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Homer, Odyssey revisited > Books 21 & 22

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message 1: by David (last edited Jun 13, 2018 04:16AM) (new)

David | 2737 comments Book 21
Penelope retrieves Odysseus' bow and we learn that it was a gift from a man named Iphitus whom Heracles,
[21.25] Zeus’ tough-hearted son, who killed him,
Guest though he was, without any regard
For the gods’ wrath or the table they had shared. . .
Is there any significance to the circumstances in which the bow's original owner was killed?

Telemachus sets up the axeheads and tries to string the bow first, almost succeeding on a fourth try, but Odysseus nods at him to stop. Leodes the soothsayer is next. We are told he always sat in the corner by the wine bowl and loathed the way the suitors behaved. When he fails to string the bow, he foresees it will rob many young heroes of the breath of life. Antinous scolds Leodes for his talk and has Melanthius try to loosen the bow up a little with lard by the warmth of the fire. The younger men in turn still cannot string the bow and only the two strongest, Antinous and Eurymachus are left.

Meanwhile outside, Odysseus reveals his identity to the swineherd and the cowherd and they plan to get the bow into Odysseus' hands and then go back inside. We learn the suitors have all failed to string the bow and plan to postpone the contest until tomorrow when they will make a sacrifice to Apollo the archer god to allow one of them to win.

Eumaeus my swineherd® gets the bow into Odysseus' hands. Eurymachus complains that it would ruin their honor if some old man bested them at the contest. In response to Eurymachus' complaint, Penelope delivers the best insult in the book, saying:
“Eurymachus, men who gobble up
[21.350] The house of a prince cannot expect
To have a good reputation anywhere.
So there isn’t any point in bringing up honor.
Odysseus then strings the bow, Zeus thunders loudly "[21.440] Showing his portents and cheering the heart, and Odysseus, still sitting no less, easily wins the contest. There is a distinct and ominous "Odysseus is in the house!" moment as Telemachus comes up to stand by his father. Why, or why not, are our hearts cheered by this?


message 2: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Book 22
Antinous, oblivious to the possibility of danger is the first to die by Odysseus' arrows making his intentions clear to the others.
“You dogs! You thought I would never
Come home from Troy. So you wasted my house,
[22.40] Forced the women to sleep with you,
And while I was still alive you courted my wife
Without any fear of the gods in high heaven
Or of any retribution from the world of men.
Eurymachus throws the now dead Antinous under the bus and proposes reasonable and less deadly arragements. When this attempt at negotiation quickly fails, Eurymachus rallies the suitors, charges at Odysseus, and becomes the second to die by Odysseus' arrows. Next Amphinomus shows his true colors and rushes at Odysseus only to be speared by Telemachus as was foretold. Is there any lingering sympathy for Amphinomus after his show of high ranking aggressive behavior here?

During the battle Melanthius begins supplying armor and weapons to the suitors. When Odysseus surmises they have been betrayed by their slaves, Telemachus owns the mistake of leaving storeroom door open was his. What is the significance of this admission?

Odysseus orders the herdsmen to tie Melanthius up in the storeroom. Athena appears and protects team Odysseus from most of the spears. Why does Athena allow Telemachus and Eumaeus to be slightly wounded before holding up her overpowering aegis and routing the suitors?

Odysseus and his cohorts begin slaughtering the rest with clubs. Leodes the soothsayer, who was chided In Book 21 for being the first to fail to to string the bow and predicting that many young heroes would be robbed of the breath of life, now begs Odysseus for his own life but loses his head. Telemachus speaks up for Phemius the bard and Medon sparing their lives. Why is Leodes killed, but the other two men are spared? What is the significance of why and when these men are spared? Why is anyone spared now instead of back when Odysseus was reconnoitering his house earlier to determine who to kill and who to spare?

Odysseus summons Eurycleia and warns her not to gloat out loud over the dead suitors, asks her to gather the women together, and send those that were unfaithful to him. The twelve unfaithful women are forced to help drag out the dead bodies and clean the house. Then they were taken outside by Telemachus and the herdsman and hung. Why does Telemachus forego slashing them with swords as Odysseus ordered? Finally, Melanthius is dealt with. Why is he singled out for such ruthless mutilation?

Odysseus orders the house purified by fire and sulfur.


message 3: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments David wrote: "Odysseus summons Eurycleia and warns her not to gloat out loud over the dead suitors, asks her to gather the women together, and send those that were unfaithful to him. The twelve unfaithful women are forced to help drag out the dead bodies and clean the house...."

Thank you for these thoughtful posts here today, David.

Who among us has read The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood?

I have not been following the recent discussions of Odysseus and it has been years since I read The Penelopiad, but I remember at the time considering it a very thoughtful, albeit perhaps provocative, exploration of this part of the story. And I have never been a particular fan of Atwood's writing.


message 4: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Lily wrote: ". . .it has been years since I read The Penelopiad, but I remember at the time considering it a very thoughtful, albeit perhaps provocative, exploration of this part of the story."

I am not familiar with the Penelopiad. How does it relate to this part of the story and what about it did you find both thoughtful and provocative?


message 5: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Lily wrote: "Who among us has read The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood? I have not been following the recent discussions of Odysseus and it has been years since I read The Penelopiad, but I remember at the time considering it a very thoughtful, albeit perhaps provocative, exploration of this part of the story. .."

I read it a couple of years ago. Atwood takes some liberties with the story. This is from the review I wrote about it:

Atwood delivers some interesting twists on the original story. Penelope speaks to us a few thousand years after her death. Her phrases and references are current, and include, for example, a commentary on the recent rash of steroid use by athletes. She engages in several snide conversations with Helen, fueled by her jealousy and Helen’s narcissism. The twelve maids who meet their deaths were only following her orders to cozy up to the suitors in order to spy on them. She recognizes Odysseus from the moment he enters the palace disguised as a beggar but feigns temporary ignorance of his identity to better position herself.


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote: Next Amphinomus shows his true colors and rushes at Odysseus only to be speared by Telemachus as was foretold. Is there any lingering sympathy for Amphinomus after his show of high ranking aggressive behavior here?

*****

Personally, I have sympathy for Amphinomus, who is unexpectedly fighting for his life. I would expect any of the suitors to see this as a life-or-death battle and give it their all. And in the context of the story, I suppose the more of a fight the suitors put up, the greater glory for Odysseus and Telemachus in winning.


message 7: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote: Telemachus speaks up for Phemius the bard and Medon sparing their lives. Why is Leodes killed, but the other two men are spared? What is the significance of why and when these men are spared? Why is anyone spared now instead of back when Odysseus was reconnoitering his house earlier to determine who to kill and who to spare?

****

There are two reasons why the bard Phemius and the herald Medon are spared, I think. First, they are not suitors (as Leodes was). None of the suitors are spared. Secondly, they are members of the household who were forced to do the suitors bidding, and did not do it willingly, which is at least part of why Telemachus speaks up for them. My impression is that in the heat of battle, Odysseus would have killed them, too, if Telemachus had not spoken up. Also, I seem to recall that the functions of bard and herald have some divine sponsorship, although I could be wrong about that.


message 8: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Susan wrote: "Personally, I have sympathy for Amphinomus. . ."

As a suitor among suitors I never did have much sympathy for him. He was not coerced into being a suitor, he chose it. I was just surprised by his aggressiveness here as the second person to physically attacking Odysseus and the third to be killed. But, like you said, he seemed to realize flight was not possible leaving only fight, especially after Eurymachus' failed proposal for a more reasonable form of justice.


message 9: by David (last edited Jun 13, 2018 10:53AM) (new)

David | 2737 comments Susan wrote: "My impression is that in the heat of battle, Odysseus would have killed them, too, if Telemachus had not spoken up."

I had the same impression. What does that say about Telemachus and how he is different from his father? I wonder what clues we have for these differences?


message 10: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments David wrote: "I had the same impression. I wonder what that says about Telemachus and how he is different from his father?"

Telemachus wasn't raised with the warrior mentality because he didn't have a male role model. He was raised by two women. Plus, as Susan said @7, he knew that Phemius and Medon were forced to do the suitors' bidding so he defends them.
On the other hand, he seems to be particularly gleeful at the prospect of killing the treacherous girls: "I refuse to grant these girls a clean death." The scene is pretty gruesome. Wilson's description:

At that, he wound a piece of sailor's rope
round the rotunda and round the mighty pillar,
stretched up so high no foot could touch the ground.
As doves or thrushes spread their wings to fly
home to their nests, but someone sets a trap--
they crash into a net a bitter bedtime;
just so the girls, their heads all in a row,
were strung up with the noose around their necks
to make their death an agony. They gasped,
feet twitching for a while, but not for long.


He is intent on selecting a manner of execution designed to prolong their agony.


message 11: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments On a slightly different note--

So far, the discussion has been about the suitors—who deserves to die; who doesn’t, etc. etc. Which is fine. But just for a second, I would like to draw your attention away from the men to a figure hovering in the margin, receiving little to no credit from any of the major characters for her role in this odyssey. Yes, I am thinking of Eurycleia.

Eurycleia has served as Penelope’s comforter-in-chief. She is the only female Penelope confides in and trusts. She helped raise Telemachus during Odysseus’ 20-year absence. Her presence diminishes Penelope’s feelings of isolation. She relieves Penelope of her anxiety when the latter learns of Telemachus’ departure. She goes all out to support Telemachus and Odysseus.

In Book 19, Odysseus virtually throttles her, threatening to kill her if she reveals his identity. This is understandable since the success of his plan depends on secrecy. But it strikes me as being unnecessarily severe. And when she offers to tell him which of the women betrayed him, he snaps at her: “No need/ I will myself make my own observations/Of each of them” (19: 501-502; Wilson). In other words, I don’t need your help. I can figure it out on my own. But after killing the suitors, he turns to Eurycleia to identify the treacherous women. So he needed her help, after all. Why not acknowledge it? Why not thank her for all she has done for him and his family?

Eurycleia has been a loyal, faithful, and obedient servant for twenty years. She never wavers in her commitment to Odysseus and his family. She supports them and protects their interests as if they were her own. And yet her voice is silenced; her contribution unacknowledged and unappreciated. I don’t recall Eurycleia ever being thanked or praised for her efforts or for her loyalty. I think she deserves some acknowledgement for her role. Or an honorable mention, to say the least.

Just some food for thought.


message 12: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: "Telemachus wasn't raised with the warrior mentality because he didn't have a male role model. He was raised by two women."

Telemachus was raised with women which may form part of the difference, but also he is young, inexperienced, and certainly has not experienced the more traumatic events that Odysseus has.

As for the manner of the womens' deaths. I thought Telemachus treated the women easier by just hanging them compared to what Odysseus commanded him to do:
[22.465] When you have set the whole house in order,
Take the women outside between the round house
And the courtyard fence. Slash them with swords
Until they have forgotten their secret lovemaking
With the suitors. Then finish them off.
Also, I am not sure we can say he prolonged their agony when we are told, . . .They gasped, feet twitching for a while, but not for long.

They were certainly dealt with less harshly than Melanthius. Why was he so grossly mutilated?


message 13: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Tamara wrote: "On a slightly different note--

So far, the discussion has been about the suitors—who deserves to die; who doesn’t, etc. etc. Which is fine. But just for a second, I would like to draw your attenti..."


I only see this events as misogyny. Or a male centered culture. It's like when women say that what a woman say just have validity when a man say the same. She only does the expected, she do not deserve respect as the man servants do.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Jun 13, 2018 01:17PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments Thanks for your comments, Tamara. I think one of the things that was interesting about Atwood's The Penelopiad, whether one views her version as "accurate" or no (it certainly strays from the Homeric version), was the simple exploring of what can happen to a story when the narrative perspective is shifted.

Publishing is seeing a spate of rewritten/re-visioned mythologies recently. One is Circe. (Have not read it.) I see one reading/use of these is to ask us to look more closely at the assumptions that may be embedded in the original writings. Certainly such twisting and turning of ideas under the glare of the present are parts of the ongoing Great Conversations the original stories spawn.


message 15: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: "But it strikes me as being unnecessarily severe. And when she offers to tell him which of the women betrayed him, he snaps at her: “No need/ I will myself make my own observations/Of each of them” (19: 501-502; Wilson). In other words, I don’t need your help. I can figure it out on my own."

His threat struck me as overly severe too, but understandable. As for Odysseus turning down her offer to identify the less faithful servants. . .well. . .Eurycleia had really bad timeing. It wasn't the time to go over that with Penelope standing right there and Homer probably couldn't figure out how to put the word "now" in poetically. "I don't need your help, now. So much for excuses.

Of course there is still the claim he would do it himself and Eurycleia sending the twelve to him later. And the bit about not thanking her. I guess he still has the ego. Also, in a king:slave relationship what should we expect? I am not saying this behavior is morally correct, but do we read of Odysseus thanking the herdsman or even Telemachus for their help in the battle?


message 16: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments David wrote: "I am not saying this behavior is morally correct, but do we read of Odysseus thanking the herdsman or even Telemachus for their help in the battle? .."

I don't recall him thanking the herdsman or Telemachus. But I remember him praising his slave Eumaeus and asking Zeus to shower him with blessings when all Eumaeus had done at the time was feed him and give him a place to sleep--a drop in the bucket compared to what Eurycleia has been doing for his family for the last 20 years :)


message 17: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: "I remember him praising his slave Eumaeus and asking Zeus to shower him with blessings. . .all Eumaeus had done at the time was feed him and give him a place to sleep"

Ah, yes, he did praise Eumaeus my swineherd®. Point taken, but remember he had been caring for the pigs, also for 20 years, outside, in the rain, hoping for Odysseus' return and out of respect for and in support of Telemachus and Penelope and their household. :)


message 18: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Lily wrote: "I think one of the things that was interesting about Atwood's The Penelopiad, whether one views her version as "accurate" or no (it certainly strays from the Homer..."

If the idea that Penelope was as aware and cunning as Odysseus is provocative, there is a footnote in The Library 2, book 3.10-end Epitome pg. 305 that document an even more provocative idea, that she was unfaithful:
The tradition that Penelope was the mother of Pan by Hermes (Mercury) is mentioned by Cicero (De natura deorum, iii. 22. 56). According to Duris, the Samian, Penelope was the mother of Pan by all the suitors (Tzetzes, Schol. on Lycophron, 772). The same story is mentioned also by Servius (on Virgil, Aen. ii. 44), who says that Penelope was supposed to have given birth to Pan during her husband's absence, and that when Ulysses came home and found the monstrous infant in the house, he fled and set out afresh on his wanderings. . . .The suspicion that Penelope was unfaithful to her husband has no support in Homer.
I suppose some alternatives fit our expectations better or worse than others and thus color our opinion of it. Personally, Penelope would have impressed me more if she knew the beggar was Odysseus the moment she spotted him and only played dumb, trusting in whatever her husband had planed. The hanging of the 12 women, if they had really been Penelope's spies, sounds tragic. Penelope's unfaithfulness seems to take away too much from what has become a fundamental element of the story and her reason for being in it.


message 19: by Ian (last edited Jun 14, 2018 07:05AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments David wrote: "Penelope's unfaithfulness seems to take away too much from what has become a fundamental element of the story and her reason for being in it. ..."

As I think I've mentioned on other threads, there was a tendency in classical times and later to downgrade Odysseus, first as compared to more conventional heroes, and, then, more generally, as a backlash against the sheer prominence of Homer in Greek education. Sometimes it just got nasty, as in this instance.

There were even "histories" of the Trojan War supposed to have been written by participants, Dares the Phrygian for the Trojans, and Dictys the Cretan for the Greeks. The traditional kings and heroes don't come off all that well. Of course, if one reads Homer carefully, instead of relying on a fixed idea of what he is like, some of them never did.


message 20: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Tamara wrote: "Eurycleia has been a loyal, faithful, and obedient servant for twenty years. She never wavers in her commitment to Odysseus and his family. She supports them and protects their interests as if they were her own. And yet her voice is silenced..."

I see this scene a little differently. Odysseus is powerless here, and Eurycleia has the upper hand. In some ways Odysseus is like the child that Eurycleia cared for, totally reliant on a nursemaid -- A nursemaid! -- for his safety and protection. One word from her, an involuntary cry of "Odysseus!" and he's finished. His reaction is out of fear more than power, a strange position for a hero of his stature to find himself in. I expect that's also why he snaps at Eurycleia later -- his pride has been injured. What does a grown man, a great war hero, need with a nursemaid in a crisis? A lot, apparently.

Odysseus is flawed, as we know, and it's probably not a coincidence that it is by a flaw that Eurycleia recognizes him.


message 21: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Thomas wrote: "I see this scene a little differently. Odysseus is powerless here, and Eurycleia has the upper hand. In some ways Odysseus is like the child that Eurycleia cared for, totally reliant on a nursemaid -- A nursemaid! .."

That's a really interesting observation.
I find it fascinating that the same scene if examined with a different set of lenses yields an entirely new interpretation. I had not considered Odysseus as being in a weaker position here. But I think you're right. I think she has the upper hand because she can destroy him.
I also appreciate the point you make about his scar/flaw.


message 22: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: "Thomas wrote: "I see this scene a little differently. Odysseus is powerless here, and Eurycleia has the upper hand. In some ways Odysseus is like the child that Eurycleia cared for, totally reliant..."

And Eurycleia had not been vetted yet. Nursemaid or not, Odysseus does not know if she is loyal or not. He is in an extremely vulnerable position.


message 23: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Were our hearts cheered by the events in these two books, as Zeus intended by this thunder as Odysseus wins the contest and revealing his identity?

Did Odysseus speech reigning in Eurycleaia's cry of triumph have an impact on your own feelings about the events? If so, how?
[22.430] When Eurycleia
Saw all the corpses and the pools of blood,
She lifted her head to cry out in triumph—
But Odysseus stopped her cold,
Reining her in with these words:
[22.435] “Rejoice in your heart, but do not cry aloud.
It is unholy to gloat over the slain. These men
Have been destroyed by divine destiny
And their own recklessness. They honored no one,
Rich or poor, high or low, who came to them.
[22.440] And so by their folly they have brought upon themselves.
An ugly fate.



message 24: by Ignacio (new)

Ignacio | 139 comments Thomas wrote: "Odysseus is powerless here, and Eurycleia has the upper hand..."

This is a useful way to think about it. This scene has always bothered me a bit--why is Odysseus so rough with his old nanny?--but the later events of Melanthius getting arms for the suitors do indeed suggest that the "balance of power" is precarious and that Odysseus's advantage of surprise and possible swift victory hangs on a thread and must be kept absolutely secret.

Even to the point of not telling Penelope, though? Is this because there is no way she would be able to conceal her feelings? Is it because Odysseus still wants to test/trick her? Does he need a gradual approach to revealing himself to her?

I like the idea mentioned above that perhaps Penelope knows or at least suspects the beggar is her husband. It would make sense. But there's no evidence for that in the text, rather the opposite (Penelope still weeps for her husband, etc.).


message 25: by Ignacio (new)

Ignacio | 139 comments David wrote: "Did Odysseus speech reigning in Eurycleaia's cry of triumph have an impact on your own feelings about the events? If so, how?"

To me it was important to hear that, at least in the world of the epic, the suitors's death is conceived as the logical result of their hubris and violence--a fate brought upon themselves. Odysseus appears less as lusting for revenge and more as fulfilling what needs to happen for him to reclaim his kingship, and what is "right." Ironically, perhaps Eurycleia and Athena relish the revenge more!

And yet, there are parts of the poem that open a certain moral uncertainty. In an earlier book, Odysseus asked Athena "how will I get out of it?" in the translations some have quoted here; Wilson translates this as "Where can I run to escape my punishment?" (20.41-42), which makes it much clearer that Odysseus understands he could be starting a new cycle of violence and revenge. Yet Athena reassures him she has his back.

Then the murdering of the slave girls and the unnecessarily harsh mutilation of Melanthius are also morally uncomfortable.

One of the things I love about ancient Greek literature is its ability to recognize moral uncertainty. Even when it proclaims that something is the right thing or that "the gods are on our side," there is always that element of uncertainty and ability to recognize the virtues of the "other side" and the flaws of our own...


message 26: by Christopher (last edited Jun 14, 2018 05:41PM) (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments I think the incident we are discussing came from Book XX- Odysseus grabbing Euryclea by the throat.

But remember Helen tells the story way back in book III (I think) of how Odysseus grabbed someone by the throat while the Achaians were in the Trojan horse, and Helen was calling out to them in the voices of their loved ones:

(actually, it is Menelaus, in Book IV)

Helen! thou hast well spoken. All is true.
I have the talents fathom’d and the minds
Of num’rous Heroes, and have travell’d far
Yet never saw I with these eyes in man
Such firmness as the calm Ulysses own’d;
None such as in the wooden horse he proved,
Where all our bravest sat, designing woe
And bloody havoc for the sons of Troy. 340
Thou thither cam’st, impell’d, as it should seem,
By some divinity inclin’d to give
Victory to our foes, and with thee came
Godlike Deiphobus. Thrice round about
The hollow ambush, striking with thy hand
Its sides thou went’st, and by his name didst call
Each prince of Greece feigning his consort’s voice.
Myself with Diomede, and with divine
Ulysses, seated in the midst, the call
Heard plain and loud; we (Diomede and I) 350
With ardour burn’d either to quit the horse
So summon’d, or to answer from within.
But, all impatient as we were, Ulysses
Controul’d the rash design; so there the sons
Of the Achaians silent sat and mute,
And of us all Anticlus would alone
Have answer’d; but Ulysses with both hands
Compressing close his lips, saved us, nor ceased
Till Pallas thence conducted thee again.


(Cowper trans.)


message 27: by Susan (last edited Jun 15, 2018 06:09AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments Ignacio wrote: " I like the idea mentioned above that perhaps Penelope knows or at least suspects the beggar is her husband. It would make sense. But there's no evidence for that in the text, rather the opposite (Penelope still weeps for her husband, etc)

******

Does Penelope know? I’ve been listening to the Great Courses series on the Odyssey, and Professor Vandiver’s point of view is that the evidence of the poem can be read either way. She gives the example of the contest with Odysseus’ bow among others.

My take, at least this time through, is that she doesn’t know consciously, but that she may know unconsciously. There is that dream about the geese and the eagle....



message 28: by Susan (last edited Jun 15, 2018 06:57AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments Ignacio wrote: Then the murdering of the slave girls and the unnecessarily harsh mutilation of Melanthius are also morally uncomfortable.
..."

******
Great points about the moral uncertainty of some actions and how the poem allows for the uncertainty. I agree Odysseus’ and Telemachus’ actions here don’t sit well with me. My take on the punishment of Melanthius and the twelve slave girls was the punishment was so harsh because they were members of Odysseus’’ household, and their behavior was treacherous to him, his family and his interests. Eumaeus went the extra step (sleeping with the pigs, for example) in his master’s interest, praying for his return, etc. Melanthius and the twelve girls are working against their master and his family, who had treated them well.


message 29: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote:

I had the same impression. What does that say about Telemachus an..."


****

This could reflect a character difference between father and son. It could also reflect the difference in the two characters’ situations. Telemachus has been living in the household with the suitors, Phemius and Medon for three years, and has had ample opportunity to observe their interactions. Odysseus, however much he asserts he knows everything he needs to, has only been there a few days. I think it speaks well to Odysseus’ character that he can listen to his son and be guided by him despite his anger.


message 30: by Susan (last edited Jun 15, 2018 06:58AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments Tamara wrote: "On a slightly different note--

So far, the discussion has been about the suitors—who deserves to die; who doesn’t, etc. etc. Which is fine. But just for a second, I would like to draw your attenti..."


Odysseus does promise a reward to Eumaeus and Philoitios (Book 21): “If Zeus brings down the suitors by my hand
I promise marriages to both, and cattle,
and houses built near mine. And you shall be
brothers-in-arms of my Telemakhos.”

Of course, they will be assisting/fighting in the battle, and if Odysseus does not prevail, they face a terrible fate at the hands of those suitors. Eurycleia’s devotion is taken more for granted, perhaps because she was his foster-mother. But yes, some acknowledgment would be nice.


message 31: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments If Odysseus did reward Eurycleia, what would he reward with with? A husband and livestock? Her own house near his?


message 32: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote: "If Odysseus did reward Eurycleia, what would he reward with with? A husband and livestock? Her own house near his?"

Good question. But what might make her happiest as a virtual member of the family has indeed happened — Odysseus has come home and triumphed over the suitors. Still. she hasn’t (so far) gotten acknowledgment for her loyalty, has she? Although Telemachus does call her “dear Nurse” in Book 20, that seems to be it.


message 33: by Dave (new)

Dave Redford | 145 comments David wrote: "Why does Athena allow Telemachus and Eumaeus to be slightly wounded before holding up her overpowering aegis and routing the suitors?"

A good question, and one that occurred to me too. As already discussed in this thread, there's a sense of things being in the balance – Melanthius gathering weapons for the suitors from the storeroom, Eurycleia holding Odysseus' fate in her hands – so the injuries to Telemachus and Eumaeus add a sense of precariousness, danger and suspense.

Otherwise, Odysseus' victory over the suitors would seem all to inevitable. I like to think of Athena as the creative director of this drama.


message 34: by Dave (new)

Dave Redford | 145 comments There's a great image (in the Fagles translation) at the start of book 20, describing Odysseus as tossing and turning in bed like a "sizzling sausage" being flipped back and forth in a scorching hot frying pan.

It reminded me of the first time we meet Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses, cooking kidneys for breakfast in his frying pan, and stewing about the suitors to his own wife.


message 35: by David (last edited Jun 15, 2018 11:00AM) (new)

David | 2737 comments Dave wrote: "David wrote: "the injuries to Telemachus and Eumaeus add a sense of precariousness, danger and suspense."

To add a sense of danger and perhaps to add the appearance of realism to an impossible feat?

I also wondered why Odysseus is not wounded because he is the one associated with pain. For Telemachus I was thinking maybe his wound was an indicator of him taking up his father's mantle of pain, but that line of thinking doesn't seem to translate to Eumaeus.


message 36: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Dave wrote: "It reminded me of the first time we meet Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses, cooking kidneys for breakfast in his frying pan, and stewing about the suitors to his own wife. .."

A wonderful connection!


message 37: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments David wrote: "If Odysseus did reward Eurycleia, what would he reward with with? A husband and livestock? Her own house near his?"

She's a slave, isn't she? How about granting her the freedom to choose what she wants to do with the rest of her life?

If that's too much of a stretch for our Odysseus, since diamonds are supposedly a girl's best friend, a set of diamond earrings might just do the trick :)


message 38: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 328 comments David wrote: "Book 22...Telemachus speaks up for Phemius the bard and Medon sparing their lives. Why is Leodes killed, but the other two men are spared? "

Well, the bard is spared because Homer is a bard. I love that. throughout the story he includes things like "and then they fed the bard" and "the bard got to live." It's like when an emcee reminds you to tip your servers.


message 39: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments I wonder if Telemachus will have a scar from his battle wound, like Odysseus has his from the boar? It is interesting how scars can be used to both define and identify.


message 40: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Out of all of the suitors that we have met, which one did you like the most? Which one seemed most deserving of their fate at Odysseus' hands; which the least?


message 41: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments To me they are Antinous and Amphinomus. Amphinomus was the least bad one, how he died was not the good. Even considering that he only tried to be spared.


message 42: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Tamara wrote: "On the other hand, he seems to be particularly gleeful at the prospect of killing the treacherous girls: "I refuse to grant these girls a clean death." The scene is pretty gruesome.

The killing of the unfaithful girls and the killing of Melanthius both take place away from Odysseus' house, in the courtyard, and both acts involve a certain amount of torture at the hands of Telemachus. These killings seem deliberate and vengeful, and Homer is clear that that they are accomplished by Telemachus and Eumaios, not Odysseus.

This contrasts with the way Odysseus dispatches the suitors -- to the audience it seems an act of vengeance, or at least justice, but for Odysseus it's largely a matter of political survival. Homer's similes --Odysseus as a lion covered in gore-- seem to indicate that his rage is a force of nature, whereas T "snares" the girls like birds and makes a conscious decision to torture them.

