The Highly Strung Odysseus
The suitors began making their way back to their dining table and back to their feasting, a carafe of ouzo foremost in their thoughts. A number had already seated themselves when Odysseus as the old beggar woman stood forward.
"In my day," said Odysseus, "I used to be quite a dab hand with the bow and arrow. That looks to be a fine instrument. I should like to have a go, and see if these old fingers still have what it takes."
The suitors laughed at the thought of such an old wreck of a woman wishing to join their game, but she stood firm in her request.
Irritated, Antinoos addressed Odysseus, "So far you have been pampered and parboiled by your betters. As long as you have remained a wallflower, we have tolerated your presence. However in stepping forward, no doubt drunk, you are only demonstrating the degree to which you are cluefully challenged. This game is not for you. If you touch that bow, I can promise a bum's rush to some ship's bilge and then 'bye-bye'."
Penelopos was furious with Antinoos' bullying. Penelopos had not set such boundaries to this game, but the games the suitors played ran deep and cold. "I expect you to treat my daughter's guests with respect, just as you have been treated with respect over the years. Have we not according to the laws of hospitality given to you from the best of our stores?" fumed Penelopos, "What are you afraid of? That an old woman will show you up and therefore take Telemakhe's hand in marriage? If I were you, I wouldn't let the tension spoil your dinner."
The young men looked suitably sheepish from Penelopos' remarks. Even so, Eurymakhos spoke out, "Are we to be embarrassed by having a beggar woman compete on an even footing with us. What if word of this was passed about? People may think we are no better than common tramps to be consorting with such."
"You are afraid of hurting your reputation?" asked Penelopos. He rolled his eyes. "Let me tell you, you lost your good names when you spent all of those years abusing Odysseus' good house, eating the best cattle and drinking her fine wine. I say more power to this itinerant woman. Give her the bow and arrow. Let us see with what grace she can attempt the task."
Eumaios once more picked up bow, string and quiver of arrows, delivering them to Odysseus. She deliberately accepted the items, slinging the quiver over her shoulder and bending close to Eumaios's ear as she whispered the command for him to lock up the servants, then bolt the courtyard gate.
The door to the weapons locker was in line with one end of the row of axe-helves. Odysseus dragged a stool where she could sit before that door. With stave between her bent knees she minutely tapped the bow from top to bottom, checking for what termite borings may have damaged it while its owner was away.
"Look, the old biddy is a bow fancier," japed one suitor to the others gathered nearby. To which another suitor replied, "Maybe she has one at home just like it!"
Before she was satisfied with the bow's structural integrity, Odysseus noted Eumaios' return from his chores. She checked the placement and stance of her husband, daughter, faithful staff and the group of suitors. She then rose from her seat.
In one, swift, elegant motion Odysseus raised string to the bow nock and with a turn of her wrist inserted loop into nock. The bow hummed with the effort, as if it were a harp and Odysseus had just plucked the sweetest note.
The suitors hushed.
Odysseus drew two arrows from the quiver, and holding both, set one to string. Bellying the bow and pulling the string, she took aim and shot. The arrow flew unerringly through every socket ring and embedded itself in the wall opposite. Its haft vibrated from the remaining force.
The second arrow was immediately set to string and drawn up to Odysseus' ear. She turned toward the suitors, casually aiming it at each and every one until it rested on Antinoos.
"Good sport don't you think, Telemakhe," she commented to her daughter. Telemakhe belted on her sword and picked up a spear.
As time slowed in the intensity of the moment, Odysseus became aware of her choices.
Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps