Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
When Odysseus stops his narration, Alcinous asks the princes to bestow more gifts on the brave hero. They agree and then retire for the night. The next morning, after sacrifices and feasting, Odysseus bids farewell to the Phaecians and climbs aboard the ship they have prepared for him. The boat reaches Ithaca without any trouble, and Odysseus is left on the shore with all his gifts.
While he is still sleeping, Poseidon sees the Phaecian ship leaving Odysseus. The god is angered that Odysseus should come back home so comfortably and with so many gifts. He speaks to Zeus, who allows him to turn the Phaecian ship into stone as it is coming back into port. When the Phaecians see their ship transformed, they become alarmed. Alcinous, recalling an old prophecy, asks them to sacrifice bulls and pray to Poseidon in order to prevent him from burying the city under a great mountain.
Meanwhile, Odysseus awakens at Ithaca and is unable to recognize his own land, as it is covered with mist. He wonders where he is and checks his gifts to see whether the Phaecians have stolen any. Athena comes to him in the disguise of a young man and tells him that he is at Ithaca. Odysseus does not reveal his true identity, making up an incredible story about himself. Athena smiles at his cunning and changes into her original form. They converse and Odysseus asks for further proof that he is really at Ithaca. Once convinced, he rejoices; then Athena helps him to hide his wealth in a cave. She disguises him so that he looks like an old beggar and advises him to seek out his swineherd, Eumaeus, so that he can learn more about what is going on. Athena goes to Lacedaemon to fetch Telemachus, while Odysseus goes to find the swineherd.
In Books 13-24, the action takes place in Ithaca. This is a familiar world for the hero. Yet here, too, much in the story is derived from old folktales exploited with novelty by the poet.
Unlike previous sea voyages, Odysseus' voyage from Phaecia to Ithaca is uneventful, and he actually sleeps the entire way. He is deposited in Ithaca by the Phaecians, along with the gifts that are so important for any hero's return. Poseidon, who has not forgotten his wrath for Odysseus, is angry that he has come back with gifts even more luxurious than he might have been able to win at Troy. Zeus allows Poseidon to punish the Phaecians by turning their ship into stone, and Alcinous remembers that this was destined to happen. The role of gods and fate in the entire epic is unmistakable. The last vision of the Phaecians is of them praying to the earth shaker, Poseidon.
Odysseus in this Book is his usual suspicious, clever, and cunning self. As soon as he awakens, he wonders where he is, but is unable to recognize his own land. He does not trust the Phaecians and counts his gifts to ascertain whether any have been stolen. When Athena meets him in the disguise of a young man, Odysseus is careful not to reveal his identity. He makes up a long, fantastic story about himself, and Athena is amused by his guile. He does not let his guard down even in his own land, and it is this quality that makes him truly exceptional and enduring. It is in this Book that Athena and Odysseus finally come face to face, and their meeting is as one between equals. Athena shows affection towards Odysseus, while he wishes to make the most of her help in punishing the suitors. After he flatters her, she formulates a plan whereby Odysseus will first stay with his swineherd as a beggar. This is a part of Odysseus' humbling. Polyphemus' prayer has been answered, and Odysseus has indeed reached home alone, with trouble reigning in his house.
Athena is the only god who helps Odysseus throughout The Odyssey. While talking to Odysseus, she reiterates that Penelope has been constant, but she knows that he will test his wife before accepting her. Odysseus has not forgotten Agamemnon's fate nor the words of Agamemnon's spirit warning him to be wary of women. As a result, the hero has to disguise himself until he has avenged the suitors. In this, too, he is helped by Athena yet again.