Odysseus takes no joy in the killing and he admonishes Eurycleia when she does. The slaughter is a pollution that must be cleansed when it is over.

Is the difference between O and T a matter of maturity?


message 43: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Thomas wrote: "Is the difference between O and T a matter of maturity? ..."

It could be that. Or it could be that unlike Telemachus, Odysseus is conscious of the fact he is acting as an instrument of the gods so his attitude differs from that of Telemachus who is hell bent on satisfying his thirst for revenge.

But I guess that's just another way of saying the difference lies in their level of maturity.


message 44: by David (last edited Jun 18, 2018 05:10PM) (new)

David | 2737 comments My Lombardo translation has Odysseus ordering Telemachus to slash the slave women with swords and then finish them off. We are not told that Telemachus slashes them with swords, but instead just "finishes them" by mass strangulation. Why didn't he slash them as Odysseus explicitly ordered?

The mutilation of Melanthius was also puzzle to me until a few things struck me all at once. Lone survivors of losing sides often become the subject to the victors' frustrations. Melanthius was a slave, and no family was likely to come seeking revenge.

The suitors on the other hand were not only citizens, but prominent citizens, from prominent families. Mutilating the suitors wouldn't be civilized, plus it would fan the flames of the families seeking revenge.

Civilization really is a thin veneer.


message 45: by John (last edited Jun 18, 2018 05:24PM) (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments David wrote: "My Lombardo translation has Odysseus ordering Telemachus to slash the slave women with swords and then finish them off. We are not told that Telemachus slashes them with swords, but instead just "finishes them" by mass strangulation. Why didn't he slash them as Odysseus explicitly ordered?

The mutilation of Melanthius was also puzzle to me until a few things struck me all at once. Lone survivors of losing sides often become the subject to the victors' frustrations. Melanthius was a slave, and no family was likely to come seeking revenge."


I thought this was interesting. Melanthius may have been a slave, but in aiding the suitors he is either in rebellion or a turncoat. Things rarely go well for folks who switch sides in a conflict to discover they've joined the losing side.

Likewise, women who consort with soldiers of an occupying army (and the suitors behaved like one) are often treated roughly. Examples of this were pretty frequent in the wars of the 20th century.

"Civilization really is a thin veneer."

Yup. And more fragile than we like to think.


message 46: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments We can ask: for a slave, there's a real difference about who is your master? So, Melanthius is the bad guy here? His betrayal is a real one?


message 47: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Rafael wrote: "We can ask: for a slave, there's a real difference about who is your master? So, Melanthius is the bad guy here? His betrayal is a real one?"

From the standpoint of the slave, fair question. From the standpoint of the slave owner, of course it makes a difference and his betrayal is all the worse because of the bad example it sets for the other slaves. Whether ancient Greece, Rome, or elsewhere, slave rebellions always seem to have been put down with a special ferocity. Like the king, if you strike at your owner, you best succeed.


message 48: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Eumaios and Eurycleia are also slaves, but they're trusted members of the household, almost like family. It's a category or status that seems oxymoronic to us today, but it wasn't then. Both Eumaios and Eurycleia are loyal to the family and they're overjoyed when the "master" returns to restore stability to the home.

Melantho and Melanthius choose the dark side (appropriate, since their names are derived from the Greek word for dark, melan). It's more this choice than their social status that seals their fate.


message 49: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Thomas wrote: "Melantho and Melanthius choose the dark side (appropriate, since their names are derived from the Greek word for dark, melan).."

just curious. Is that where we get the word "melancholy" from?


message 50: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments
melancholy (n.)
c. 1300, "condition characterized by sullenness, gloom, irritability," from Old French melancolie "black bile, ill disposition, anger, annoyance" (13c.), from Late Latin melancholia, from Greek melankholia "sadness," literally (excess of) "black bile," from melas (genitive melanos) "black" (see melanin) + khole "bile" (see cholera). Medieval physiology attributed depression to excess of "black bile," a secretion of the spleen and one of the body's four "humors."

From https://www.etymonline.com/word/melan...



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