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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 19

Summary

When the suitors have left the hall, Odysseus asks Telemachus to remove the weapons from there. The young man is to say that they are being marred by the fire in the hall, and that furthermore he is removing them in order to avoid bloodshed in the event of a quarrel. Eurycleia is asked to shut the women in the chambers while this task is being completed. Odysseus and Telemachus then take away the arms, after which Telemachus retires for the night.

Penelope comes to the hall and is made comfortable near the fire. Melantho reviles Odysseus, again angering him. Penelope chides the rude maid. She then converses with Odysseus, asking him where he comes from. He praises her instead of answering her, while she tells him about her failed trick of weaving and unweaving Laertes' shroud. When she further questions him, he finally tells her a false story of his past adventures, adding that he had met Odysseus when he was on his way to Troy twenty years ago. Penelope seeks to test him to ascertain whether he is speaking the truth, and he manages to convince her by relating in detail the nature of the garments that Odysseus had worn in that fateful year. He further tells her not to lament, as Odysseus will soon return. Penelope is doubtful about this, but is pleased with the disguised beggar and asks the handmaids to look after him well. Eurycleia is assigned the task of washing his feet, and she recognizes the scar of an old wound, which he had received while hunting boar as a young man with his grandfather Autolycus. The entire tale of Odysseus' naming and the adventure by which he was scarred is now told. Eurycleia is about to tell Penelope that the beggar is really Odysseus, but he stops her with the threat of death.

Eurycleia leaves, and Penelope voices her predicament to her disguised husband. She does not know whether she should stay with her son in the house and keep her husband's possessions safe or leave with the best of the Achaeans and get married, leaving the property to Telemachus. She also relates the details of a symbolic dream to him, in which an eagle kills the geese in her yard, and he answers by saying that the dream means sure death for the suitors at the hands of her husband. She then tells him about her plan to offer a contest to the suitors. Whoever can string Odysseus' bow most easily and repeat his trick of shooting through a row of twelve axes will win her hand. Odysseus encourages her to announce the contest soon, promising that her husband will return before any of the suitors can string the bow. After lamenting once again for her husband, Penelope retires to her chamber to sleep.

Notes

Odysseus moves forward with his plans for the suitors' punishment. He removes the weapons from the hall with his son's help. The fictitious reasons that he gives to Telemachus for explaining the removal to the suitors is very clever. Odysseus has been rightly called "the man of many devices." It is imperative that careful preparations be made in advance, as the suitors are greater in number, and defeating them might prove to be an arduous task.


Odysseus is in command. He asks Telemachus to keep his thoughts in check and go to sleep while he converses with Penelope. Melantho reviles him for the second time, and, in Odysseus' reply to her there is a clear foreboding of the maid's future punishment. It is interesting to see Odysseus and Penelope converse, for she is unaware that she is talking to the one she has waited so long for. Odysseus' affection for her is apparent in his tender words of praise. She confides in him, and the reader learns more about the trick by which she has fooled the suitors for three long years. The way she placates them while weaving Laertes' still unfinished shroud bears testimony to her power of endurance and love for her son and husband. The long years of waiting and sorrow, however, have made her distrustful of men, fate, and even gods. She no longer believes in the stories of travelers from abroad who claim to have seen Odysseus. Even the wise Odysseus in the disguise of a beggar cannot fully win her confidence and make her look hopefully towards the future. In spite of his assurance that her dream of the eagle and the geese is true, she says that it issued from the ivory gates of deceptive dreams, not the horn gates of true ones. Although her suffering has chastened her out of superficial optimism, it has not sunk her in incapacitating melancholy. Though she does doubt the beggar's prediction about Odysseus' homecoming, she acts upon it and soon afterwards declares her intention of marrying the man who can string Odysseus' bow and shoot through the twelve axes.

The scene in which Penelope weeps and her melting flesh is compared to the thawing snow is a very poetic one. Odysseus hides his own tears with difficulty, and their true reunion is delayed for a more appropriate moment. Before Odysseus is recognized by his wife, there is a third recognition, and it is by his old nurse, Eurycleia. It is dark, and Penelope is sitting in the shadows, not far away. The nurse recognizes a scar, which Odysseus had gotten long ago on a boar hunt and is on the point of crying out when Odysseus puts his hand on her throat and ensures her silence. This is the most dramatic of the recognitions so far.

The long tale of Odysseus' naming by Autolycus and the story of his scarring is in keeping with the epic tradition. Epics almost always contain numerous smaller stories and legends, which are woven together inside the greater tale. This tale highlights Odysseus' heroic past. Almost all heroes get scarred, and this bears testimony to their bravery and to the fact that they are active, while ordinary mortals are not.

Penelope's dream of the eagle and the geese is a clear indicator of things to come. Homer is building an atmosphere in which the suitors' punishment is a certainty. The story is slowly but surely moving towards the climax, and the Book ends with Odysseus urging Penelope to no longer delay the contest of the suitors in the halls.

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