The Odyssey By Homer Summary and Analysis Books 15-16 - The Prince Sets Sail for Home; Father and Son

Summary

Eumaeus and the beggar/Odysseus continue their conversations, the swineherd proving a perfect host and loyal servant. He tells the story of his life and how he came to Ithaca. Meanwhile, Athena guides Telemachus safely past the suitors' ambush; she tells him to go directly to the pig farm upon arrival at Ithaca. Eumaeus is sent to tell Penelope of her son's safe return. Athena takes this opportunity to alter Odysseus' appearance once more, turning him into a strapping image of his former self; he looks like a god to the shocked and skeptical Telemachus. Odysseus reveals his true identity to his son, and they work out a plan to defeat the suitors.

Meanwhile, Antinous also has a plan and tells the other suitors how they must assassinate the prince. However, Amphinomus, the most decent of the suitors, calls for patience in order to learn the will of the gods before striking. His argument wins the day as the suitors agree to postpone the murder of Telemachus. Penelope confronts the intruders but is cut off by the smooth-talking Eurymachus.

Back at the pig farm, Athena has turned Odysseus back into the old beggar. Among the mortals, only Telemachus knows who he really is.

Analysis

The bond between Odysseus and his swineherd grows as Eumaeus insists that the beggar should stay on at the farm and not take his chances in town with the suitors. The friendship undoubtedly is easier for Homer's audience to accept when Eumaeus tells his life story, revealing that he actually is of royal blood but was kidnapped from his home and eventually purchased as a slave by Odysseus' father, Laertes. While Odysseus is sympathetic and respects his loyal servant, he has no thought of freeing the man. Nor does he reveal his true identity to the swineherd. That revelation is saved for his son.

As powerful, brave, and worthy as Odysseus is, he needs Athena's help at almost every step during his return to power. At this point, she must get Telemachus past the suitors' ambush and out to the pig farm with Odysseus so that they can become partners in revenge. Athena accomplishes this by guiding the prince around the planned area of attack and instructing him to leave the ship early and go directly to Eumaeus' hut. After Telemachus' arrival, Eumaeus is sent to Penelope with the news of her son's safe return. Father and son are left alone. Taking Odysseus aside, Athena performs another transformation, returning him to an impressive image of his former self. Appearing in a form that Odysseus can see but Telemachus can't, Athena counsels the king on when and how to reveal his true identity.

As a beggar, Odysseus has already dared to challenge his son about the suitors. He asks how the prince can tolerate them. Telemachus may not have learned much about his father's presence during the trips to Pylos and Sparta, but he has gained considerable maturity and insight. He listens to the beggar and agrees that he must stand up to the scoundrels who have taken over his home. So when Odysseus identifies himself to his son, Odysseus knows that he has a willing and increasingly able partner. Being the experienced warrior that he is, Odysseus seeks reliable information about the enemy. His first step is to ask Telemachus about the suitors.

The prince reveals (16.270-287) that there are some 108 noblemen, plus assorted servants and one bard (Medon), in the group and wonders how the two of them can overcome such numbers. Odysseus puts his faith in Athena and Zeus. With that as a premise, the father and son devise their plan. Telemachus is to return to town and mix with the suitors. Odysseus, in disguise, will follow. No matter how poorly the suitors may treat the old beggar, Odysseus and Telemachus are to bide their time and refrain from striking back until the moment is right. At a signal, the prince is to gather all the weapons and place them in the storeroom. If challenged, he can say that he does this to protect the gear. He must leave out weapons only for himself and his father.

Antinous is the most aggressive of the suitors. Concerned that public opinion is shifting to the side of the prince, he wants to strike immediately, assassinating Telemachus before he can gather support. The suitors, especially Antinous, are haughty and arrogant, which prove to be their downfall. This outspoken leader's arrogant plan includes seizing all of Telemachus' land and valuables immediately after the murder and dispensing them among the freeloaders. The palace itself will go to Penelope and, of course, the man she weds — a man Antinous believes to be himself.

Only Amphinomus has the courage to speak against the plot. He is the most decent of the suitors and Penelope's favorite because he usually demonstrates good sense and refinement. Amphinomus points out that killing nobility is nasty business and suggests that they hold off on the assassination to see whether the gods have some bias in the matter. The rest of the suitors, most of whom are cowards, gladly accept this reprieve. Lacking the support he needs, Antinous must abandon his plot.

The speeches by Antinous, Eurymachus, and Amphinomus clearly delineate their characters. When Penelope confronts the suitors' about their rancor toward her son, Eurymachus typically tries to finesse the situation with smooth talk. He is a manipulator and a liar, the kind of fellow who thinks that he is much smarter than he is. When he claims, "So to me your son is the dearest man alive" (16.493), Penelope is not fooled. She is, nonetheless, still alone and vulnerable. She cries herself to sleep that night, longing for Odysseus. What she does not know is that he is nearby.

Glossary

Same island near Ithaca.

Elis a region in the northwestern Peloponnesus near Pylos.

Ctimene Odysseus' younger sister.

Ortygia island where Artemis killed Orion.

Artemis virgin goddess of the hunt and moon, twin sister of Apollo.

Zacynthus an island in Odysseus' kingdom, south of Ithaca.

in your cups drunk, inebriated.

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