Monday, 1 October 2012

Blogging the Odyssey - Book 18

First, the Sparknotes summary:

Another beggar, Arnaeus (nicknamed Irus), saunters into the palace. For a beggar, he is rather brash: he insults Odysseus and challenges him to a boxing match. He thinks that he will make quick work of the old man, but Athena gives Odysseus extra strength and stature. Irus soon regrets challenging the old man and tries to escape, but by now the suitors have taken notice and are egging on the fight for the sake of their own entertainment. It ends quickly as Odysseus floors Irus and stops just short of killing him.

The suitors congratulate Odysseus. One in particular, the moderate Amphinomus, toasts him and gives him food. Odysseus, fully aware of the bloodshed to come and overcome by pity for Amphinomus, pulls the man aside. He predicts to Amphinomus that Odysseus will soon be home and gives him a thinly veiled warning to abandon the palace and return to his own land. But Amphinomus doesn’t depart, despite being “fraught with grave forebodings,” for Athena has bound him to death at the hands of Telemachus (18.176).

Athena now puts it into Penelope’s head to make an appearance before her suitors. The goddess gives her extra stature and beauty to inflame their hearts. When Penelope speaks to the suitors, she leads them on by telling them that Odysseus had instructed her to take a new husband if he should fail to return before Telemachus began growing facial hair. She then tricks them, to the silent delight of Odysseus, into bringing her gifts by claiming that any suitor worth his salt would try to win her hand by giving things to her instead of taking what’s rightfully hers. The suitors shower her with presents, and, as they celebrate, Odysseus instructs the maidservants to go to Penelope. The maidservant Melantho, Melanthius’s sister, insults him as an inferior being and a drunk; Odysseus then scares them off with threats. Hoping to make Odysseus even more angry at the suitors, Athena now inspires Eurymachus to insult him. When Odysseus responds with insults of his own, Eurymachus throws a stool at him but misses, hitting a servant instead. Just as a riot is about to break out, Telemachus steps in and diffuses the situation, to the consternation of the suitors.


In this Book, we again see Telemakhos in the process of stepping into his role as the young adult head of the household.  Significantly, he refers to himself at one point as Odysseus' host (xeionodokos).  But, while Telemakhos might be hospitable to Odysseus, the suitors still aren't, as Eurymakhos shows by throwing a footstool at him.

Meanwhile, another beggar has picked a fight with Odysseus.  The suitors, led by Antinoos, egg the two men on, and Odysseus (of course) wins.

Prompted by Athene, Penelope appears radiantly before the suitors and arouses their desire, then shames them into giving her presents.  Odysseus now starts to talk directly to Penelope, including this rather immodest passage:
Honourable wife of Odyssseus, son of Laertes,
do not waste your lovely skin any longer now, nor melt
your heart, mourning your husband; though I do not reproach you,
for any woman weeps when she has lost her wedded
husband, with whom she has made love and borne children,
even one not like Odysseus, whom they say is god-like.
This passage, like others in the book, holds up mutual love and affection as the ideal between husband and wife - something of a contrast to the widespread image of ancient marriage as being a business arrangement without emotional content.

Odysseus warns Amphiaraos, a rare example of a "good" suitor, about what is going to happen.  But Amphiaraos does nothing.  Meanwhile, the maidservants take the piss out of Odysseus - not a clever move, because now is not a time to be making enemies.