A Telegenic Moment

Penelopos was known for keeping to himself and primarily inhabiting his studio. He would upon occasion pack up a sketch pad and some oil pastels and head out into the hilly countryside of Ithaka. A few of his completed works he would send off to this or that friend, relative or former patron. For years he had no need to sell his works, so many of them ended up in storage. He did not have the will to show them off at a gallery exhibition, for that would mean exposing his memories and his grief at the loss of Odysseus. Though, these days he wondered if it might not be prudent to do what he could to rebuild what the suitors were robbing from his daughter and grandchildren by their presence.

None of the suitors bothered to expect his presence anywhere other than out of earshot of the hall they had overtaken. Perhaps it would not have mattered if they had known that Penelopos was standing out of sight not far from Antinoos and Eurymakhos as they plotted together concerning Telemakhe's fate. They had little respect for anyone whom they did not deem powerful in some manner. Therefore, they chose to see Penelopos' adherence to the laws of hospitality as a form of weakness only to be expected from an artist.

As Penelopos had a glass of chardonnay and sat behind the kitchen door chatting with the chef, he could hear Antinoos' expression of displeasure. He stopped to listen.

"How is it that Telemakhe escaped a boarding both leaving and returning to Ithaka?" complained Antinoos, "We sent a swift ship. We had lookouts posted on the port parapets with eight shifts around the clock looking for the girl. We were more than prepared to capture her and decide amongst ourselves whom she must marry. Some deity must have seen to her safety, and directed her to take a long route home.

"We must acknowledge that she is no fool and would no doubt make a dangerous wife. Even now she could call together the Akhaians in assembly and expose our plans to overtake Ithaka without due process. The silly old dotards respect the female, and give her a place in council which is rightfully ours. Do you think they would thank us for our efforts, if we take matters into our own hands? We must act immediately or face possible exile.

"I say we find her far from the city where no eye will notice and permanently remove her as the conferrer of kingship. We can then divide the royal stores and livestock amongst ourselves, send Penelopos to his home willing or not, and he who takes kingship will take the castle."

Silence descended amongst the suitors at Antinoos' empassioned speech. Some, like Eurymakhos, nodded at what they believed was the wisdom of Antinoos' words. Others gaped in shock.

Amphinomos from the grainlands of Doulikhion stepped forward. "Friends," he said, "I know I wouldn't like to kill Telemakhe. Sure I came for the throne like all of you, and I am prepared to pay for that honour with rich gifts. If she happens to like me as well, so much the better. But this, this is a bad business and gives me the creeps. Who knows where such action may end? I say we consult Zeus on this matter and if the deity recommends ending Telemakhe's life, who am I to stand in the way?"

Most of the suitors agreed strongly with this course of action. Most nearly jumped out of their skins when Penelopos strode out of the kitchen unexpectedly.

"What foolishness are you plotting?" Penelopos asked them. The suitors looked to one another feigning the greatest innocence. Penelopos looked straight at Antinoos, "In town I hear you are called the best of your generation. How is this possible? Do you not know how to behave with integrity and mercy without having that behaviour enforced by someone of greater physical might than yourself? Can you not see its intrinsic value? At least remember how your own father was rescued by Odysseus when he had joined Taphian pirates to raid our friends the Thesprotians. Our own people would have raided him, if Odysseus had not shown mercy. When your very existence depended upon this woman, would you raise your hand against her daughter?"

Eurymakhos quickly answered Penelopos, "Sir, you must put aside any negative thoughts. Things are not as they seem. I myself was fed salt water taffy at Odysseus' knee when I was just a tad. None of us would seriously think of harming a hair on Telemakhe's head. I wish to have a happy homelife with her and many babes that would be your own grandchildren." Eurymakhos was certainly the more moderate between Antinoos and himself, but his words did not have the ring of truth to them. In his frustration he had contemplated removing the obstacle to his power.

With pursed lips Penelopos looked at each and everyone of them, hoping some conscience would be touched. He knew that he could not stand up to them in any other way given the circumstances, so he withdrew up the staircase to his studio.

Before he could get as far as the first landing, the outer door opened and he could hear the nurse, Eurykleia, cry out, "Oh my dear child!" Spinning on his heel he could see Telemakhe entering. Like a boy he bound back down the steps and to Telemakhe's side, weeping and kissing her. "You had us so scared," he said.

The Bigger Beggar Gets the Bitter Batter.

Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps