraff. We're not eating it up fast enough?" The suitors laughed. "Bringing a beggar in here is like inviting a mouse into a granary, you had just better hope she doesn't invite her family along as well."

The beggar woman eventually made her way to Antinoos. "Phew!" he exclaimed holding his nose, "What foul wind brought this pest in here. Go stand in the hall downwind of us and bother me no more. Oh it is very easy for the others to give you gifts of food that isn't their's, but I won't stoop to such false generosity. The only thing I would give you is a good whipping."

Telemakhe stood, offended. "I ask you to give, and you frighten this woman with threats," she said, "I'm not certain where this sudden concern for the welfare of my stores came from, but they are mine to worry about and I say to freely contribute some food to this woman."

With darkened eyes Antinoos turned on Telemakhe, "So are we getting high and mighty? Just whose stores are you giving away anyhow?"

Before Telemakhe could stand dumbfounded long, the woman flashed her a look and turned to Antinoos with these words, "When you are getting fat on other's meat, can't you spare me a crust? It seems that despite your hot temper you have a cold heart."

In a moment Antinoos grabbed his footstool and like a baseball batter swung the piece of furniture at the woman, striking her shoulder. Telemakhe felt the blow to her mother in her heart and might have given Odysseus' disguise away had not Penelopos first cried out, "By Hades, what do you mean by beating a defenseless old woman? What if she were a deity in disguise? I will not have this. Madam you are welcome to join me in my studio. I am leaving for there this very instant."

A Fireside Chat.

Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps