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Discussion - Homer, The Odyssey > The Odyssey through Book 16

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Back to Telemachus -- surely you remember that we left him back on the mainland twelve books ago. Athena keeps busy, warning him of the plot, telling him how to avoid it, telling him to go first to Eumaeus's hut. There, after Eumaeus goes to the place to tell Penelope that Telemachus has returned, Odysseus is revealed to Telemachus and they begin to plot the revenge on the suitors.

After all the exciting events Odysseus disclosed over the past several books, whether we believe they actually happened or believe that Odysseus was acting as a master storyteller, these two books seem quite tame, don't they? But Homer seems to be busy arranging his characters for a final burst of excitement, doesn't he?


message 2: by max (last edited Jun 06, 2012 04:08AM) (new)

max There is so much going on in Book 15. Theoklymenos is an intriguing character, and Homer spends a great deal of time carefully working through his genealogy. He is a suppliant and a fugitive, and Telemachus shows an appropriate courtesy and hospitality by taking him back to Ithaca.

Eumaeos' long tale of his origins is a fascinating story, one that reveals his aristocratic origins. The treachery of the serving woman who slept with one of the Phoinecian robbers and set up the kidnapping of Eumaeus is a clear foreshadowing of the treachery of the serving women in O.'s household. Because she herself was the daughter of a wealthy Phoenician man who had been captured by Taphians and sold into slavery, the woman herself serves as a foil to Eumaeus, who had a similar experience. Yet her brazen disloyalty contrasts sharply with Eumaeus, whose loyalty to O. runs deep, even though he was sold to Laertes as a slave.


message 3: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4509 comments Everyman wrote: "But Homer seems to be busy arranging his characters for a final burst of excitement, doesn't he? "

The omens in Book 15 seem to be designed for this -- first the eagle carrying the goose as Telemachus leaves Sparta (which is interpreted, interestingly enough, by Helen) and then Theoklymenos' reading of the falcon carrying the pigeon. Both omens foreshadow the triumph of Odysseus and Telemachus, and the introduction of Theoklymenos seems to be specifically for the purpose of interpreting the sign.

Speaking of Theoclymenos, isn't it odd that he is introduced as a fugitive, for murder, but instead of the story of the murder we get his genealogy? Interesting priorities.


message 4: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4509 comments The introduction of Theoclymenos as a fugitive makes a little more sense to me at the end of Book 16 when Penelope reproaches Antinoos, reminding him that his father was a fugitive who was sheltered by Odysseus. It's hard not to compare the charity of Telemachos and Odysseus with the ingratitude and selfishness of Antinoos.


message 5: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1729 comments Note that when Athena inspires Telemachus to return from Sparta, she suggests to him that Penelope might marry a suitor and deprive him of his inheritance. We know, and presumably Athena knows, that this is hardly likely. But it's the sort of thing that Telemachus might well worry about. This is another example of how Athena only inspires thoughts that people might come up with on their own.


message 6: by Silver (last edited Jun 08, 2012 03:51PM) (new)

Silver Patrice wrote: "I did notice that but I'm wondering why you think it's not likely to have happened."

I think the reason that it is seen to be unlikely is because both the reader and Athena are aware of the fact that Odysseus is alive, and now back within Ithica planning how to set things right again.


message 7: by max (new)

max Patrice wrote: "I thought book 16 was interesting because it had what I thought was "Sophoclean Irony" before Sophocles.
The audience knew more than the actors in the story.
We're just waiting for that recognition..."


"Dramatic irony" is a term that is interchangeable with "Sophoclean irony." And your point is absolutely true -- it was Homer who first utilized it with such mastery. In the Republic, Homer is called "the most poetic of the tragedians and the first among them." (607a).

The poet's skillful use of dramatic irony is evident throughout books 14 to 24, beginning with Eumaeus' initial remarks to O. about his absent master and occurring almost too many times thereafter to record. Homer brilliantly exploits this device, which is of course intimately tied up with his handling of O.s concealed identity.

I was rereading Irene DeJong's remarkable "Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey" today and was impressed by her analysis of the savage barking dogs that greet O. outside Eumaeus' hut. She points out that the wild animals at Circe's hut in Book 10 are said by Homer to behave like fawning domesticated dogs; Homer switches this in Book 14 to show how the household dogs of Eumaeus behave like aggressive wild animals.

Such a simple touch as the way in which the dogs greet O. accomplishes much: (1) their behavior emphasizes the status of O. as a stranger (as contrasted with Telemachus' arrival, when they fawn around him); (2) the dogs prefigure the abusive reception O. will receive from the suitors and other servants; (3) they give O. the chance to demonstrate his usual cunning by dropping to a submissive posture for his own protection; (4) they afford Eumaeus the opportunity to demonstrate his kindness and concern for the stranger by chasing them away.

I confess I had overlooked much of this when I reread this episode. These are the kind of masterful brush strokes that make Homer such an extraordinarily sophisticated story teller. No detail is irrelevant; even the the simplest descriptive details are often carefully integrated into the larger fabric of the poem.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments max wrote: "The poet's skillful use of dramatic irony is evident throughout books 14 to 24,"

Nice post. Let's watch for the use of dramatic irony throughout the rest of the poem (but let's not get ahead of our discussion).


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