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Book 18

The Odyssey – Book 18 The Beggar at the Palace


·        A real beggar by the name of Irus, who regularly begs at Odysseus's hall, sees the newcomer and says that the town isn’t big enough for the both of them.

·        This launches us into another back-and-forth round of insults.

·        Antinous spurs them on and he promises a prize of fat blood pudding to the winner.

·        Telemachus assures beggar Odysseus that the crowd will watch his back.

·        Irus wants to back out, but Antinous really ups the stakes by threatening to have him beaten and castrated if the new beggar wins against him.

·        Odysseus decides to be merciful and strike Irus only once in the jaw. Unfortunately for Irus, this one punch is enough to break his jaw and send blood spewing everywhere.

·        Everyone is massively entertained by the fighting and they all cheer the beggar Odysseus on.

·        Amphinomus, the more humane suitor, gets some advice from the beggar, who urges him to go home before Odysseus returns and punishes everyone by exacting some revenge.

·        Unfortunately for Amphinomus, Athene wants all the Suitors to die.

·        And then Athene puts Penelope to sleep for a few minutes during which she showers her in ambrosia and makes her even lovelier than she already is.

·        She also inspires Penelope to show herself to the Suitors and get them all hot and bothered over her.

·        Penelope is oblivious to her influence on the men and scolds Telemachus for allowing such abuse (she's referring to the beggar) in her household.

·        But Eurymachus interrupts and compliments Penelope on her beauty. Penelope finally ends up flirting a bit with the Suitors; she complains that they haven't courted her correctly, as not one of them has presented her with any gifts.

·        The Suitors comically search each of their troves to find a suitable gift for the Queen. Odysseus thinks this is hilarious.

·        When Penelope leaves, her servants carrying the shining gifts she has just received, Odysseus decides to test the loyalty of her maids.

·        At night, the maids are assigned to keep the torches burning in the hallway so that the Suitors can see where they are going.

·        Beggar Odysseus tells the servants he'll take care of the torches tonight.

·        The women giggle at him, until beggar Odysseus threatens snitch on their rude behavior and they scatter in fear.

·        The Suitors lay into the beggar again, but this time Odysseus answers back: he could defeat any of them in battle.

·        This infuriates Eurymachus, and he throws a footstool at the beggar, which misses.

·        Amphinomus restores the peace by turning their attention to the banquet and away from the fighting.




This book gives us an indication of the qualities that made Odysseus choose Penelope as his wife – she exhibits the same cunning and the same skill in manipulative speaking that he does. By scolding the Suitors for sponging off her, she manages to increase the wealth of her oikos significantly, recovering some of the wealth that the Suitors have taken from her. As he watched this scene, we might expect Odysseus to be jealous (at the attention she is getting from all these hot-blooded men, and the way in which she leads them on), but in fact he is full of admiration for the way in which his wife is manipulating the Suitors.


This book confirms the impression that we have obtained of Antinous so far – he’s an openly aggressive bully whose idea of fun is to get tow beggars to fight in front of him (and to threaten one of them with an inappropriately horrific punishment if he loses).


This book gives us a lot of useful information about Eurymachus. When Penelope is around, he is terribly charming, telling her that she is “supreme among women” for her face, her figure and her wisdom. He also says that if all the noblemen in Greece could see her, she’d have even more Suitors.

However once Penelope has gone upstairs, Eurymachus becomes ruder and more aggressive, taunting the old beggar for being work-shy and then chucking a stool at him, leading to Telemachus asking the Suitors to go home for the night. We also learn that Eurymachus has taken the maid Melantho as his mistress (without the permission of Penelope or Telemachus) – he probably also derives a perverse pleasure from the face that Melantho is the nearest thing Penelope has to a daughter.


Amphinomus is one of the few Suitors whom Homer names and characterises. Unlike Antinous and Eurymachus, he treats the beggar with kindness and respect. Odysseus clearly knew and liked his father, and therefore warns him to get out now, before the master of the house returns. However, Amphinomus doesn’t have the strength of character to leave – he’s got sucked into the Suitors’ lifestyle too, so must die with the rest – guilty by association.



Factual Questions

1.     What is the nickname of the “resident” beggar in Ithaca, and how has he acquired this name?

a.      Irus – ran errands for anyone who asked.


2.     Who decides to encourage the two beggars to fight each other, as entrainment for the Suitors?

a.      Antinous


3.     What prize, and what privileges, will be awarded to the winner of the fight?

a.      Winner can take their pick of the goat’s paunches roasting on the fire. They can also join the Suitors regularly at dinner, and they’ll allow no other tramp to beg in this company.


4.     What punishment does Antinous threaten Irus With, if he loses the fight?

a.      He’ll throw him into a black ship and send him over to the mainland to King Echetus the Destroyer, who’ll have his nose and ears ripped off and castrated, feeding his “meat to the dogs”.


5.     Why does Odysseus decide not to kill Irus outright, with a single punch?

a.      To spare him humiliation and to be merciful.


6.     Who is the “nice” Suitor, to whom Odysseus gives a warning that he must leave?

a.      Amphinomus


7.     What idea does Athene put into Penelope’s head?

a.      To appear before the Suitor’s, with the idea of opening their hearts, and enhancing her value in the eyes of her husband and son.


8.     Who is Eurnome?

a.      Housekeeper of Penelope


9.     Athene makes Penelope fall asleep while she gives her a makeover. What exactly does Athene do to Penelope while she is sleeping?

a.      Made her taller and fuller in appearance.

b.      Cleaned her cheeks with an ointment used by Aphrodite.


10.  How do the Suitors react when Penelope appears in the megaron (great hall).

a.      Went weak at the knees. Hearts melted with desires. Every man voiced a prayer that the might sleep with her.


11.  What criticism does Penelope make of Telemachus?

a.      Scorns him for bringing the beggar into their home.


12.  What compliment does Eurymachus give Penelope?

a.      If all the Greeks could set eyes upon her, she’d have even more Suitors.


13.  Penelope tells Eurymachus and the other Suitors what Odysseus said to her when he left for Troy, twenty years ago. What did he say about the point when she should remarry?

a.      “And when you see a beard on our boy’s chin, marry whom you want to and leave your home”.


14.  What criticism does Penelope make of the Suitor’s method of courtship?

a.      She complains that not one of them has courted her properly as they haven’t presented her with any gifts.


15.  Why is Odysseus pleased to hear Penelope say this to the Suitors?

a.      He is full of admiration for the way in which is wife is manipulating the Suitors.


16.  Describe two of the gifts which the Suitors bring to Penelope.

a.      Long embroidered robe, on which were 12 golden brooches.

b.      Pair of earrings with clusters of three drops.


17.  What information are we given about Melantho’s background and behaviour in lines 320-327?

a.      She is the closest thing Penelope has to a daughter.

b.      Yet Melantho has no sympathy for Penelope’s woes.


18.  When the “old beggar” expresses a wish that Odysseus might return, what does Eurymachus do, and what happens as a result?

a.      Throws a footstool at the “old beggar” which misses and hits the steward pouring wine.


19.  What does Telemachus do at Book 18 that is out of character for him (so far)?

a.      Telemachus is more aggressive when talking to the Suitors.