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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 16

Summary

While Odysseus and Eumaeus are making breakfast, Telemachus arrives. Eumaeus is very happy that Telemachus has reached Ithaca safely, and his feelings are as a father towards a son. Telemachus is keen to hear about Penelope and whether she still remains loyal to Odysseus or has already wedded another. He meets Odysseus, but is unaware of who he is. Odysseus questions Telemachus about the wooers and claims that he would have fought them if he had been Odysseus' son or Odysseus himself. Telemachus answers his questions and then asks Eumaeus to go to Penelope and let her know of his safe return. Eumaeus thinks that it would be proper to let Laertes know as well. Telemachus agrees and asks the swineherd to tell Penelope to send a maid with this news to Laertes. Eumaeus departs for the city.

Athena comes to the beggar Odysseus and touches him with her golden wand to bring him back to his earlier form. Telemachus is amazed at the metamorphosis and believes this stranger to be a god. Odysseus convinces him that he is not a god but is his father. There is a tearful reunion, and then father and son discuss the transgressions of the suitors and how they might be punished. Meanwhile, Telemachus' ship reaches the city and both Telemachus' herald and the swineherd together reach Penelope's place. The swineherd informs Penelope of Telemachus' arrival and the wooers are dismayed to learn that he is safe. Antinous comes back with his ship and tells his companions that some god must have helped Telemachus in escaping death.

The suitors hold a discussion of what to do about Telemachus. Penelope comes among them to rebuke Antinous for his insolence in devising a plot to kill her son. Eurymachus convinces her that Telemachus will come to no harm, but, in truth, he himself is plotting her son's death. She retires to her chamber. In the evening, Eumaeus comes back to Odysseus and his son, by which time Athena has already disguised Odysseus as a beggar again. Telemachus inquires after the plans of the suitors, but Eumaeus can only tell him about one of their ships that he had seen in the harbor. They then eat their supper together and go to sleep.

Notes

The pace of the story increases with many events clustered into this Book. Telemachus arrives at the swineherd's dwelling and his first question is about his mother's fidelity to Odysseus. Throughout the epic, women are cast as being fickle and disloyal.


Agamemnon's slaughter by his wife's lover is well-known, and Helen is held responsible for the Trojan War and the death of numerous Achaeans. As a result, both Telemachus and Odysseus are wary of women and do not trust Penelope entirely. This is interesting to note, especially in the light of the fact that she has been chaste and honorable despite Odysseus' long absence.

Eumaeus' love for Telemachus is obvious, and the latter calls the former "father." It is important to note that both Odysseus and Telemachus are capable of winning great affection and respect from their inferiors and equals, as well superiors such as the gods. They are not proud and ill-mannered as the suitors are and are, therefore, true heroes. Eumaeus displays his sensibility when he insists that Laertes, too, be informed of Telemachus' return.

At some point, the wandering hero must be recognized. Homer moves through a series of recognitions, each marking a step forward. The first is when Odysseus, transformed into a shrunken old beggar, is for a short time given back his true shape and reveals himself to Telemachus. Athena makes it possible, and so to a great extent, it is a supernatural event. What matters is that Odysseus must not start on his vengeance entirely alone, and his obvious companion is his son, who stays with him for the rest of the poem.

Telemachus shows his growing maturity. He answers intelligently the criticism implicit in Odysseus' suggestion that if he were Telemachus, he would have taken revenge, explaining that he is an only son without a father and without allies in his home. In talking to Odysseus about what to do about the suitors, he displays his independence of thought. He has his own views, which are sometimes at variance with those of Odysseus. He has certainly benefited from his travels.

The suitors display their villainy in planning to do away with Telemachus and usurp his property. Penelope makes one of her rare appearances in front of them to reprimand them. It is clear that she is attached to her son and feels strongly for him. Eurymachus' lies to her and the reader display the acute need for Odysseus' return. The Book ends with the loyal servant Eumaeus having returned to his masters and telling of seeing the suitors' ship. Telemachus, knowing that he has foiled the suitors' plans to kill him, gives a conspiratorial smile to his father. A firm bond has already been formed between father and son.

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