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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 23

Summary

Eurycleia goes to the upper chamber to awaken Penelope and to let her know of her husband's long-awaited return. Penelope refuses to believe her initially and is only somewhat convinced when told that the beggar guest was actually Odysseus in disguise, noting that it may very well be a god finally taking vengeance upon the suitors. She is not even convinced by the mention of Odysseus' scar. She now goes down to the hall but stands apart from Odysseus. Telemachus rebukes her for being hard-hearted, but Penelope replies that she will only recognize Odysseus when they share some secret unknown to the others. Odysseus smiles at this and tells Telemachus to bathe and then arrange for a feast and dancing so that the slaughter of the suitors may remain hidden. Penelope tests Odysseus by telling Eurycleia to move Odysseus' bed and set it up for him outside the bridal chamber. This is not possible as, Odysseus had himself constructed the bridal chamber around an olive tree and had made the bed out of its stump.

When Odysseus describes the chamber in detail, Penelope accepts him to be truly her husband and finally embraces him. As they talk and weep, Athena stays the dawn for them so that they can have more time together. Odysseus tells Penelope about Tiresias' predictions and warns her that their troubles are not over. They take to their bed, make love, and tell each other of their suffering and adventures before falling asleep. Finally, Athena has the sun rise and awaken Odysseus. He asks Penelope to look after the house and remain in the upper chamber with the other women while he goes to see his father Laertes at his farm. He arms himself with weapons of war and goes along with Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius. Though there is light over the earth, Athena hides them in night and quickly conducts them out of the town.


Notes

The suitors have been slain and it is now time for the fifth and most important recognition to take place. It is that between Odysseus and Penelope. An entire Book is devoted to the reunion between husband and wife. The signs that have satisfied others do not satisfy Penelope. It is not without reason that she is called "wise" and "enduring." The long years of waiting have made her suspicious, and rightly so. While Telemachus rebukes her for being hard-hearted, the reader can somewhat sympathize with this woman who does not wish to be fooled either by mortals or gods. She tests the stranger by telling Eurycleia to move Odysseus' bed, but the stranger knows that Penelope and he have their own special, secret bed made from the stump of an olive tree in the heart of the palace. This is highly appropriate, as Odysseus and Penelope are man and wife, and the bed is an intimate symbol of their union.

When Penelope finally accepts Odysseus, the reader is gladdened. They retire to the bed, and now Penelope exhibits the same curiosity that characterizes her husband. She wants to know all about his adventures, and he obliges her with the tale, although he tactfully omits his infidelities. It is not difficult to imagine, however, that Penelope will get the full story sooner or later.

Two great Alexandrine scholars, Aristarchus and Aristophanes, have regarded the union of Odysseus and Penelope in the place of their old bed as the proper end of The Odyssey. They may have had external evidence that some good manuscripts ended at this point, or they may have made their decision on the strength of anomalies of narrative and language in the text after this point. It cannot be denied that the text takes on a different tone once they retire to bed, and it is unlikely that the primary poet of The Odyssey composed this part. Still, that does not deprive it of significance. It shows that someone felt that the end of The Odyssey called for some sort of an epilogue. The Odyssey might have had a satisfactory end when Odysseus and Penelope go to bed, but the added passages and the Book that follows do have their own advantages which cannot be ignored.

Athena once again plays the role of the guardian angel effectively. She lengthens the duration of the night so that Odysseus and Penelope can prolong the joy of talk and love, a generous and touching gesture. The next morning, she has the sun rise only when she feels Odysseus and Penelope have had enough sleep. She further aids Odysseus by helping him and his party leave town unnoticed by the townspeople.

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