The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Book 20
Summary of book 20 "The Last Banquet"[edit | edit source]
Book 20, "The Last Banquet", begins with Odysseus disguised as a beggar laying outside his home thinking through different plots to kill his wife's suitors. Athena visits him and tells Odysseus not to worry because the gods will help him if he trust them. Then Homer jumps to inside the house where Penelope is weeping because she misses Odysseus and is frustrated at the suitors who are wrecking her home, so she prays to the gods to end her suffering, more information on this in the Prayer & Omen section. Odysseus wakes up hearing his wife crying and asks Zeus if there's a reason the gods brought him home after all the suffering he's endured and Zeus sends him a lighting bolt as an omen, more about this bellow. Multiple people pass Odysseus as he's laying outside and they all treat him with different levels of hospitality and welcomes. Homer also gives the reader a brief insight as to how the suitors are planning to kill Telemachus and take over his home. Telemachus invites Odysseus inside to join the banquet he's hosting. During the feast Telemachus asks the suitors to be on their best behavior and please be respectful to him as a host and to his house, but the suitors do not listen and made fun of Telemachus for inviting a beggar inside and the dinner turns to chaos as the suitors argue and fight, all while Telemachus and Odysseus are planning their revenge.
In order of appearance:
Odysseus- lies awake and worries about fighting an entire crowd of suitors and the crowds that will come to avenge their deaths
Eurynome - One of Penelope's servants.
Athena- wants to rouse Odysseus's anger so she inspires a suitor named Ctesippus to fling a hoof at him which reassures him and helps him fall asleep. Meanwhile the queen lies awake and wishes for death. Her crying rouses Odysseus who asks Zeus for a good omen.
Penelope- to take another husband
Unamed wheat grinder -. A female slave from a nearby house that gives Odysseus a sign that his prayer to Zeus has been heard by saying "Zeus, king of the gods and humans! You made thunder boom from a cloudless sky-- a sign for someone."
Eumaeus - A slave to Odysseus and Penelope. Helps Odysseus kill the suitors.
Melanthius - A goat-herder for the suitors. Brother to Melantho, a slave of Penelope's. Killed by Odysseus along with the other suitors.
Philoetius - A herdsman and slave of Odysseus and Penelope.
Amphinomus - One of Penelope's suitors. He has hospitality and kindness towards Odysseus when he is disguised as a beggar. As a reward for his kindness Odysseus warns him to leave the palace before he goes through with his plan to kill the suitors but, Athena tells Amphinomus to stay. He is later killed by Telemachus.
Antinous - One of the main suitors, and son of Eupeithes who was good friends with Odysseus and Penelope. He is the suitor who comes up with the plan to kill Telemachus. He is rude to Odysseus and throws a stool at him when he is disguised as a beggar. In a later book he starts a fight between Odysseus and an actual beggar by the name of Irus. He is the first suitor that Odysseus ends up killing with an arrow through the neck.
Ctesippus - One of Penelope's suitors.
Agelaus - One of Penelope's suitors. He defends Telemachus when he speaks up about how the suitors are treating his home. Agelaus also tries to warn the rest of the suitors about Odysseus' plan to kill them. Eventually he is killed by Odysseus.
Theoclymenus - A prophet from Argos that Telemachus brings with him to Ithaca.
Eurymachus - Another one of the main suitors.
Ancient worldviews[edit | edit source]
Prayers & Omens[edit | edit source]
The Greeks were polytheistic and believed in many gods and goddesses who were thought to live together on Mount Olympus. The Greeks viewed their gods like humans, in other words, they weren't perfect. They could fall in love, get jealous, be happy, be angry, etc. The Greek people believed that prayer was important in maintaining a positive relationship with the gods. They believed that when a god was angry at someone they'd send punishment their way, and when you were on a god's good side you'd be rewarded with protection and help. Just as the Greeks believed prayer was a way to communicate with the divine, they believed the divine could communicate to mortals via omens and signs. For example, Zeus sending a lighting strike or Poseidon making a tidal wave. Homer used this believe to his advantage when writing the Odyssey he almost uses prayers and omens as a storytelling element similar to dramatic irony, when a character doesn't know something but the reader does or in this case the character doesn't know something but the gods do. At certain points in the plot character's don't know the outcome of situations and turn to the gods for answers, for example in book 20 when Penelope is praying because she doesn't know if or when Odysseus will come home.
- On page 447 Penelope is praying to Artemis hoping she'll end the suffering and grief she feels with Odysseus' absence. "When her sobs subsided, she prayed. 'O Artemis! Majestic Goddess! Daughter of Zeus! If only you would shoot an arrow in my heart and kill me now, or let a gust of wind take hold of me and carry me across the misty clouds and fling me where the waters of the Ocean pour forth and back again...'".
- On page 448 Odysseus asks Zeus to send him a sign or an omen to prove that there was a reason behind the suffering he had to endure in order to reach Ithaca, his home, and his wife Penelope. "'O Father Zeus! O gods! If you have brought me back on purpose across dry land and sea to my own home, after you made me suffer all that pain, let someone inside speak in words of omen, and Zeus, display another sign outside."  The omen is given to Odysseus on the next page through a wheat grinder, who's mentioned in the character section as well as the omen she gives Odysseus. "Zeus, king of the gods and humans! You made thunder boom from a cloudless sky-- a sign for someone." Along with this omen Zeus sends down a lighting strike although the sky is sunny.
- "The prophet answered 'Eurymachus, I will not ask for guides. I have good eyes and ears and feet; my mind is working perfectly, and I am leaving. I sense some evil coming for you all, who sit here in Odysseus' house tormenting and oppressing other people. Not one of you will get away.'" This quote from page 458 is an example of an omen through a prophet or a seer. It's also an example of foreshadowing, because he mentions the evil coming to the suitors and in following chapters they're brutally slaughtered by Odysseus and his son as a form of revenge.
- "...the suitors were planning how to kill Telemachus. But then an eagle flew high on their left, holding a wild dove. Amphinomus said to them, 'Friends, this plan of ours, this murder, will fail...'" (pg. 453-454). Amphinomus interprets the eagle carrying the dead dove as an omen from the gods that they will have bad luck with their plan. There's actually interesting symbolism within this sentence. The first being the eagle, which in Greek mythology was known to be connected to Zeus and generally symbolizes power. The second being the dead dove. Doves are often tied to the spirt or the divine.
- "Zeus, king of gods and humans! You made thunder boom from a cloudless sky- a sign for someone. Fulfill a poor slave's prayer: that this will be the last day that the suitors dine in style here in the old king's house. My knees are sore from this is exhausting work of grinding grain for them. I pray this is their final meal! (pg.449). This is a prayer to Zeus for some type of relief. The suitors have been wearing her out and she is praying for them to have their final meal in order to get some relief.
"Guest-Friendships" & Hospitality[edit | edit source]
Guest-friendship is an ancient worldview held by the Greeks that talks about the give and take between a host and their guest. A good host, usually the host was the eldest man of the household, should provide their guest(s) with a meal, a bath, gifts, the promise of safety and a way for them to travel to their next destination. In return a good guest should be respectful, not threaten the livelihood of their host, and be a good host in return if ever the tables are turned and they must host their current host. In this chapter, the reader is given insight into how the relationship between a host and a guest can be both good and balanced or it can be bad and off-kilter. The biggest examples of hospitality in this book come from the way other people treat the beggar, which is actually Odysseus in disguise. (For more information and examples about the theme of hospitality throughout the Odyssey, visit the Theme page).
- Page 449. "'Nanny! Did you women make sure our guest was honored, with a meal and comfortable bed? Or did he lie there neglected? This is typical of Mother! She may be clever, but she acts on whims! she treats unwanted guests with great respect, and rudely sends the better ones away.""
- The swine herder asks Odysseus, "'My friend, are they now treating you with more respect, or are they still abusing you, just as before?'"  Then afterwards Melanthius yells at the beggar who is really Odysseus saying, "'Stranger! Are you still here, still causing trouble, with begging and annoying those inside? I promise you a beating if you stay! Your begging is not welcome!'". These two interactions with Odysseus while he's a beggar show what the Greeks considered good hospitality, asking the beggar if he's okay and being taken care of, and bad hospitality, yelling at him and telling him he isn't welcome when typically the custom of "guest-friendship" would allow anyone to be welcome in another person's home.
- The suitors represent an uneven balance of the "guest-friendship" when they're making fun of Telemachus for being a good host and inviting the beggar inside for the feast. "' What awful luck you have with visitors! Here is this dirty beggar, always wanting more food and wine, who is unskilled in farmwork or fighting- a mere burden on the earth!...Now listen-I propose a better plan. Pack up your strangers on a boat as slaves; send them to Sicily, and make a profit
Revenge & Anger[edit | edit source]
In book 20 Odysseus battles with the internal conflict of whether to hold back his anger towards the suitors or to let loose and take the revenge he thinks he deserves. In this book at least he tries to bottle it up and keep his anger to himself so he can keep up his disguise as a beggar. There's also another internal conflict brought up in this book, which is the struggle of if Odysseus kills the suitors. What happens then? Homer uses this inner turmoil within Odysseus' mind to push forth this ideal that to be a good or virtuous person in the world of the Greeks, you don't threaten the livelihood of others and you try to get along and be hospitable towards everyone, even strangers. Odysseus chooses to go against the common view when he takes revenge on the suitors in a later chapter, and by doing so he creates a moment of conflict within the story.
- "He lay there but did not sleep; his mind was plotting how to kill the suitors...His heart was roused to rage; he wondered whether to jump at them and slaughter every one, or let them have one final night..." (pg. 445)
- "...his heart was barking, just as a mother dog will stand astride her little puppies, bristling to fight, if she sees any man she does not know..." (pg. 445). In this line Homer uses the literary device of a metaphor to compare Odysseus' rage to that of a mother protecting her children. Homer continues using metaphors to show the level of Odysseus' rage with, "So his heart held firm and constant, be he writhed around, as when a man rotates a sausage full of fat and blood; the huge fire blazes, and he longs to have his roasting finished." (pg. 446)
- "Inscrutable Odysseus said nothing; he bowed his head in silence, contemplating his murderous plans." (pg. 451)
References[edit | edit source]
- Homer, and Emily R. Wilson. Essay. In The Odyssey: Translated by Emily Wilson, 445–59. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.