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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 17

Summary

The next morning, Telemachus plans to leave for the city and asks Eumaeus to bring along the disguised beggar Odysseus later, so that he may beg for his food himself. Penelope greets her son lovingly and asks him what he has learned of his father. He does not answer her questions; instead he asks her to go wash herself and pray to Zeus. He then goes to the hall and sits with Mentor, Antiphus, and Halitherses. Piraeus arrives with Theoclymenus. When Telemachus and Theoclymenus have been bathed, Penelope asks her son once again for news of his father. Telemachus tells that he has heard that Odysseus is at the nymph Calypso's isle. Theoclymenus, too, reassures her that Odysseus' return is close at hand. The suitors, having had their pleasure in sport, enter the house to feast.

Meanwhile, Odysseus and Eumaeus begin their journey from the fields to the city. They meet Melanthius, the goatherd, at a spring near the city. He insults both of them and kicks Odysseus, who holds his temper. Melanthius then arrives at the house earlier than Odysseus and Eumaeus and sits amongst the suitors. When Odysseus and Eumaeus arrive, they find Odysseus' dog Argus lying neglected atop a pile of dung by the gates. The dog recognizes his master and dies; Odysseus has to hide his tears.

Eumaeus enters first and sits down to eat by Telemachus. When Odysseus enters, Telemachus has Eumaeus take him some food and tells him to beg from the suitors. Odysseus does so, and most of them give him morsels, except for the vain and stingy Antinous. Odysseus begs him for some bread, telling him a fictitious story of his travels. When Antinous refuses, Odysseus condemns his ill-breeding, and Antinous responds by hitting him with a footstool. The other suitors are displeased by this, and one warns Antinous that gods often disguise themselves to test humans.

When Penelope hears of the episode, she expresses a desire to meet the stranger. Eumaeus takes her message to the disguised Odysseus, who agrees to meet her, but only after the sun has gone down, so that he may escape the wrath of the suitors. She appreciates his good sense. Meanwhile, Eumaeus prepares to depart for the farm, but only after having warned Telemachus to be careful of the suitors' mischief.

Notes

This is another long Book, and much happens here. Telemachus is clever in not letting Eumaeus know that the old beggar is really Odysseus in disguise. At the palace, the two maintain a facade of respectful formality, giving no clue that they know each other. Odysseus' purpose in begging the suitors, of course, is to see what kind of man each one is, and while berating Antinous for his stinginess, he controls his temper. Both father and son are capable actors.


Telemachus is received lovingly by the women in the household, Penelope in particular. But he is not all that attentive to her and appears to take her for granted on occasion. When she first questions him about Odysseus, he tells her to go to her own chamber and pray to Zeus. Only after she presses him does he answer, relieving her worry.

Odysseus' lesson in humility continues when he returns to his house in the pathetic disguise of a beggar. There is no grand welcome. He begs for his food and is actually hit on two occasions. Sandwiched between these two failures to recognize Odysseus is a recognition scene. When Odysseus arrives at his palace, he sees his dog Argus, whom he had trained and hunted twenty years earlier. The dog is old and full of insects, but he wags his tail and struggles towards his old master before collapsing dead, giving the impression that he has been living only for his master's return. This recognition, based on affection and loyalty, conveys swiftly and surely how Odysseus belongs to Ithaca and how deep his roots there are.

Homer builds suspense in several ways. He puts off the meeting between Penelope and Odysseus, leaving the reader to wonder whether she will be able to see through his disguise. He also heightens the tension between Odysseus and the suitors. The latter are as usual feasting and wasting Odysseus' property. Odysseus begs among them and is insulted by Melanthius and Antinous. Telemachus is powerless to do anything. These events show the degree to which the normal order of things has been reversed in King Odysseus' absence and the necessity of the upcoming revenge. Elements of the supernatural also move the poem toward its climax. Theoclymenus repeats his interpretation of the omen of Odysseus' return, and, later, when Penelope, speaking to Eumaeus of her wish for that return, hears Telemachus sneeze, she takes it as an omen that Odysseus will soon arrive.

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