STUDY GUIDE FOR HOMER'S ODYSSEY, BOOKS 13-24

John T. Kirby
Purdue University

[In Stanley Lombardo's translation, he provides his own line numbers in the margins. You will find the line-numbers for the original Greek version at the top of each page, in square brackets. Page-numbers here, however, refer to his pagination.]
 

BOOK 13

The Phaeacians deliver Odysseus safely to the shore of Ithaca, along with their gifts for him. What happens to them next?

As when he lands on the island of Scheria, he sleeps on the shore before going further. What is different about his sleep this time? What does Ithaca look like to him when he awakes?

The theme of DISGUISE AND RECOGNITION, which was begun on the island of the Phaeacians, is revisited with increasing frequency once Odysseus reaches Ithaca. The first person he sees is Athena, herself disguised as a young man. How does he, in return, represent himself to this person? Once she reveals herself to him, what does their conversation teach you about their relationship?

Athena helps him hide his treasures in the cave of the nymphs, and gives him important information about the situation in his home. How does she prepare him for the last leg of his journey?
 

BOOK 14

Odysseus comes first to the hut of his swineherd, Eumaeus, who receives him in a typical XENIA situation ('All strangers and beggars come from Zeus,' p. 208): food first, then inquiry about his identity and itinerary, then (eventually) a place to sleep. What story does Odysseus give him about himself, and how much truth is threaded through the fiction (again DISGUISE)? What information does he learn from Eumaeus about the suitors, his wife, and Telemachus?
 

BOOK 15

Again, Homer is bringing together the divergent strands of his narrative. Here we come back to where we left off in Book 4, when Telemachus was visiting Menelaus and Helen in Lacedaemon. How does Athena incite him to return to Ithaca?

As Telemachus is preparing to sail to Ithaca, a man -- an exile named Theoclymenus -- comes to him. Why is he in exile? What does he ask from Telemachus? Pay close attention this man; you will see more of him in Book 17.

Now Homer shifts theater again (p. 231) back to Odysseus and Eumaeus. Odysseus asks Eumaeus for news of his mother and father. He had already seen, and gained news from, his mother in the underworld (Book 11) -- including word about his father, and the all-important news that Penelope has not yet remarried. What does Eumaeus' account here (p. 233) add to what he already knows?

Odysseus then asks for information about Eumaeus' own past and background. What do you learn about the socioeconomic status of his family on the island (called 'Syria') from which he had hailed?
 

BOOK 16

Telemachus returns to Ithaca. Whom does he visit first of all? What is their reunion like? How does Telemachus address this person? Odysseus witnesses the reunion; how must this have affected him?

 Eumaeus tells Telemachus that Odysseus claims the status of suppliant (HIKETÊS) in their home. How does Telemachus respond to this news? Remember, it has specific connections to the obligations of XENIA. What does Telemachus offer to do? What does he NOT want this 'stranger' to do?

Odysseus uses this as an opportunity to hear Telemachus' account of the problem with the suitors (his third version, after those of his mother, in Hades, and of Eumaeus).

Telemachus sends Eumaeus to give word, privately, to Penelope that he has returned from his journey. Who comes to Odysseus at this point (p. 245), and in what guise? What happens to him? How is this like what happens to him in Book 6 (p. 91)?

This is the moment when Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachus (DISGUISE AND RECOGNITION -- here on p. 246). What is Telemachus' initial response to this? How does Odysseus explain his remarkable transformation? At this point, Telemachus believes him. What do they both do then?

Odysseus wastes no time in enlisting Telemachus' help in scouring the suitors out of the palace. What is Telemachus' initial response to this? (See if you note something of a pattern in these initial responses of his.) He gives a tally of all the suitors (p. 247) -- how many are there in all, not counting their own herald and table-attendants?

Telemachus asks Odysseus to think of possible allies in this struggle. Odysseus proposes to enlist Athena (his particular patron goddess, as she has also now become Telemachus') and Zeus (specifically Zeus Xenios, who presides over XENIA and breaches thereof; cf. p. 253). How would you characterize Odysseus' tone in this passage (p. 248)? What is Telemachus' initial response? What is his own tone in replying to Odysseus? Pay attention here to the subtle genius in the way Homer develops the father/son relationship here, for which these two have waited 20 years.

