Summary and Analysis
Book 18 - The Beggar-King at Ithaca
As late afternoon turns to evening, another vagabond, named Irus, arrives. He is a portly buffoon who is a comic favorite of the suitors. At the urging of Antinous, Irus picks a fight with beggar/Odysseus, which he soon regrets. As tensions increase, Odysseus tries in vain to warn Amphinomus, the best of the suitors, that trouble is coming and he should leave the group.
In preparation for the meeting with Odysseus, Athena makes Penelope look even more beautiful. The queen chastises her son for permitting a fight and putting their guest at risk.
Odysseus rebukes Penelope's maidservant Melantho for her neglect of the queen. The impudent girl has been indulging in an illicit affair with Eurymachus, Penelope's smooth-talking suitor. Odysseus and Eurymachus have a confrontation.
Some critics see the fight between Odysseus and Irus as comic relief, but it is hardly a laughing matter for anyone other than the pernicious suitors. Although a buffoon and braggart, Irus is a pathetic figure. Irus' character mirrors that of Antinous: Both are insolent bullies. Nonetheless, Antinous is considerably more dangerous because he has power, prestige, and intelligence. Irus is little more than a servant for the suitors. He is a mock champion, a sad joke, a fake. Although the old clown annoys Odysseus, Odysseus doesn't really want to hurt him. He breaks the vagrant's jaw more by reflex than design. Odysseus does display his impressive physique for the tussle, and the incident foreshadows later triumphs.
At this point, Athena is more set on complete revenge than is Odysseus. The king is especially concerned for suitor Amphinomus, the best of the bunch and Penelope's favorite. He tries in vain to persuade Amphinomus that Penelope's vengeful husband is "right at hand" (18.167) and that he must get out while he can.
The theme of loyalty appears again when Odysseus rebukes Melantho, primarily because the maidservant is ignoring her queen's needs. She is also spending her nights with Eurymachus. The latter is known for his smooth talk, but he loses control when Odysseus stands up to him. He throws a stool at the beggar/Odysseus but hits the wine steward instead. At this point, Telemachus, backed by Amphinomus, calls an end to the evening's revels.
Echetus a mainland Greek king known for his cruelty.
Ionian refers to people of the northeastern Peloponnesus.
Argos here, a region in the northeastern Peloponnesus.