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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 17: THE BEGGAR AT THE MANOR

The action now picks up steam. First, Telemakhos goes home to see his mother. She greets him as "Telemakhos, more sweet to me than sunlight!" Though she wants to hear his news, he delays, sending her to pray for revenge on the suitors. She is a "good woman" of this era, and does what she's told.

In town Telemakhos sees Mentor and two other old friends of his father, Antiphos and Halitherses. Peiraios tells Telemakhos he must collect his gifts from Menelaos, but Telemakhos leaves them where they are-Peiraios will have them if Telemakhos is killed. These arrangements let you know that Telemakhos is aware that he is going into his first battle, and may not survive it.

Telemakhos takes Theoklymenos home-an important guest because of his gift of prophecy. After the rituals of bathing and eating, Penelope asks a second time for Telemakhos' news and this time she gets it. He recaps his visits with Nestor and Menelaos, and adds the information that Odysseus is being detained by Kalypso. This report makes Penelope's "heart stir in her breast," but before she can speak Theoklymenos says this news is no longer valid, for the omen has told him that Odysseus is here, now, in Ithaka. Penelope's response is cautious: if that were so, Theoklymenos would be rewarded with many gifts.



Apparently she's not about to believe him; she's heard many rumors for many years.

In the meantime the suitors, who have been throwing the discuss and javelin (today they'd be tossing around a football), are called to dinner by Medon, the crier. While they start to feast, Eumaios and Odysseus disguised as the beggar head toward town. On the way the goatherd, Melanthios, insults Odysseus and kicks him. He serves as a strong contrast to Eumaios, the faithful servant.

NOTE: The house of Odysseus, like the other great houses in the story, is built around a large walled courtyard floored with hard packed earth. Armor and weapons hang on the walls. The women's hall is upstairs overlooking the courtyard.

As Odysseus and Eumaios approach, they agree that Eumaios will enter first, alone. While they discuss their approach, Odysseus notices his old dog Argos, lying on a pile of dung before the gate. Argos recognizes his master and tries to wag his tail, then dies, free to die now that his true master is at home. The incident emphasizes the theme of loyalty.

Watch the interplay of personalities carefully once Odysseus has entered the courtyard. Barbarians are hostile to strangers (have you ever been the new kid in a strange school?). Civilized people like the Akhaians are supposed to be hospitable. You'll see that Antinoos seems even more insolent than before, when he throws a stool at Odysseus. Another omen occurs when Telemakhos sneezes and his mother laughs, taking the sneeze as a good sign. It's pleasant to hear her laugh, since up until now she's been mostly angry, frustrated, and sad. She wants to question the beggar, but he doesn't wish to rile the already rowdy suitors-he will come to her later. Homer builds the suspense about this meeting between husband and wife by postponing it, and makes it more dramatic by having it occur after dark. Eumaios, ever true to his job, leaves to tend his pigs, though he will return in the morning with animals for slaughter. The chapter ends with food, dance, and song as the day wanes to evening.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer
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