Odysseus swears Telemachus to secrecy about his identity: he must not tell Laertes, Eumaeus, or even Penelope. Why do you suppose this is?

What is the reaction of the suitors when they discover (from a herald) that Telemachus has returned safely home? What has become of Antinous' original Plan A, in Book 4 (p. 64)? What does he propose now as Plan B (p. 251)?

Penelope has heard Plan B. She faces Antinous down (p. 253). What does she say to him? What does Eurymachus, another suitor, say in reply? Do you believe him? Does Homer? How does the development of Plan B ratchet up the excitement and tension of the story?

Athena transforms Odysseus yet again (p. 254) so that his appearance is once again that of a rag-tag beggar. This is said specifically to be to keep Eumaeus from recognizing him. Why else would it be time for this (DISGUISE AND RECOGNITION)?

Note that Telemachus is coming into his own in this book. Odysseus says 'You're a man now' (p. 249), and Homer tells us that he 'feels his ancestors' blood' (p. 254). How will this affect the way he interacts with the suitors from now on?
 

BOOK 17

Who sees Telemachus first when he returns to the palace? What is her reaction?

Penelope knows why Telemachus went on his journey. What is her first question to him when he returns (p. 257)? How does he respond to her? In what way does this indicate that Telemachus is becoming more like his father? Penelope reopens this dialogue later (p. 259). What does Telemachus tell her then?

Theoclymenus, who has come to the palace with Telemachus, now utters words of prophecy. What does he tell Penelope? How accurately does he advise her? How does she respond? Do you think she believes him? You will see another example of Theoclymenusí visionary powers at the end of Book 20.

Eumaeus leads Odysseus to the palace. On the way they meet Melanthius, the goatherd, who is bringing goats to the palace for the suitors' dinner. How does he address them? What does he do to Odysseus? At this, Eumaeus offers a prayer. What is the irony in what he prays for?

Odysseus and Eumaeus arrive at the palace (p. 264). What is the first thing they hear? Can you see anything symbolic in this incident?

Eumaeus goes in ahead of him. Who is lying outside the doors of the palace (p. 265)? Is he fooled by Odysseus' DISGUISE? What happens to him immediately after this (p. 266)? How do you suppose Homer expects you to be affected by this portion of the narrative?

Odysseus enters the palace. Because of his DISGUISE as a beggar, he appears to be of much lower socioeconomic status than the suitors, but because of his official status as a SUPPLIANT in the house of Telemachus (cf. p. 242), he is told to beg from the suitors (p. 267). The complicating factor, of course, is that they are NOT his real hosts here; they themselves have installed themselves as XENOI, guests, in this household. What is Antinous' attitude toward dealing in XENIA with this 'beggar' (p. 268)? How do the other suitors treat his request for food? Odysseus gives Antinous a complicated story about his identity, in order to elicit pity and generosity from him. Antinous refuses to give Odysseus anything. What is ironic about this (as Odysseus himself notes, p. 270)? What does Antinous do to him next? Odysseus curses him formally (p. 271) for this breach of XENIA. How does this appear to affect Antinous? What do the other have to say about it?

Telemachus gives no outward indication of how this scene affects him. Penelope's comment, when she hears of this shocking violation of XENIA in her home, says: 'So may you [Antinous] be struck by the Archer God.' You will see the irony in this prayer when Odysseus reveals his identity to the suitors.

Penelope wants to question this beggar to see if he has news of Odysseus (p. 272). More irony! Eumaeus tells her that the beggar indeed has good news -- that he says Odysseus is alive and well, and not far from Ithaca. She asks again to speak to him. What happens to Telemachus at that moment? Of what does Penelope take this as an omen?

Odysseus wants to wait to speak with Penelope until they have privacy. How does Penelope react to this news (p. 275)?
 

BOOK 18

The town beggar, Irus, comes to the palace. He speaks rudely to Odysseus, who replies menacingly. If you watch their repartee, you will see that it resembles the FLYTING aspect of the DUEL MOTIF (seen especially in the Iliad). How do the suitors feel about the impending fight? Odysseus gets them all to swear that they won't help Irus fight him. Athena once again enhances his appearance (p. 278). What do the suitors react when they see his physical strength? What, ironically, does this imply for their own futures? Odysseus, of course, wins hands down (p. 279).

One suitor, Amphinomus, treats Odysseus kindly (p. 280). How does Odysseus respond?

All of a sudden, Penelope takes a new idea into her head (p. 281). How is this different from all her previous behavior in the story? Homer specifically attributes WHAT she wants to the prompting of Athena; can you suggest a modern psychological explanation for WHY she wants to do this now? She rejects the idea of primping; Athena, however, puts her to sleep and transforms her appearance (p. 282).

Penelope comes into the MEGARON (great hall) of the palace. What is the response of the suitors when they see her? By contrast, her first thought, when she comes into the megaron, is of the beggar (p. 283). Could there be any connection between this and her appearance after Athena has transformed her?

Penelope points out that proper suitors would bring rich gifts when wooing a woman. Why does Odysseus smile inwardly at this? Antinous states the suitors' intentions with absolute clarity: we are not leaving until you marry one of us (p. 285). What do the suitors do next?

They amuse themselves with dancing and singing till nightfall. As the evening cools, the women-servants prepare heaters for the megaron. Odysseus, who has already voiced curiosity about the allegiance of these women (p. 249), tests them by suggesting that they go to wait on Penelope instead (p. 286). One of them, Melantho, speaks up in reply. What is her tone? What other significant fact does Homer reveal about her affections?

The suitors begin to taunt Odysseus. What does Homer tell us is Athena's intention in all this (p. 287)? Are you surprised to learn this? Does it make sense to you? Odysseus responds sharply: again, he turns the conversation in the direction of flyting. Eurymachus throws a footstool at him, but misses. Some of the suitors do NOT want to see an out-and-out fight; why not? Telemachus intervenes at this point and sends them home for the night; Odysseus is left alone in the megaron.
 

BOOK 19

Odysseus and Telemachus clear the megaron of all the weapons. What portent does Athena cause Telemachus to see (p. 291)?

Melantho continues to berate Odysseus. How does he warn her to be careful? Note that Penelope has overheard the whole exchange. Now she strikes up a conversation with Odysseus. With what convention of XENIA does she begin her questioning (p. 293)? She reveals to him her ruse of weaving and unweaving the shroud for Odysseus' father Laertes, who is getting old. How long did this suffice to string the suitors along? How did they eventually find out her ruse? How do her own parents feel about the notion of her remarrying?

Odysseus prolongs his own DISGUISE by continuing to spin out his story about being a Cretan. (Remember the old proverb, 'All Cretans Are Liars.') He claims to have seen Odysseus on Crete, and indeed to have entered a XENIA relationship with him there (p. 296). Penelope's response to this story is to break down into weeping. How does Odysseus react when he sees this?

Penelope now says she must test this beggar to see if he is telling the truth. (Pay close attention here; she will test him again before the story is over.) She asks him to describe the clothing of Odysseus. What two items does Odysseus think of to mention, so as to convince her (p. 297)? He describes them in exquisite detail. Penelope promises that he will be 'loved and honored' in that house; she is, in effect, acknowledging the reciprocal nature of XENIA here. She is sure, however, that Odysseus is dead; Odysseus repeats his assurance that her husband is nearby, in Thesprotia. Which parts of the story he tells her about his travels are true (pp. 298-299)? Note the key aspect of his speech: 'He is safe, and will come soon' (p. 299). Note too that he swears by Zeus -- god of XENIA -- that this is true.

Now that she is convinced of their XENIA relationship, Penelope attempts to invoke other conventions of the motif: a foot-bath, a bed, breakfast in the morning (p. 300). How does Odysseus respond to these generous offers? He has a specific strategy in mind regarding the footbath: he asks for an old woman 'who has suffered as I have' to wash his feet. That is, of course, he is asking for Eurycleia, although of course Penelope does not realize this. Why would he attempt to engineer this?

Eurycleia comes to bathe his feet. She immediately (p. 301) notices the resemblance between Odysseus and -- Odysseus. As she sits down to bathe his feet, he remembers an old SCARon his thigh that he knows will immediately reveal his true identity to Eurycleia (DISGUISE AND RECOGNITION). And indeed she does (p. 302).

At this point, Homer inserts a long DIGRESSION in which he tells the famous story of the Calydonian Boar Hunt, in which Odysseus was wounded by the boar. What is the relationship between Eurycleia's mental processes of recollection and recognition, and this detailed sub-narrative of the hunting episode? That is, to what extent is Homer attempting to give you a series of mental images that is flashing through the mind of Eurycleia herself at this moment?

Eurycleia, of course, immediately wants to share this news with Penelope. What does Athena do to prevent this (p. 304)? What does Odysseus himself do?

Penelope takes it upon herself to narrate to Odysseus a strange symbolic dream that she has had (pp. 306-307). Note that the dream contains its own interpretation. Odysseus urges her to take it at face value. What is her response to this?

Next Penelope lets him know that she is going to stage an archery contest for the suitors on the next day. What would this seem to indicate about whether she believes that the dream is true? Odysseus, however -- still in DISGUISE of course -- urges her to go ahead with her plan.

Some scholars suspect that Penelope has by this time figured out Odysseus' identity. Do you agree? Is it possible that she understands, at some unconscious level, that this beggar is actually Odysseus? Look carefully at her remarks to him on p. 308. What double meaning might they entail?
 

BOOK 20

Not surprisingly, Odysseus finds it difficult to sleep that night. Who appears to him in the dark and brings him sleep?

Penelope, meanwhile, awakens and prays to Artemis to kill her. She wishes to die 'With Odysseus in my mind's eye' (p. 311). The Greek here says, literally, 'so that, seeing Odysseus, I might also go under the hateful earth' (lines 80-81). Do you see a possible double entendre to these words? It may strike you as odd that she is so hopeless; she has had another dream (p. 312). Meanwhile, so has Odysseus (p. 213). How do these two dreams mirror each other?

Dawn has come. Odysseus prays for two omens; Zeus sends both, and they are connected. What are they?

Eumaeus and Melanthius return to the palace. They each speak to Odysseus exactly as you might expect. A third herdsman, Philoetius, arrives with more livestock. How does he treat Odysseus (p. 315-316)? How does Odysseus assess him?

The suitors arrive; the feasting begins. Odysseus is given a stool and table and some food. One suitor, Ctesippus [note that his name is consistently misspelled in Lombardo's edition], objects that the treatment Odysseus is receiving is over-generous. What does he do?

Agelaus, one of the suitors, urges Telemachus to tell Penelope to marry one of them. He responds that she must make her own choice. At this point Athena provokes them to irresistible laughter, and scrambles their wits (p. 320). Theoclymenus, watching them, has a horrific vision. What does he see? Aghast, he describes it to them. What is their response? Note that they couch their assessment explicitly in terms of XENIA (p. 321).
 

BOOK 21

Books 21-22 are in many ways the climax of the entire poem, as you will see. Book 21 begins with Penelope's fetching the bow and arrows of Odysseus. Homer takes the time to offer you an EKPHRASIS (descriptive digression) of these. How did they come to Odysseus? Why do you suppose he did not take it to Troy with him?

Penelope announces the contest (p. 324). It is a very odd task that she is setting them, involving twelve axes. Scholars have not been able to agree on exactly how the axes were to be set up (p. 325). Can you visualize exactly what the axes look like, and exactly how Telemachus arranges them?

The first part of the test is that the suitors must try to STRING the bow. This itself is virtually impossible: nobody except Odysseus has been able to do it. Telemachus himself tries three times, but in a very odd phrase: 'methêke biês') Homer tells us that three times he 'relaxes his strength' or 'stops trying' (Lombardo: 'three times he eased off,' p. 325). Is his strength giving out here, or is he purposely not succeeding? We are told that in his heart he does want to draw the bow and shoot an arrow. What would it have meant, symbolically, if he DID succeed at this test? What sorts of narrative (and other) problems would this have caused? On his fourth try, in any case, he 'would have succeeded,' except that Odysseus gives him a surreptitious signal not to do it. How does Telemachus respond to this?

The suitors try to string the bow, and fail one by one. At last the contest has narrowed down to two finalists: Antinous, predictably, and Eurymachus. Philoetius and Eumaeus have left the megaron; Odysseus follows them out and asks them whom they would side with if their master were suddenly to appear. They both declare their allegiance to Odysseus. The next fulfilment of the DISGUISE AND RECOGNITION theme comes here (p. 328); Odysseus reveals himself to them now. Why does he choose this particular moment to do so?

Eurymachus has tried and failed to string the bow. Antinous, not surprisingly, calls for a halt to the contest, since this is a day of festival sacred to Apollo, god of the bow and arrow. The suitors all like this idea; Odysseus now asks for a chance to try the bow out himself, just to see if his grip 'is still strong' (p. 330). Antinous derides the idea; who intervenes at this moment in favor of it? Eurymachus makes it clear that it is a matter of losing face -- what the Greeks would call KUDOS or KLEOS or TIMÊ -- if the beggar should succeed in stringing the bow; he is not actually afraid that he would claim Penelope as his prize for winning the contest. Penelope, nonetheless, offers to clothe the beggar handsomely, arm him, and take him wherever he wants to go, if he does succeed in stringing the bow. Can you imagine any ironic interpretation of her words?

Telemachus intervenes at this moment and sends his mother upstairs, ostensibly becaue 'this bow is men's business.' What do you suppose is his real reason for wanting her out of the megaron just now?

Eumaeus, as planned, takes the bow to Odysseus. Eurycleia, meanwhile, locks the doors of the megaron -- that is, she locks all the suitors IN, with Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius (who himself has locked the gates of the courtyard outside). Odysseus looks the bow over carefully, after twenty years of not handling it. Then, effortlessly, he strings it! At this moment Homer inserts a simile to describe the stringing of the bow. What analogy does he choose here? Do you think this was chosen at random?

The suitors are stunned. Zeus gives a portentous sign of thunder. Odysseus succeeds in shooting the arrow through the axes. (He thus, in effect, passes a SECOND test that has been set for him by Penelope.) Then, as he remarks to Telemachus, 'it is time to cook these men's supper.'
 

BOOK 22

Now things happen fast. Telemachus has put on his sword. Odysseus takes the remaining arrows from the quiver and spreads them at his feet. With a prayer to Apollo, the archer god, he takes aim. Which suitor does he kill first? Is this man chosen, do you think, at random?

The suitors, panicking, look for the weapons that had been hanging on the wall of the megaron. These, of course, have been removed to a storeroom. Now, in a great moment of DISGUISE AND RECOGNITION, Odysseus reveals his identity in words (p. 337).

Eurymachus, thinking fast, claims to agree with Odysseus -- but shifts the entire blame for the suitors' courting Penelope onto Antinous. Why does he do this? What is Odysseus' reaction to the notion? Eurymachus also appeals to Odysseus' 'paternal' sentiments as their king. How does this affect Odysseus?

Eurymachus next rouses the suitors en masse to a charge against Odysseus. Telemachus goes to fetch more weapons from a storeroom. Meanwhile, Odysseus runs out of arrows; he takes up a shield and two spears that have been set there for him. He posts Eumaeus in one doorway; Melanthius escapes by another and himself brings weapons from the storeroom. Telemachus, who has returned, sends Eumaeus and Philoetius to lock the storeroom door; they lie in wait for Melanthius, jump him, and hogtie him in the storeroom. They return to help Odysseus and Telemachus.

Athena then appears to help these four men. What human form does she assume (p. 342)? Do the suitors recognize her? Does Odysseus? Changing form yet again (p. 343), she continues to test him.

The surviving suitors rally for an attack. Athena thwarts them. The battle rages, until Athena lifts up the aegis -- a goatskin cloak, probably with the severed head of the gorgon Medusa on it -- and strikes panic fear into the hearts of the suitors. this is the end for them.

Phemius, the bard, begs for mercy (pp. 346-347). Telemachus intervenes on behalf of both Phemius and the herald Medon. Phemius will have an important part to play in the following book; Medon, in Book 24.

Now Odysseus sends for Eurycleia, and asks her for the information she had offered before (p. 305): which of the fifty women-servants are innocent, and which have dishonored him? Eurycleia gives him the numbers: twelve of them have betrayed him. Odysseus sends for these twelve: what task does he give them? What do he and Telemachus do next (pp. 350-351)? How do you feel about this? Eurycleia now brings the rest of the women to the megaron. What is their reaction to Odysseus?
 

BOOK 23

Eurycleia wakes Penelope with the straightforward news that Odysseus has returned and killed the suitors. What is Penelope's initial response to this? Her second response (p. 354)? Her third and fourth responses (p. 355)? How realistic do these responses seem to you to be?

Penelope goes downstairs to the megaron. How does she react when she looks at Odysseus (p. 356)? How does this affect Telemachus? She, however, is not to be swayed: 'There are secrets between us no one else knows.'

Odysseus smiles. He invites Penelope to set him a THIRD test. Meanwhile, he wants to make sure that the people of Ithaca do not get wind, prematurely, of the slaughter of the suitors. What plan does he devise for Telemachus to put into action (p. 357)? Does it work? What do the townspeople say? Do you see any irony in their words (p. 357)?

This time it is Eurynome, the housekeeper, who bathes Odysseus. Athena once again enhances his appearance (pp. 357-358). Now comes a remarkable conversation between him and Penelope. Before he realizes it, she has set him the third test: it comes as an apparently innocent remark about their marriage-bed. What is this remark? How does Odysseus respond to it? How and why does this response finally remove Penelope's last doubts? (I.e., how does he pass the third test?)

It is a moving scene of recognition and reconciliation. Homer chooses a simile to describe Penelope's feelings at this moment (p. 360). Is this likely to have been chosen at random? If not, why not?

Odysseus takes Penelope to bed. After they make love, they take turns telling stories to each other: she about her trials in his absence, he about his travel-adventures. Does he leave out the parts about the enticing women he has met? What would he stand to gain by revealing all this to Penelope?

One might well expect the story to end here: 'And they lived happily ever after.' There is, however, another book, and we are prepared for the continuation of the story by the coming of the next dawn (p. 363) and a plan that Odysseus spells out to Penelope. Do you think it possible that the rest of the story, from here through the end of Book 24, might be a later addition? Read the remainder of the poem with this question in mind. Do you feel it is an ending superior to this bedroom scene?

Among other things, Odysseus is anxious to go see Laertes, his aged father. He, Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius arm themselves; Athena makes them invisible and helps them to leave the palace area.
 

BOOK 24

Hermes -- the PSYCHOPOMPUS, the god who leads the spirits of the dead to the underworld -- takes the ghosts of the suitors to Hades. What famous heroes do they see there?

The funeral of Achilles is narrated in detail by Agamemnon (pp. 366-367), who then muses on his own fate (p. 368). He sees among the suitors one Amphimedon, with whom he had shared a XENIA relationship. The latter narrates how the suitors courted Penelope, and what Odysseus did upon his return. How does his version of the story compare with what you have previously read in the Odyssey? What is Agamemnon's assessment of Odysseus' behavior (p. 370)? How does he compare Penelope to his own wife, Clytemnestra?

Meanwhile Odysseus & Co. reach the fields of Laertes. He decides upon one last instance of DISGUISE AND RECOGNITION. Would you be able to postpone your self-revelation like this? He tests Laertes' response by telling him yet another story about how he had offered XENIA to Odysseus (p. 372). Laertes, of course, wants more news. Odysseus says it has been five years since he saw Odysseus. What is Laertes' reaction to this (p. 374)? How does that affect Odysseus? He now reveals his identity. Laertes asks for proof, 'a clear sign that I can trust.' What two signs does Odysseus offer as proof?

They share a meal together. Athena this time enhances Laertes' appearance. Dolius and his sons, servants of Laertes, return to the house and recognize Odysseus.

Meanwhile, back at the palace, a crowd has gathered outside. Eupeithes, the father of Antinous, calls for vengeance on Odysseus. Medon, the herald, intervenes and declares that the gods are on Odysseus' side. Then an old man, Halitherses, stands up and censures the families of the suitors for not stopping them. Most of them, however, side with Eupeithes and plan to attack Odysseus and his household.

Athena appeals to Zeus, who exonerates Odysseus of the slaughter and upholds Odysseus' claim to the kingship of Ithaca. A pitched battle follows, in which Athena/Mentor joins Odysseus and his men (including Laertes). The slaughter of the attackers would have been complete, but Athena intervenes and calls for them to lay down their weapons. They do this, and flee. Odysseus prepares to charge after them; who intervenes at this moment to stop him? Both sides swear binding oaths to uphold law and order.