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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 18

Summary

Irus, a beggar from town, comes upon Odysseus and orders him to be on his way. They speak angry words to each other, and the suitors are amused by their quarreling. Antinous offers goats' bellies to the one who will show himself to be the better man. Odysseus agrees to fight Irus, but only after having extracted an oath from the suitors that they will not hit him. Athena increases Odysseus' size, and he deals Irus a crushing blow. Antinous gives him meat as a prize, while Amphinomous offers him two loaves. Seeing that he is a reasonable man, the disguised Odysseus encourages him to leave the house before Odysseus returns. Amphinomous considers his words but, fated by Athena, remains in the hall.

Athena inspires Penelope to appear before the suitors, and, as she sleeps, she enhances her beauty. When she enters the hall, all are impressed. She rebukes Telemachus for not looking after the beggar-guest. Speaking to the suitors, she recalls Odysseus' last words to her before leaving Ithaca . Hinting that she must marry, she both chastises and flatters the suitors, telling them that in her own country the custom is for suitors to woo women with presents. Utterly impressed by her speech, the suitors ask their henchmen to bring her splendid gifts. She retires to her chamber with her gifts, and Odysseus rejoices at her cleverness.

When it grows dark, Odysseus offers to help the maids hold the torches while the suitors feast and dance. They laugh at him, and Melantho, Eurymachus' mistress, in particular speaks very rudely. Odysseus is angered and frightens them away by saying that he will complain to Telemachus. While Odysseus tends the torches, Eurymachus makes fun of Odysseus' head and also offers him work on a farm but then adds that such a greedy, lazy beggar would never work for a living. Odysseus is furious at such rebukes and gives a long speech about his strength in comparison to that of Eurymachus. The suitor is shocked by the beggar's boldness and throws a footstool at him, which misses and knocks down the cup-bearer. The general mood of the suitors is spoiled, and Telemachus boldly asks them to leave for their respective homes. They are surprised but agree, and, after pouring libations to the gods, they retire for the night.

Notes

A common beggar named Irus rebukes Odysseus, and the hero is unable to contain his anger. Athena as usual comes to her favorite's help and increases Odysseus' already impressive stature. Odysseus may be in the disguise of a beggar but is still very much the hero, and here he displays his physical strength once again. But he is not a cruel person, and the reader must take note of the fact that Odysseus does not kill Irus. He instead carries him away and rests him against the courtyard wall. The suitors, in contrast, are frivolous and mean. They encourage the bloody fight and laugh loudly when Irus falls down. They represent the villainous nature of man, while Odysseus and Telemachus represent the heroic aspect. Amphinomous is the only suitor who is still somewhat noble, but he refuses to leave the hall as Odysseus advises him to do.


Penelope's appearance in front of the suitors is prompted by Athena, and she comes off well. The reader learns that Odysseus himself has asked her to marry if he did not return home. His last words to her before leaving for Troy were gentle ones, showing his understanding nature. Odysseus is all the more heroic in that he possesses this gentler side. However, this gentle side is combined with an eye for wealth. He rejoices when he sees that Penelope succeeds in drawing gifts from the suitors after having beguiled their minds. All three members of the family - Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus - possess cunning, endurance, and eloquence. Penelope is articulate in expressing her sorrow at a fight taking place within her own house and chides Telemachus for allowing it to occur. It shows that she has a clear liking and preference for propriety, in contrast to the havoc the suitors create through their riotous behavior.

When Penelope retires to her chamber, Odysseus' plight as a beggar worsens. He is rebuked by his own maids and by Melantho in particular. Her disloyalty in becoming Eurymachus' mistress is a further sign of the corruption in the house. To make matters worse, Odysseus is teased and insulted by Eurymachus as he tends the torches. These events further justify the need for the suitors' punishment.

The role of gods in human affairs is especially apparent in this Book, as Athena directs the actions of the characters throughout. She has destined Amphinomous to die, so he does not heed Odysseus' advice. She places the idea in Eurymachus' head to mock Odysseus, so that he will be incited to revenge, and she further inspires Penelope to speak to the suitors. The reader may wonder if her actions are just gentle nudges encouraging the characters true selves, or whether the poem's heroes could even be heroic without her help.

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