On Ulysses’s homecoming: Crying and shivering

And after his return to Ithaca, what there does Ulysses find? That his home is filled with suitors, truculent and obnoxious. And after they’ve been dispatched and the floors cleaned? That there abides a reticent wife, filled with distrust. They shall sleep in separate beds in separate rooms that night.

This until, filled with anger, Ulysses describes the bed he built by hand, the bed said to be carried but too heavy to lift. And then she, Penelope, knew it was he, Ulysses, and not some other man or god. Thus,

She flew weeping to his side, flung her arms about his neck, and kissed him. “Do not be angry with me Ulysses,” she cried, “you, who are the wisest of mankind. We have suffered, both of us. Heaven has denied us the happiness of spending our youth, and of growing old, together; do not then be aggrieved or take it amiss that I did not embrace you thus as soon as I saw you. I have been shuddering all the time through fear that someone might come here and deceive me with a lying story; for there are many very wicked people going about. Jove’s daughter Helen would never have yielded herself to a man from a foreign country, if she had known that the sons of Achaeans would come after her and bring her back. Heaven put it in her heart to do wrong, and she gave no thought to that sin, which has been the source of all our sorrows. Now, however, that you have convinced me by showing that you know all about our bed (which no human being has ever seen but you and I and a single maid servant, the daughter of Actor, who was given me by my father on my marriage, and who keeps the doors of our room) hard of belief though I have been I can mistrust no longer.”

If the years saw her courageous and patient, did they not also show her a little dead? And how much did she kill herself, kill of herself, in order to endure a life gone under? But then, in an instant, what does she make of the years of strife, of deceit, and mistrust, the decades of sorrow and longing and terror, the eclipse of youth and the crabbed hope removed? And what then does she make of a life?

She weeps, and he “melts and clasps her to his bosom,” and though all seemed lost, something–just enough–was restored.

In homecoming, the real flees the idea and thereby disappoints the mind’s crowned delights. And yet, in homecoming, the strong make their peace with the past, with each other, and thence shiver with an intimation of the else.

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