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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 18: BLOWS AND A QUEEN'S BEAUTY

In the midst of the festivities Iros, a real beggar, appears. He has begging privileges here and resents seeing Odysseus on his turf. The suitors egg him into a boxing match. They're impressed with Odysseus' physique when he strips to fight. "By god, old Iros now retiros," one of them quips, seeing Odysseus' muscles. As usual Odysseus considers two courses of action: to kill Iros with one blow, or to be more gentle. His "gentle" punch shatters Iros' jaw and knocks out his teeth. So Odysseus, ironically enough, but usefully for his purposes, takes over as "official" beggar to the suitor's.

NOTE: Now the storyteller's foreknowledge adds grimness to the tale. Amphinomos has been depicted as one of the better suitors. He's generous to Odysseus here, is "gently bred," an "easy man." Odysseus warns him that the suitors' impiety will be punished, and that he should leave. But you are told Athena has Amphinomos marked to stay and that he will be killed by a spear thrown by Telemakhos. A man's fate is inevitable.



In these latter chapters you finally see more of Penelope. Athena, wanting to fan the suitors' desire and show off Penelope's beauty before her husband and son, puts it into her head to appear before the company. Penelope laughs confusedly and doesn't quite know why she's doing what she's doing. She refuses to bathe and adorn herself, but Athena puts her into a beauty sleep from which she wakes looking her best. She appears, veiled, with two of her maids, and the suitors show their pleasure. First she speaks only to her son, but then, bolder, she tells the suitors that her husband instructed her when he left to wait for his return until the beard appeared on their son's cheek. She implies the time has come, chides them for not bringing her gifts of courtship, and uses their desire for her to make them give her jewels and a dress. Odysseus secretly enjoys seeing her entice them into giving her presents. She's not helpless and obedient in this scene. She's strong and clever.

After Penelope withdraws, the suitors give themselves up to dance and song. You learn more about the various alliances of the suitors when Melantho speaks insultingly to Odysseus. She's the mistress of Eurymakhos, a fact that makes his admiration of Penelope's "deep-minded beauty" sound a bit thin. Eurymakhos taunts Odysseus about his baldness, and throws a stool at him.

Athena, it seems, wants Odysseus mortified still more, wishes to test his patience to the utmost. Again Amphinomos shows himself a reasonable fellow by calming the quarreling suitors and advising them to go to bed.

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