The Penny Drops

Penelopos stroked the tall smooth ceramic image of his daughter Telemakhe he had created. He knew the value of memory after losing his wife to the Trojan war. No more did he take for granted cherished moments with those he loved. In careful detail he would remember how they stood, the shape of their mouths, the movement of their eyes, and how every line and colour expressed some inner quality, some aspect of their personality. He would then recall how the aesthetics of their very beingness merged with his own, enriching his experience of love and life.

A firm but muffled knock came from the door. Penelopos sat for a few moments trying to decide if he should answer it. The thought of it being his daughter's suitors nearly brought tears to his eyes. Why couldn't they just leave them alone? Wearily he picked himself up and wandered over to the door. He opened it a crack. Outside stood Medon, the castle crier.

"What?" asked Penelopos gruffly, "Are the leeches expecting me to send them all the serving staff for another feast on our finest wine, swine and sweets? Perhaps they seek once again for me to bestow Telemakhe into one of their fat greasy hands. Now I know what a service Odysseus performed for my former patron King Tydareos. When these suitors were boys didn't their parents tell them of the justice and beneficence with which Odysseus governed this land? Where is their respect? Each day they eat away at my daughter's inheritance without a real care for her except as the first prize to their aspirations. I wish this were the last day of their feasting. The very last!"

"I am so sorry," said Medon, "I have not come with a message from the suitors, but I have come with a message about them. I do remember with what firm kindness Odysseus nurtured and developed this country. She was always a smart one, but that did not keep her from having a large heart. I wish to see this country continue to prosper with the help of others of a similar spirit, such as your daughter. This is why I have come."

"All right then," said Penelopos inviting Medon in and closing the door behind him. "What is it that you have to tell me?"

"Your daughter has left Ithaka and is even now sailing to Pylos for word of her mother."

"Oh no," cried Penelopos, "Deities save us!"

To the back of the ceramic figure Penelopos had attached a series of hooks upon which strands of thread could be secured and stretched across to another ceramic figure, one of Odysseus. Between mother and daughter Penelopos wove the story of their family, however brief in time, but deep in connection. Yet no matter how frequently he tried to depict that relationship with his wife, so much still remained missing. Sometimes he felt if he could only recreate its essence perfectly, then this world would disappear and that other world would completely embrace him.

"I was near Antinoos and Eurymakhos when Telemakhe's friend Noemon came to speak with them," continued Medon, "Those two currently head our pack of young men. They were presiding over competitions in javelin and discus amongst the suitors when Noemon arrived. She was asking if they knew when Telemakhe was due to return from Pylos, since she had lent Telemakhe her ship and would need it to fetch some unweaned mule colts she had in a field on the other side of the island.

"Antinoos and Eurymakhos were livid. They said they had forbade Telemakhe from leaving on that trip. They insisted on knowing who had manned the ship, slaves or a crew from Ithaka, and whether or not Noemon had given the ship willingly. Noemon wasn't going to have a bar of it. She said that of course she freely and happily lent Telemakhe her ship; what else would one do for such a good friend in trouble with the likes of these twits? She further said that the boat was staffed completely by friends from in town including Mentor who was strangely seen only a few days later still in Ithaka. Noemon then stormed off.

"But of real concern is the fact that the suitors are organising to have a ship of their own sent off to intercept Telemakhe. They may try to force her marriage at sea, or use her absence as an excuse to finally rise up and simply take the throne."

Penelopos stared aimlessly at the wall behind Medon's back as a few tears spilled over his heavy eyelids. He found a rag nearby and deliberately rubbed his charcoal covered fingers within its folds. He then wiped the moisture from his face with his hands. "Medon, you must go to Laertes' home. He may be able to arrange that a number of ships are launched today, so that the suitors will be unable to know which may be carrying my daughter, their prey. Though he is getting a bit vague, Laertes may be able to help us keep the peace in the meantime. Then please leave me unless there is an emergency, I really don't wish to see anyone for awhile."

Penelopos picked up a skein of wool. It was no where near the correct shade of rose for his daughter's cheeks. He was about to take it to his dye vats when he could hear a commotion in the outer courtyard. Penelopos stepped out of his workroom and into the hall overlooking the main courtyard. One of the crew from Telemakhe's ship came running in with Eumaios the swineherd following.

"I have great news!" the crewmember cried out, "Telemakhe has returned." This of course put the suitors in a stir. Eumaios quickly made his way up the staircase and to Penelopos' side. Whispering in his ear Eumaios confirmed the crewmember's report including that Telemakhe was currently staying at his hut. Eumaios was then off to pass the word on to Laertes as well.

Penelopos could feel his body relax with relief. They may still have much to face, but at least he and Telemakhe could do it together. For the first time Penelopos questioned whether he had been right to carry so much grief for so many years, when perhaps that is what caused his daughter to leave him for Pylos. This mattered, but not so much right now as rejoicing at his little girl's return.

A Telegenic Moment.

Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps