Town Meating: Mincing and Wincing

Telemakhe dressed herself with the help of her old nurse, Eurykleia, in the uniform her mother had for such occasions: fine embroidered trousers and tunic, a long purple cloth belt that wrapped several times around her waist, swordbelt and newly sharpened sword. Finally, Eurykleia placed the large ornamental chain of royal office around Telemakhe's neck. Telemakhe unconsciously brought one of the jeweled links up to her lips and gently rubbed it across the soft flesh.

"You did tell the criers to call the Akhaians to assembly?" asked Telemakhe.

"Of course sweetie, everything is happening as you requested," said Eurykleia as she gave Telemakhe's hair a quick brush.

"Please hand me my sandals. I want to be off right away."

Eurykleia put down the brush and sauntered over to the door where Telemakhe kept her shoes at night. "Such a hurry! Do you really think that a few more minutes will make that much of a difference?" She picked up the sandals and brought them to Telemakhe who quickly put them on herself.

"Now is the time for me to act and I don't want to lose any momentum. Trust me Eurykleia, I'm going to start straightening a few things out." Telemakhe grabbed her cape and threw it about her shoulders. She kissed Eurykleia on the cheek then headed out of the palace and to the town assembly grounds.

Through the gathering people Telemakhe pointedly made her way to her mother's seat and placed herself between its carved and guilded armrests. From its vantage she could observe who chose to appear and their apparent states of mind. Soon the islanders were settled and ready for business.

Lord Aigyptios with some difficulty raised his aged body, so as to call the meeting to order and open the assembly. "Ithakans hear me!" began Aigyptios. "By the deities, it has been a long time since last we had a town meeting. When's the last time you remember we had a meeting, Halitherses?" Aigyptios looked across the faces to his compatriot. "Must be since before our Sovereign Odysseus left. Something like twenty years? So, who's called us here today and for what reason? One of the youngsters, one of the silver-haired lot? I'd like to congratulate the person's spunk, more power to 'em."

Telemakhe made her way to Lord Aigyptios side and requested the speaking staff. Once within her hands she raised her voice, "It is I who called you together this day. Many of you, I know, have spoken of the golden days when my distinguished mother managed this island with a firm but gentle hand. She has been lost to us these many years and yet another evil has fallen upon the house of Odysseus. We have been descended upon as if by vultures who may pluck at the fat of an animal before it is truly dead.

"Suitors have come for my hand in marriage desirous that such a match will mean their rulership of Ithaka. Meanwhile they are slaughtering our cattle, drinking deeply of our fine wine, molesting our servants and leaving our jacuzzi a filthy mess. In short they are behaving like soccer fans. We have had to live with their extravagance at our expense for a number of years now.

"I beg of you, people of Ithaka, put an end to this injustice. My father and I do not have sufficient force to remove these so-called suitors ourselves. For Odysseus' memory, please set her house aright," Telemakhe spoke these final words with a tremble in her voice. As hot tears of frustration and anger poured out of her eyes, she threw the speaking staff to the ground. The crowd murmured in sympathy.

Antinoos, one of the suitors, grabbed the speaking staff from the dust. "How dare you get high and mighty with us, Princess Telemakhe. Zeus forbid that you should ever be the ruler of Ithaka. Penelopos is responsible for giving Telemakhe's hand in marriage and where is he today? Off weaving another tapestry to keep us waiting, no doubt. It is his fault that we have been detained so long in Odysseus' household. His inefficacy has broken many of our hearts. I tell you today, that this assembly should pressure Penelopos to finally award Telemakhe to one of us, or to dismiss himself from that house with Telemakhe, making room for a new ruler."

"Excuse me?" asked Telemakhe incredulously. "Throw ourselves out of our own home, so that one of you could rule? People who have no compunctions about plundering another person's household? Is something missing from this picture?"

At that moment a pair of eagles circled above the assemblage, then swiftly descended upon members of the crowd tearing at their heads and hands. The cries of people either frightened or hurt combining with the shrieks of the birds created a macabre symphony. Spry old Halitherses leapt forward and snatched the speaking stick from Antinoos.

"This is a bad sign, a very bad sign," said Halitherses. "Do you all remember that I had in fact prophesied that Odysseus would take nineteen years in her return. In the flight of these eagles I foresee Odysseus' homecoming and this is a warning to the suitors that they shall have hell to pay if they don't shape up pronto."

Eurymakhos, another of the suitors, managed to have the staff passed to him. "Pardon me, grandpa, but not all bird flight means anything. This is just airy-fairy Middle Ages stuff. Hear my prophesy for a sensible future: Penelopos should go back to his patron in Sparta. He can then set a price for a valued daughter and then offer her hand to one of us. The cattle we have eaten so far is just payment for making us wait. Then it is up to the deities who shall rule Ithaka."

"I am just so sick of this," said Telemakhe, "I really don't want to argue about it anymore. All I ask is that you give me a fast ship with twenty oars. I will sail to Pylos and Sparta for news. If I hear some story or rumour that mum is alive somewhere, then we can all wait another year for her return. If I hear of her death, then we shall arrange for full funereal honours to be made in her memory and I shall choose to whom I shall be married with my father's blessing. I leave it to you and your consciences."

A Star to Steer Her By.

Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps