The Odyssey By Homer Summary and Analysis Book 22 - Slaughter in the Hall

Summary

Tearing off his beggar rags, Odysseus boldly catapults himself onto the hall's threshold, utters a brief prayer to Apollo, and fires an arrow straight through a new target: Antinous' throat. Only after that does he announce his intentions to the suitors in no uncertain terms. Suddenly realizing the danger, Eurymachus tries to talk his way out of the situation, offering repayment for all that has been taken from Odysseus. The king declines the offer, and Eurymachus calls his cohorts to arms, which consist of only the swords they wear. They have no armor. Odysseus rips through Eurymachus' chest and liver with an arrow. Amphinomus attacks and is killed by Telemachus. The battle is on.

Goatherd Melanthius, who twice assaulted Odysseus in recent days, manages to bring the suitors armor and spears from the storeroom but is caught by Eumaeus and Philoetius on a second attempt and strung up, alive, to be dealt with later. With Athena's intervention and encouragement, Odysseus wins the day. All suitors are killed. The king then dispenses justice to a few remaining individuals and a dozen servant girls.

Analysis

Odysseus' judgment and prudence finally pay off. Like the superb military leader that he is, he has assessed the situation, devised an effective plan, and implemented it at just the right moment. Although his anger is obvious, he is completely under control. Odysseus kills the enemy's most aggressive leader, Antinous, before any of the suitors realize that the king has returned or that they are in danger. With the leader dead, confusion races through the crowd.

Eurymachus, typically, tries to talk his way out of the situation. He claims that everything was Antinous' fault; the rest were simply under his control and now are prepared to serve their king. He offers to tax the people to pay back everything and adds that he and the other suitors will contribute plenty of their own possessions as well. Odysseus, however, is interested in only one kind of repayment. Eurymachus sees that he must fight or die and calls his fellow suitors to arms. He barely mounts a charge before the king's arrow rips through his chest and into his liver.

Even the relatively good must die. Amphinomus charges. Although he is the queen's favorite and the one suitor whom Odysseus earlier tried to persuade to leave, he is killed by Telemachus.

Because of his military expertise, the early battle goes well for Odysseus. He has caught the enemy by surprise, cut off escape, destroyed its leadership, and caused confusion. Telemachus fetches armor for the king and himself as well as the two loyal herdsmen. The suitors have only the swords that they wear. However, the sinister goatherd Melanthius complicates matters. Familiar with the castle, he retrieves a dozen spears and armor to match from the storeroom whose door Telemachus has carelessly left ajar. Odysseus sees the danger but resists panic. His faithful herdsmen cut off Melanthius' second trip and hang him live by the rafters.

At this crucial point in the battle, as Odysseus agonizes, Athena appears in the form of Mentor. The king recognizes his true mentor, the goddess, and takes heart as she reminds him that these are not Trojans that he faces. These are only the suitors. He fights on with renewed vigor. A highlight occurs when Philoetius, the cowherd, rips a spear through the chest of Ctesippus, the braggart who threw an oxhoof at beggar/Odysseus. The king's faithful servant can't resist asking Ctesippus how he likes his mockery now (22.301).

Odysseus dispenses justice harshly but not without mercy. Leodes pleads that he was only the suitors' priest, but Odysseus knows that he was the first to try to string the bow and win Penelope. Odysseus decapitates him with one swipe, the head softly bouncing in the dust. Following Telemachus' recommendation, the king spares Phemius the bard and one of the heralds.

With classic understatement, Odysseus observes that he has only a few "household chores" (22.400) left to tend to. He asks Eurycleia to identify the maidservants who were disloyal. A dozen are called in. They must clean the gore from the great hall, after which they are taken to the courtyard and hanged. The maidservants "kicked up heels for a little — not for long" (22.500). Then Melanthius, the goatherd who assaulted Odysseus on the road to town and later mocked him at the palace, is dragged into the courtyard. His nose and ears are cut off. His genitals are torn from his groin and fed to the dogs. His hands and feet are severed. It is safe to assume that he dies.

The detailed descriptions of the battle and executions are especially effective, realistic, and thorough. The accounts of the deaths of Antinous (22.8-21) and Eurymachus (22.87-93) set the tone for the battle. The description of the deaths of the servant girls, who are compared to "doves or thrushes beating their spread wings / against some snare rigged up in thickets" (22.494-95) has a macabre beauty. What we come away with is this: In this land which has no courts or police and where each must settle his own disputes, Odysseus is not a man to offend.

The house is fumigated, probably with sulfur, for purposes both practical and symbolic. Odysseus' long struggle is over. The enemy is vanquished. His house is finally cleansed. It is time to reunite with Penelope.

Glossary

buckler a small, usually round shield that is carried or worn on the arm or shoulder.

smoke ducts openings high on the walls to allow smoke to escape.

javelin a light spear designed for throwing.

Sungod Helios.

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