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Book 17

The Odyssey – Book 17 Odysseus Goes to the Town

Summary

·        Telemachus wakes up and wants to go check on his mom. He leaves orders that Eumaeus is to bring "the beggar" to town during the day so that he can beg for food.

·        Back in the great hall, Penelope is ecstatic to see her son alive. She asks him for news of Odysseus, but Telemachus tells her to be patient.

·        Telemachus, who seems awfully bossy, orders her to go bathe, change her clothes, and pray that Zeus will help them with their revenge against the Suitors. Meanwhile, he has to take care of a passenger who unexpectedly sailed with him yesterday.

·        Telemachus quickly spots Odysseus's loyal friends—Mentor (the real one this time), Antiphus, and Halitherses—and goes off to consult with them.

·        Peiraeus brings Theoclymenus (the cousin-murderer) to Telemachus and asks the prince to send some maids so that they can get Menelaus’ gifts into the house.

·        Telemachus suggests waiting until the Suitors have gone.

·        The men eat while Penelope weaves and asks (again) for news of Odysseus.

·        Telemachus tells her about his visit with Menelaus and then mentions that Odysseus was last seen alive on the island of Calypso.

·        Theoclymenus interrupts and tells Penelope about the sign he interpreted for Telemachus the day before—the sign which prophecies that Odysseus is in fact already back in Ithaca and plotting revenge.

·        But Penelope doesn't believe it.

·        Medon calls the Suitors (who are playing sports and engaging in other manly pursuits) to come in for dinner.

·        Meanwhile, Odysseus and Eumaeus head into town.

·        Eventually, the pair runs into Melanthius the goatherd. He mocks and abuses the beggar, but Odysseus doesn't respond. He just prays (aloud) to the gods that Melanthius gets what he deserves. .

·        When they reach the hall, Eumaeus goes in first.

·        But when the disguised Odysseus speaks, an old dog sitting on a dung heap nearby pricks his ears up and tries to wag his tail.

·        Odysseus recognizes him as Argus, the hound that he trained as a puppy but never had the chance to take hunting before he left for Troy.

·        Odysseus sheds a tear for the poor condition of his favorite dog and asks about the animal.

·        Eumaeus says that the animal was swift, strong, and courageous in his prime, but now he's just abused by everyone.

·        As the men enter the hall, Argus breathes his last breath and dies happy, having recognized and seen his master after twenty years.

·        Eumaeus grabs a spare bench and seats himself across from Telemachus while the disguised Odysseus enters the hall.

·        Telemachus, who has to pretend he doesn't know the beggar, gives him a generous hunk of bread and meat and tells him not to be shy in asking for food.

·        Odysseus goes down the line, begging food from each man. With this strategy, he learns who should be punished.

·        However Athene commanded that everyone has to die.

·        Everyone gives Odysseus something until Melanthius recognizes him as the same old beggar from before and insults the man.

·        After hearing this, Antinous turns on Eumaeus and lectures him for bringing a beggar to the hall.

·        Telemachus stops Eumaeus from his angry reply, but only so he can insult Antinous himself. He commands the suitor to give the beggar some bread.

·        Instead, Antinous threatens to throw a footstool at the man. But beggar Odysseus ignores him.

·        After he has begged and received from everyone else, Odysseus calls on Antinous to give something. He begins by telling him a false sob story of how he was a rich man once and had the misfortune to sail to Egypt.

·        Antinous interrupts with a refusal to feed him.

·        Enraged, Antinous throws a footstool at the beggar (in his defense, he did give fair warning) and clips him on the shoulder.

·        Odysseus doesn't even wince, but everyone else is embarrassed by Antinous’ bad manners.

·        Upstairs, Penelope hears all the noise and can tell that Antinous is causing trouble again. She sends her maid to fetch the beggar to her for questioning—she wants to ask him for any news on Odysseus.

·        But the beggar says that he'll meet with the Queen later tonight; he wants to avoid any suspicion from the Suitors.

·        Penelope is upset at first, but she quickly realizes that this is a clever beggar.


 

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