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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 24

Summary

Hermes leads the souls of the suitors to the Hall of Hades. The souls of Achilles, Partroclus, Antilochus, and Ajax watch as they arrive. Agamemnon tells Achilles about Achilles' death and funeral, which he witnessed, and laments his own uncelebrated death. When the suitors come up to them, Agamemnon questions Amphimedon about his and the others' death, and Amphimedon recounts the long tale. Agamemnon praises Penelope's loyalty to Odysseus in contrast to Clytemnestra's treachery.

In the land of the living, Odysseus and his company reach Laertes' house. Odysseus asks Telemachus to prepare for the midday meal while he goes to the vineyard to see whether his father will recognize him. He finds his father digging a plant and only reveals himself to him after relating a false story about himself and saying that he had met the hero Odysseus five years prior. When Laertes groans at the mention of his son, Odysseus embraces and kisses him and tells him who he really is. Now Laertes tests his son, and Odysseus convinces him by showing him his scar and telling him about the trees that Laertes had given him when he was a child. Both go back to the house, and Laertes bathes. He is made to look more impressive by Athena. They sit down to eat, and Dolius and his sons embrace Odysseus.

Meanwhile, in the city, the people bury the suitors and then gather together at the assembly place. Eupeithes, Antinous' father, urges the Achaeans to avenge the death of the noble young men. Medon and Halitherses try to persuade the people not to fight with Odysseus and his company, but they are more inclined towards Eupeithes' suggestion. Athena asks Zeus what he has in mind concerning the Ithacans, and he replies that he would like to see the feud end and the two opposing sides to be brethren once again. The townspeople now arrive at the farm to fight and Odysseus' party comes out to meet them. Athena, disguised once again as Mentor, urges Laertes to throw his spear, and he does. It kills Eupeithes, and then Odysseus and Telemachus fall upon their attackers and begin slaughtering them. Athena stops the fighting, but Odysseus hurls himself on the fleeing enemy with a terrible cry. Zeus casts forth a flaming bolt of lightning at Athena's feet, and she stops Odysseus with a threat. The hero obeys her, and she sets a covenant between the two opposing parties in the guise of Mentor.

Notes

This is the last and final Book of the epic. It wraps up the few remaining threads of the story. Some feel that it is a sort of epilogue and that the epic could have logically ended when Odysseus and Penelope go to bed. The reader may ask what advantages, if any, are gained by the addition.


There are in The Odyssey two passages where Homer presents ghosts of the dead, and each includes some chief figures of The Iliad. This Book contains the second passage, where the ghosts of the suitors are escorted by Hermes to the land of the dead. This passage does have a part in the whole plan of The Odyssey, though it is a later addition; it clearly reinforces several themes of the work. First of all, the importance of Penelope's virtue is underscored by Agamemnon's comment that Odysseus is indeed fortunate to have a wife like Penelope and very unlike Clytemnestra. Secondly, the parade of the ghosts of Troy provides a final curtain for great figures of The Iliad and of the heroic age itself. Thirdly, there is a striking contrast between the glorious death of the heroic Achilles and the miserable careers of the suitors. They are at the other extreme from the true nobility of the heroic ideal. The Odyssey, like The Iliad, stresses what real heroes are.

Odysseus meets Laertes in the country. The reader feels that Odysseus carries his suspicion and curiosity too far when he wishes to test his own father. Odysseus still has the energy and inclination to recite yet another long and false tale about himself in order to gauge Laertes' reaction. It is only when Laertes groans that his son takes pity on him and reveals his true identify. He proves himself first by the scar and then by his knowledge of Laertes' orchard, which he had helped to plant. All these recognitions have a certain simplicity. The scar does the most work because it arises from the oldest tradition. The accumulation of six recognitions suggests that there were many variants in the traditional story and that Homer gave a subordinate purpose to some which might have been of primary importance in earlier versions.

Although Odysseus emerges as a hero in his own right in these final Books, the importance of the role of the gods and fate cannot be ignored. Athena asks Zeus what he plans for the Ithacans, and whatever he decides will take place. Eupeithes has managed to convince the people into a desire for revenge on the suitors' slayers. Despite Halitherses' and Medon's arguments, the townspeople march towards the farm. It is here that the irregularity in this Book becomes apparent. Athena has just talked to Zeus and knows that he desires peace at Ithaca, but it is she who first draws near them in the guise of Mentor. Odysseus is encouraged by this and asks Telemachus to uphold his ancestors' honor in the subsequent battle. Moreover, Athena encourages Laertes to throw the spear that kills Eupeithes. Only after Odysseus and his men are destroying the enemy does she stop the fighting. One wonders why she has encouraged it in the first place. Odysseus still needs to be controlled. He hurls himself at the opposing party, and only Athena's threat, after Zeus throws forth a bolt of lightning, can stop him. It is the gods who finally control events, and the Book ends with Athena setting a covenant of peace.

The fight between the suitors' kinsmen and Odysseus indicates that the slaying was not as final as it seemed, and it may have provided a start for new adventures in which Odysseus leaves Ithaca. The continuation suggests that the poet would like to prolong the story. He clearly has a gift for touching narrative, as shown by the scene between Laertes and Odysseus. But this Book as a whole is at variance with the main poem, and the reader realizes that this final Book lacks strength.

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