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Book 16

The Odyssey – Book 16 Odysseus Meets His Son (Context)


·        Telemachus arrives to find Eumaeus chatting with a beggar.

·        Eumaeus jumps up to greet Telemachus enthusiastically; it is obvious that he loves him like a son.

·        Eumaeus introduces the beggar to Telemachus and asks if he'll look after the old man.

·        Telemachus laments that his house is being intruded on, but offers the beggar clothing and food and further permission to stay with Eumaeus.

·        He worries aloud that he isn't trained in arms and will likely do a lousy job of ousting the Suitors. (Plus, he's sort of outnumbered.)

·        Odysseus/the beggar pumps his son up. He urges Telemachus to seek the aid of his brothers in ousting the Suitors. Even if the odds are stacked against him, it's better to die in glorious battle than to be beaten by all these Suitors.

·        Telemachus says he has no brothers and no chance against the Suitors, who are some of the toughest men in the land.

·        He sends Eumaeus to Penelope with the news that he has returned, but warns the swineherd not to let the Suitors hear.

·        When Eumaeus asks if he let Laertes know, Telemachus tells him to let Eurycleia the nurse tell him instead. (Keep this in mind.)

·        At this point, Odysseus spots Athene outside and goes to her. Telemachus can't see her, which could possibly make for some comic relief.

·        She tells Odysseus to reveal himself to Telemachus and removes his disguise.

·        Telemachus is blown away by the staggering transformation and assumes that Odysseus must be a god.

·        While Telemachus is all overcome by wonder and happiness, Odysseus berates him for not taking the news more like a man.

·        After the hugging and the tears, the father and son plot to defeat the Suitors. Based on Telemachus’ information, there are over one hundred of them.

·        Telemachus despairs, but Odysseus tells him to have faith—after all, the gods are on their side. (Well, most of the gods.)

·        Odysseus outlines the plan: tomorrow, Athene will disguise him as a beggar. He'll head to the royal hall to distract the Suitors while Telemachus locks their weapons up in another room.

·        Odysseus has set aside only two swords, spears, and shields for their own use. Other than that, they're trusting in the gods to assist them.

·        He also warns Telemachus not to let anyone else know that he has returned.

·        The pair agrees to question the female servants of the household to discover which ones are loyal to their cause.

·        Then they send a runner to the Queen to say Telemachus has returned.

·        This not so smart for two reasons: one, they already sent Eumaeus to do just that; and two, this runner shouts the news aloud so that everyone, including the Suitors, hears.

·        Twenty minutes later, Eumaeus tells the queen in private that her son has returned.

·        Back at the royal hall, the sea bound Suitors return to their friends, all bummed that they've failed to ambush and kill Telemachus.

·        Antinous urges the Suitors to act fast. Now that everyone knows they've tried to kill Telemachus, they might as well strike the first blow.

·        Another (and more prudent) suitor named Amphinomus isn't quite so trigger-happy: he advises them to pray to the gods to see if they are favoured. The others agree.

·        Meanwhile, Medon, our favourite town crier, has overheard the Suitors' plans yet again and brings the info to Penelope.

·        She confronts the Suitors and accuses them of trying to kill her son.

·        Eurymachus is all, "Who, us? Never!" and the Queen, who is helpless because she is a woman, goes upstairs.

·        Back at the hut, Athene disguises Odysseus just as Eumaeus returns. He delivers the news that a crier ruined their secrecy and that he spotted an unknown ship coming to Ithaca. (It's implied that this is the ship of the unsuccessful ambushing Suitors.)

·        Odysseus and Telemachus aren't fazed. They tuck into a good dinner and go to sleep.


Functions of Book 16

It reminds us of the situation in Ithaca, particularly the characters of the different Suitors:

1.      Antinous: Openly aggressive, ruthless, uncompromising (Antinous is the Suitor who came up with the plan to ambush Telemachus on his return from Pylos).

2.      Eurymachus: Hypocritical, oily, slimy – a sleaze ball, apparently the wealthiest Suitor. Telemachus refers to him as “the leading man in Ithaca”. Athene claims (when talking to Telemachus at the start of Book 15) that Penelope’s natal family are pressuring her to marry Eurymachus, as he “outdoes all the rest of her Suitors in his gifts to her and keeps offering larger and larger marriage settlements”.

3.      Amphinomus: A more reasonable and humane Suitor – We are told that Penelope enjoys conversing with him. He tries to persuade the Suitors not to kill Telemachus. In Book 18, Odysseus himself (disguised as the beggar) tries to persuade Amphinomus to leave, but he does not do so and consequently suffers the same fate as the rest of the Suitors.