The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Storytelling devices

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The setting of the Odyssey in books 20-24 is the palace in Ithaca after he returns from his journey. Throughout these books there is an emphasis on power which is evident in book 21 when Penelope puts out Odysseus's bow to test the strength of the suitors. The bow can be seen as a symbol of the social status of Odysseus, which is evident when the suitors try to string the bow and are unable to do so. This is further exemplified by inferiority to Odysseus felt by Eurymachus when he failed to string the bow. The theme of power continues in book 22 when Odysseus returns disguised but is still seen as a leader, as well as in the description of Odysseus given by the slave. The description made him seem like a mighty being. The power of Odysseus is emphasized as even his son Telemachus tries to be as great as him by trying to string the bow.The plot in these books is propelled forward through flashbacks and foreshadowing through dialogue, metaphors and the gods that the characters call out to. Reflecting on the time period is appropriate while incorporating celestial characters as during important events such as war. This reinforces the social hierarchy construct as the character deemed "great" came out victorious.

The use of metaphors and storytelling of adventures bring emphasis to the unique characteristics held by each character. Women during this time are portrayed as timid and fragile, however Homer shows Penelope as self-sufficient and of having high standards for herself and those around her. This is evident when she wants to test the strength of the suitors to see if anyone is as great as Odysseus but she knows in hindsight that he cannot be matched as she refers to them as "proud admirers". This transitions to the theme of trust and loyalty that all the relationships are based upon; if that trust and loyalty is broken, extensive measures result. In book 21 Odysseus returns and reveals himself, surprising the suitors. Chaos erupts as they realize they have been benefiting off the absence of Odysseus. In turn, Odysseus shoots an arrow into Antinous's throat and there is a fight that breaks out.

Book 20

At the beginning of chapter 20, Odysseus uses personification while talking about his heart. "......he wondered whether to jump at them and slaughter everyone, or to let them have one very final night with those proud suitors- and his heart was barking" (pg. 445). This was used to give human characteristics to something nonhuman. This provides emphasis on the way thinking about killing the suitors makes him feel. It makes Odysseus feel excited and overwhelmed.

There is a lot of foreshadowing in chapter 20. Athena says this " Most men trust friends-even weaker, mortal friends, whose judgement is far worse than mine. I am a goddess, and throughout your many trials, I have watched over you. If we were ambushed, surrounded by not one but fifty gangs of men who hoped to murder us- you would escape, and even poach their sheep and cows. Now go to sleep. To stay on guard awake all night is tiring. Quite soon you will distance yourself, Odysseus, from trouble" (pg. 447). Athena is foreshadowing that Odysseus should not fear fighting with gangs of men. She implies that Odysseus will distance himself from the gangs of men who hope to murder him and he would be able to fight them off.

There is also foreshadowing when Eurycleia is talking to the slaves. "Now hurry! You girls sweep the floors and sprinkle them. Spread purple cloths across the chairs. You others, sponge the tables, and wash the double-handled cups and bowls. And you, go fetch the water from the spring. Be quick! They will be coming soon; it is a festival for all of them today" (pg. 450). Eurycleia implies that the men will be coming soon.

There is a small amount of imagery used in chapter 20. This is shown when Athena is looking at the suitors. "Athena turned the suitors' minds; they laughed unstoppably. They cackled, and they lost control of their faces. Plates of meat began to drip with blood. Their eyes were full of tears, and they began to wail in grief" (pg. 457). This shows the revenge and anger Athena takes towards the suitors. By giving the readers the image of the plates of meat dripping with blood implies that the blood of the suitors was dripping down onto their plates. This also shows that there was fear in the suitors eyes by giving us the image of their eyes full of tears.

Book 21[edit | edit source]

At the end of chapter 21 a cliff hanger is used, " With his eyebrows he signaled, and his son strapped on his sword, picked up his spear, and stood beside his chair, next to his father, his bronze weapons flashing." Cliff hangers are used to have the audience on the edge to see what happens in the next chapter. I think that this is a good use of a cliff hanger because we do not know what will happen next at the battle and this was a great way to build up anticipation for the next book.

Twice in Book 21, Homer refers to the arrows for Odysseus’s bow as “shafts of pain”. This is emphasizing Odysseus’s strength and skill with a bow. The color black is used to describe things in negative connotation. Eurymachus calls the day “A black day” after he is unable to bend the bow. Later, after Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, wants to try his hand at the bow, Antinous goes into an enraged rant. He tells Odysseus that if he strings the bow, he will be sent off in a black ship to Echetus, a king who wrecks all men alive.

When Odysseus strings the bow, Homer compares his skill and ease of doing so to a musician, saying that, “like an expert singer skilled at lyre and song—who strains a string to a new peg with ease, making the pliant sheep-gut fast at either end— so with his virtuoso ease Odysseus strung his mighty bow.” Shortly after, Homer uses a simile to describe the sound as Odysseus plucks the bow. He writes that, “under his touch it sang out clear and sharp as a swallow’s cry.”

Book 22[edit | edit source]

In book 22, there is misdirection used when Odysseus says, “Look—your crucial test is finished, now, at last! But another target’s left that no one’s hit before— we’ll see if I can hit it—Apollo give me glory!” The suitors have no idea a slaughter would be coming, but it abruptly begins as Odysseus shoots an arrow into Antinous’s neck. The color black is used again here in a similar way to describe how unexpected this was to the suitors. Homer writes, “and slaughter the last thing on the suitor’s mind: who could dream that one foe in that crowd of feasters, however great his power, would bring down death on himself, and black doom?”

Homer uses strong imagery as the slaughter begins with Antinous’s death. The description of the blood and collapsing of his body is detailed and vivid. He refers to the blood as “thick red jets” and writes that “food showered across the floor, the bread and meats soaked in a swirl of bloody filth.”

When some of the other suitors are convincing themselves that it was an accident, Homer describes them as, “Poor fools, blind to the fact that all their necks were in the noose.” Obviously, their necks are not literally in a noose, but Homer uses this comparison to show that their fate is sealed and they are at a point of no return.

After Eumaeus hoists Melanthius up to the rafters to hang there he tells him, “You’re bound to see the Morning rising up from the Ocean, mounting her golden throne.” Here Homer is using a golden throne to describe the morning sunrise.

As the slaughter goes on and the suitors continue to fall, the remaining suitors start to get scared enough that they run in a panic down the hall. Homer uses a simile to describe the suitors fleeing saying, “wild, like herds stampeding, driven mad.”

Book 23[edit | edit source]

Within book 23, the book opens up with vivid imagery of the old slave, Eurycleia, hustling up the stairs to inform the queen, Penelope, of her husband's return after 20 years of his absence. The first couple lines quote that "her old knees felt stronger now, with buoyant steps..."which indicates the slave has a bit of adrenaline as she is eager to reveal the news. The next couple of pages contain a lot of dialogue specifically, allowing the reader to feel as though they are sitting right in the middle of the carrying conversation between the characters. At first, Penelope had a lot of doubt about the words of the slave, although confident in thinking that the slave was just mocking her grief or speaking nonsense. This is particularly ironic as in book 20, on page 448, Penelope describes her dream of Odysseus' return as something that seemed more of a vision, implying she believes he could actually still be alive and possibly coming home one day. After mourning for twenty years, the reader would expect Penelope to immediately jump up with excitement but she first experiences hesitation.

To further prove to Penelope that the old slave wasn't lying, the slave describes a vivid picture, comparing him to being "like a lion, drenched in blood and gore" after he had successfully killed all of the suitors. This simile establishes a power within Odysseus. Lions are typically known as "king of the jungle" because of their power and being one of the environments greatest predators. It is also obvious to the reader how repetitive Eurycleia is being with her words to Penelope; she says several times that he is alive and that he has come home again. This portrays her excitement but also her desire to gain Penelope's trust on the subject. Penelope finally decides to greet the Odysseus and the interaction is described in detail. As Penelope does not "properly" greet Odysseus, Telemachus scolds her. The use of several questions in a row without time for Penelope to get a word in, as well as the exclamation points exaggerates how upset Telemachus is with his mothers reaction, allowing the reader to get insight as to how Telemachus feels. He states that his mothers heart is "always harder than rock"; comparing her heart to the toughness of rock implies she is not easily emotionally persuaded or manipulated. This portrays Penelope as an independent female character.

Page 499 includes a sequence of events planned by Odysseus. Including this in the book allows for the reader to feel as though they are in the setting of the book, witnessing what is taking placed. While Odysseus was being cleaned and prepared for the dance, page 499 quotes that "Athena poured attractiveness from head to toe, and made him taller and stronger, and his hair grew thick and curly as a hyacinth". This use of hyperbole and simile over exaggerates how good and transformed Odysseus looked in comparison to how he looked once he returned. Once Penelope and Odysseus are rejoiced after getting ready, Penelope is still cold towards him. In response, he compares her heart to iron. This is ironic (no pun intended) because previously, Telemachus had compared his mothers heart to the durability of rock, which Odysseus is now saying her heart is as durable as iron, which is harder than rock. Penelope tests Odysseus by saying something he would only know the proper response to. He exclaims that she had "cut his heart", another hyperbole exaggerating how bad she's hurt him. He provides Penelope with "the tokens" necessary for her to know whether or not it was him. Once she is certain this is really odysseus, they hug and kiss. Their reunion was compared to escaping death at sea after Poseidon wrecked their ship.

The couple made love, and then told stories of the occurrences while Odysseus was away for the last twenty years.

Book 24[edit | edit source]

Throughout book 24, there is at times seemingly endless dialogue amongst all the characters. From the opening, where we find the ghosts of the fallen suitors being led by Hermes into the Underworld find other passed souls, they speak on each others accomplishments and their final moments in death. In this scene, Amphimedon is commending Agamemnon's ghost for his heroic demise, detailing how they mourned for days and cared for his body in a respectful manner as he died a glorious death in battle. This puts an emphasis on ideals and characteristics to the mortal men and gods alike surrounding honor and glory and purpose. But when asked about his own demise, Amphimedon can acknowledge that he did not die a proud death at the hands of Odysseus, as just moments before he had unknowingly insulted Odysseus in his own home, as well as insulted his father, son. wife, and slaves. Courting Penelope and forcing her to choose a new husband, overstaying, making a mess, and feasting constantly, all of this being shown in books 20-23 leading up to his demise, this type of disregard and disrespect is only fitting to foreshadow his own lowly death. Yet, even in his acknowledgement, he blames Penelope, claiming her schemes and indecisiveness to remarry solely led to his demise, that it was a long planned out mass murder. While not 100% true through his account, he continues to mention how his body still lays in the palace, his kin not knowing and unable to properly clean his body to honor and mourn him. This seems fitting though as mentioned before, he wasn't treating Penelope with any respect (yes I do understand she is a woman and isn't due the same as a man per say) and was also belittling Odysseus and his home, it would seem his demise not being one of glory is only fair.

The use of dialogue and even flashbacks reminiscent of the characters past lives and choices continues past this first scene. Once Odysseus has been openly reunited with his home and his family, he first has to prove to them it truly is him, and then he fills them in of all of his struggles for the years he was away from them and how he made it back. This is done through explanation via dialogue and flashbacks, also giving insight to conversational commentary from his loved ones throughout, and shows how they suffered his absence as well.