The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Book 16

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Using book 16 of Emily Wilson's translation of Homer's The Odyssey[1]

Summary of book[edit | edit source]

This chapter begins with Odysseus, disguised as a beggar by Athena, at Eumaeus's home when Telemachus returns. Telemachus instructs Eumaeus to go to his home and tell his mother, Penelope, about his return. He also tells Eumaeus not to tell anyone else because he suspects they will try to kill him. When Eumaeus leaves, Athena arrives, removes Odysseus's disguise, and instructs him to talk to Telemachus. The two reunite and devise a plan to get rid of the suitors. Odysseus suggests that when he comes to the home, again disguised as a beggar, if the suitors mistreat him, Telemachus should allow it. If the suitors abuse him as a guest, it will essentially be a death sentence. He says that Athena and Zeus would help them fight the suitors. Odysseus tells Telemachus that while the suitors are mistreating him, hide all of the weapons in the house except two swords, two spears, and two shields for them to use in their ambush. If the suitors ask about the weapons, he should tell them that they were being damaged from being too close to fire and that he was concerned that having them near may prompt the suitors to use them when drunk. Odysseus also suggests testing all of the slaves and servants' loyalty, but Telemachus claims that would take too long and instead suggests testing only the women. Then, Eumaeus meets up with a messenger from Telemachus' ship, both carrying a message for Penelope that Telemachus has returned to Ithaca. The suitors find out about Telemachus' return and begin plotting a new way to kill him. They are about to send for their scouts when a messenger arrives to say the scouts are already on their way back so that they can begin plotting. While they are plotting, Penelope arrives to confront them over their plans to kill her son but Eurymachus convinces her that no such plans had been made. The scene changes again and Odysseus and Telemachus have killed a pig to make a meal. Eumaeus returns to his home and Athena disguises Odysseus as a beggar again. Telemachus asks Eumaeus what is going on with the suitors at his house and Eumaeus replies that he didn't dawdle in town to ask about the suitors, but that he had seen a ship full of armed men dock in the harbor. The chapter ends with the trio eating dinner and then going to sleep.

Characters[edit | edit source]

Odysseus- In this chapter, Odysseus reunites with his son, Telemachus and the come up with a plan to kill the suitors

Telemachus- In this chapter, Telemachus returns to Ithaca and reunites with Odysseus. At this point, Telemachus is the only person, aside from the gods, who knows that Odysseus is disguised as a beggar.

Eumaeus- In this chapter, Eumaeus brings word to Penelope that Telemachus has returned to Ithaca

Zeus (Mentioned)- It is mentioned that if the suitors treat Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, poorly, then it will cause the end of their days. This is because Zeus is, among other things, the god of hospitality. Being a poor host was considered an insult to the king of the gods.

Arcesius (Mentioned)- Grandfather of Odysseus.

Laertes (Mentioned)- Father of Odysseus.

Athena- In this chapter, Athena removed Odysseus's disguise so he can reunite with Telemachus and then puts the disguise back on so Eumaeus doesn't discover Odysseus's identity. It is also mentioned that Athena would help Odysseus and Telemachus fight the suitors.

The Suitors- In this chapter, the suitors continue to plan to kill Telemachus and marry Penelope

Medon (Mentioned)- A herald brought by the suitors. He informs Penelope of the suitors' plot to kill Telemachus.

Unnamed Poet (Mentioned)- A poet brought by the suitors.

Unnamed Slaves (Mentioned)- Slaves brought by the suitors to carve meat.

Unnamed Female Slaves- Attendants to Penelope.

Penelope- In this chapter, she receives word that Telemachus has returned to Ithaca. She also finds out about the suitors' plan to kill Telemachus but is convinced by Eurymachus that no such plan is being made.

Eurymachus- The suitor who convinces Penelope that the suitors are not planning to kill telemachus.

Polybus (Mentioned)- Father of Eurymachus.

Amphinomus- The suitor who spotted the ambush ship returning. He also convinced the suitors to seek the gods' approval before killing Telemachus.

Antinous- The suitor who proposed a need to devise new plan to kill Telemachus

Nisus(Mentioned)- Father of Antinous.

Hermes (Mentioned)- Eumaeus mentions seeing ships over the hill of Hermes, god of roads and those who use roads.

Ancient worldview[edit | edit source]

Hospitality- Odysseus mentions that if the suitors treat him poorly while he is disguised as a beggar that they will guarantee their destruction (page 378). This shows that the ancient Greeks highly valued hospitality and that is people were inhospitable bad things would happen to them. Because the ancient Greeks believed that the gods could disguise themselves as mortals, any guest could, in theory, be a god in disguise. Turning away or being rude to a god could have dire consequences that most people were not willing to risk. The Greeks also took hospitality very seriously because Zeus, the king of the gods, was the god of hospitality and guests (among other things). One of his epithets designated his as a god who avenged those who were wronged by their hosts. Therefore, poor hospitality was seen as an offence to Zeus, who was known to be short tempered and not take offence lightly. Finally, because a majority of ancient Greece saw hospitality as a big deal, being a poor host would have had social consequences the same way doing thing we consider rude would today.

Involvement of gods- Athena appears in this chapter to speak to Odysseus and remove a disguise that he is covered by so that he can interact with his son (page 374). She later disguises his again to keep his identity a secret (page 384). When Odysseus and Telemachus come up with a plan to get rid of the suitors, Odysseus mentions that both Zeus and Athena would join the fight (page 378). This shows that the ancient Greeks believed that the gods actually payed attention to them and actively interfered in their lives. They were active deities, instead of passive ones, and therefore it was important to respect and honor them. Because the gods played an active role in the people's lives, it was likely believed that prosperity was the result of gaining a god(s) favor and that misfortune was the result a dishonoring a god(s).

Epithets- Many characters are referred to with some adjective appended to their name, such as "artful Odysseus" (page 376) or "godlike Telemachus" (page 370). This shows that the ancient Greeks were more interested in what you did or what qualities you possessed than who you were. This may be due to ideas that such qualities were given to people by the gods and your qualities showed which god(s) favored you. To the ancient Greeks, every aspect of a person's life was controlled by one deity or another and every deity had their own sphere or influence. Some deities, like the major gods, had much larger spheres of influence than others, like how Athena was the goddess of war, wisdom, battle strategy, handicrafts, and several other things. The gods also all had (mostly) universally agreed upon personalities, interests, and dislikes. When Odysseus is referred to as being favored by Athena, a Greek might interpret that as him excelling in many or all of the things in Athena's sphere of influence and that he was the type of person who would appeal to the goddess. Appending gods and/or characteristics to a person's name was a quick and easy way for a storyteller to establish their character because the people have a common understanding of what these epithets mean.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p. 369-358