It had taken the Greeks ten years to capture Troy, and so the heroes were eager to return home. They divided up the treasure and the slaves they had captured, and they left for home in their black ships. But some of the gods were still angry at the Greeks, so their ships were scattered by storms.
Menelaus and Helen were blown all the way to Egypt and took a long time to reach their home in Sparta. Agamemnon reached home quickly, but there he found trouble: his wife had fallen in love with another man, and she had Agamemnon killed so that she could get married again.
On the island of Ithaca, Odysseus' wife Penelope and their son Telemachus waited and waited for Odysseus to return, but his ships never appeared. Years passed, and people began to say that he must have been shipwrecked and drowned.
Penelope was still a very beautiful woman, and noble men from all around Ithaca and the neighboring islands began to gather at her house. "Odysseus will never return," they told her. "You should marry one of us while you are still young and can have more children."
But Penelope did not believe that her husband was dead. "Odysseus will return to me," she said. The suitors were afraid to force her to marry one of them, since she was the queen of Ithaca, but they stayed in her house and drank her wine and ate her food and waited, hoping that at last she would agree to marry again.
At last the son of Odysseus and Penelope, Telemachus, who had only been a baby when Odysseus left to fight at Troy, grew to be nearly a man. One night he went to his mother, Penelope, and said, "These suitors are disgracing my father's house with their drinking and fighting. You must either marry one of them or send them away. Do you wish to marry one of these young men?"
"No," replied, Penelope. "Your father is strong and brave and favored by the gods. I do not believe he is dead."
"Then I will go to find him," said Telemachus.
The next day, Telemachus sailed away in a ship with his most trustworthy friends to find his father. When the suitors learned where he had gone, they became angry and threatened to force Penelope to marry one of them, now that she no longer had her son to protect her. But Penelope made them wait by playing a clever trick on them. She said that she wanted to weave a burial shroud for Odysseus' father Laertes, who was an old man, and would die one day soon.
"I must do my duty for my father-in-law before I take another husband," she said.
She agreed that once she was done weaving the burial cloth, she would pick one of the suitors to become her husband. At first, she seemed to make good progress in her weaving, but then her progress became slower and slower, even though she spent all her days at the loom. Secretly, in the middle of the night, she was unraveling the work she had done each day, so that she never got any closer to being done.
Meanwhile, Telemachus sailed to Sparta. There he visited King Menelaus and Queen Helen and asked them for news of Odysseus. Menelaus told Telemachus how, on their journey home, they had met the god Proteus, who told them that Odysseus was being held captive on an island by a goddess named Calypso who wanted to marry him.
"I think your father will come home soon," said Helen. She was a daughter of Zeus, and she could see the gods even when they were in disguise. As she looked at the companions of Telemachus, she could see that one of them was really the goddess Athena in disguise.
"Make offerings to the goddess Athena and sail for home," advised Helen. "I think that you will find your father there."
Athena met the queen's eyes and smiled at her.
Telemachus returned to his ship and prepared to sail for home. Meanwhile, Athena went up to Mount Olympus and spoke to Zeus: "For seven years now, the goddess Calypso has kept Odysseus prisoner on her island, trying to make him agree to be her husband. He still refuses her, and now his son is looking for him. You must make her let Odysseus return home."
Zeus gave his word, which not even he could break once given, and he sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, down to Calypso's island to command her to free Odysseus. Calypso was not happy at this news, but she knew that she could no oppose the will of Zeus.
As soon as he heard the gods' will, Odysseus built a raft and sailed away from Calypso's island.
But the sea god Poseidon hated Odysseus. He sent a storm against Odyssues and smashed his raft against the rocks of an island. Odysseus washed ashore, exhausted and fell asleep.
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