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Book 19

The Odyssey – Book 19 Eurycleia Recognises Odysseus (Context)

Summary

·        Odysseus, still disguised as the beggar, orders Telemachus to remove the Suitors' weapons from the great hall, as planned.

·        Telemachus tells Eurycleia to go shut the women in their rooms while he does so.

·        Odysseus and Telemachus move the weapons together. Athene is conveniently lighting their way.

·        Telemachus is blown away by how deeply she's invested in helping Odysseus.

·        Penelope waits in her room for the beggar.

·        Melantho sees Odysseus coming up and insults him; he says that she should really think about what Odysseus would think of her behaviour.

·        The queen tells the beggar about the long years she has spent waiting for her husband to return and how she tricked the Suitors with her shroud-weaving routine.

·        But now she's desperate and she plans to marry a suitor soon, just to get out of Telemachus’ house and let him live in peace.

·        Finally, she persuades the beggar to tell her about himself. Odysseus assumes a fake name—Aethon—and weaves a complex story in which he came from Crete, fought in Troy, and later played host to Odysseus.

·        Penelope gets excited at hearing her husband's name, but she wants proof.

·        The beggar describes Odysseus's clothing, weapons, and men so perfectly that Penelope weeps.

·        Penelope isn't exactly unconvinced, but she offers the man a bath, clothes, and bed for the night.

·        The beggar, however, refuses the bath (which is really just a foot washing) unless he gets it from a maid as old and long-suffering as he is.

·        Playing right into his hands, Penelope offers the services of Eurycleia, Odysseus's nurse when he was young.

·        Eurycleia notices the strong resemblance between the beggar and Odysseus, but the beggar brushes it off by saying he gets that a lot.

·        She begins washing his feet.

·        Odysseus realizes something and freezes—he can't let her see the scar on his thigh.

·        As a boy Odysseus went on a hunt on Mount Parnassos with his grandfather Autolycus, where he was gashed in the thigh by a wild boar. It left an unmistakable scar.

·        Eurycleia spots the mark, and figures out that it’s Odysseus.

·        Odysseus controls the situation and vows her to silence. Eurycleia promises to stay quiet.

·        In the meantime, Penelope, comes in to ask the beggar one last question. She describes to him a dream she had in which she joyfully watched the domestic geese in her garden. Sweet, until a mountain eagle swooped down and killed them all.

·        She and her attendant women began to wail in sorrow, but the eagle came back and spoke, saying that he is her lord returned and the geese are the Suitors.

·        Still, this isn't enough explanation for Penelope. She asks the beggar to interpret the dream again.

·        The beggar tells her it means certain death for the Suitors.

·        Penelope isn't convinced. She tells him that she's so tired of the courtship that she'll end it tomorrow with a contest: the Suitors must string Odysseus's old bow and shoot an arrow through twelve consecutive axe heads. She will marry the suitor who wins it.

·        The beggar promises that Odysseus will be present for the contest.

·        Still sceptical, Penelope goes upstairs to sleep.

 

Penelope’s Conversation with the Beggar (Lines 102-172)

1.     When Penelope sits down with the “beggar”, and asks him who he is, how does Odysseus initially address her?

a.      “My lady” –Greek word for lady is gyne, which can mean both lady and wife.

 

2.     In her conversation with Odysseus, Penelope admits that she has been neglecting her role as the lady of royal oikos; she tells her guest about the Suitors, and how she has had to keep devising tricks to sue as delaying tactics, to prevent her having to choose a new husband. Why would Odysseus be pleased at this information?

a.      Penelope has stayed loyal to Odysseus despite the long time he has been away.

b.      Penelope is shown to be just as cunning as Odysseus is.

 

3.     Penelope tells Odysseus About the “shroud trick” – who is the shroud for and for how long did Penelope get away with it? She also tells the “beggar” that her parents are putting pressure on her to remarry (which echoes Athene’s claim to Telemachus in book 15) – which specific Suitor did Athene say that Penelope’s family wanted her to marry?

a.      Laertes

b.      Three years

c.      Eurymachus – the wealthiest Suitor


 

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