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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 20: SIGNS AND A VISION

This book opens with Odysseus lying in the entryway on an oxhide and fleeces, under a robe Eurynome has thrown over him. Epic hero though he is, he can't sleep. He's keyed up, thinking of the undoing of his enemies. He almost loses his self-control when he sees the corrupt maids sneaking out of the house to sleep with the suitors (perhaps he is also reminded of his wife sleeping alone upstairs). Homer describes him rocking from side to side, filled with anger, trying to keep his temper. Anyone who has ever physically struggled to keep from exploding can identify with him. Finally Athena (his good sense) comes to him and he sleeps.

Upstairs, Penelope, too, is wakeful. Having decided at last to let the suitors compete for her hand, she is miserable and prays for death. Her anguish is more painful because today she thought she saw Odysseus as she remembered him, real, not in a dream. Homer tells us that Odysseus hears her cry out and that she seems to stand by him and recognize him.



It's morning. Odysseus goes outdoors and prays for a sign from Zeus, who sends a thunderbolt. The weakest of twelve maids grinding corn hears it and prays for the suitors' destruction.

There are morning chores to be done. Odysseus is insulted again by Melanthios, the goatherd. Compare him to the new character, Philoitios, the cattle foreman, who arrives with an ox and goats for the suitors. Odysseus sees immediately that Philoitios is a good fighter and loyal servant, and tells him Odysseus is coming soon.

A sign from the gods prevents the suitors from trying again to kill Telemakhos: an eagle with a rock dove in its claws. Amphinomos says this omen is unlucky for their plan. They decide to have breakfast. Telemakhos serves Odysseus food and restrains the suitors' rowdiness, but Athena wants Odysseus to taste more gall before his hour of triumph. Ktesippos throws a cow's foot at him. Telemakhos blazes up at the men, telling them to curb their viciousness. The suitor Agelaos tells Telemakhos to go to his mother and insist that she make a decision so Telemakhos can keep his inheritance while she becomes a new wife in a new house. Telemakhos relies that he can't make his mother marry against her will. A chilling moment follows. Athena makes the suitors laugh uncontrollably, wheeze, neigh, and cry. Blood defiles the meat they eat.

Theoklymenos, the visionary, sees blood running down the walls and ghosts crowding the courtyard and entryway. The suitors laugh at him. Eurymakhos says he has lost his mind, but Theoklymenos declaims: "Damnation and black night I see arriving." He leaves this evil place and goes to stay with Peiraios. The suitors ridicule Telemakhos for bringing home the hungry beggar and this crazy Theoklymenos with his foolish prophecies. Their meal continues, but it is a cold feast.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer
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