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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS (continued)

The Suitors

The suitors are close to being the "antagonists" in the poem, but since Odysseus does not know about them until the end, they become only one of his many challenges in this epic drama. They are a group of noble princes from Ithaca and nearby isles who begin to woo Penelope and, in the process, stay at her palace. Their stay there corrupts the household and wastes the property. For this, they blame Penelope herself for giving them false messages and hope.

The suitors are over a hundred in number and are described more in terms of their collective qualities. They have an inflated opinion of themselves and no scruples about getting what they want. Initially, they feast with Telemachus and are not intimidated by him. Their attitude towards him is that of amusement. They do not take his anger at their indulgences seriously and often mock him. At an assembly at Ithaca, Telemachus feels so helpless in comparison to them that he cries. The situation starts changing once Telemachus leaves to find news of his father. The suitors and the other Ithacans do not help him in obtaining a ship for his travels. They are surprised to learn that he has arranged for a ship himself and is already at Pylos. At this point, they begin to take him seriously and are sufficiently scared of him to plot his death. The decision puts them grievously in the wrong.

The misbehavior of the suitors is a topic of conversation for both Eumaeus and Telemachus, who separately inform Odysseus of their villainy. He sees it for himself from Book 17 onwards, and his desire for vengeance increases. They insult the disguised Odysseus and encourage his fight with Irus, another common beggar. He, in turn, notes their indulgences and advises one of them, Amphinomus, to leave the palace and stop wasting wealth that does not belong to him. Amphinomus is one of the only suitors who possesses some decency, but even he refuses to leave. The others conform to their typical crass behavior. Antinous differs from Eurymachus only in being more brutally outspoken. Ctessipus throws an ox's foot at Odysseus, and Agelaus leads the suitors against the hero in battle. Leiodes, a soothsayer, is the first among the suitors to try and string Odysseus' bow. He has refrained from outright villainy but is nevertheless punished by Odysseus.

What in the suitor-slaying episode appears as justice is rather the proof and manifestation of a god-given order. Odysseus is destined to find "trouble at home" when he aggravates Poseidon's wrath. In dealing with the suitors in the guise of a beggar, Odysseus is humbled, but must still act as the powerful man.


In the last Book, the ghosts of the suitors meet some of the heroes of The Iliad. Amphinomus relates the tale of their doom and admits that the suitors were in the wrong. Though this passage is thought to be a later addition, it does have a part in the whole plan of The Odyssey. Achilles hears of his own death and funeral from Agamemnon. The Muses had sung of it and the ceremony was a fitting climax to a heroic life. The suitors present a complete antithesis to it. Their ignominious deaths are the proper end to their squalid careers. The contrast between the death and glory of Achilles, immortalized in song, and the miserable careers of the suitors is striking. The suitors are at the other extreme from the true nobility of the heroic ideal.

Eumaeus

Eumaeus is the most special among all the servants of Odysseus. His character delineation by Homer is deliberate and serves the purpose of humanizing Odysseus. The hero stays with Eumaeus upon reaching Ithaca, and the bond that he shares with the swineherd is a compassionate and a touching one. They talk at great length. While Odysseus relates fictitious tales about himself, Eumaeus recounts his true life history. Odysseus consoles the servant.

Eumaeus reveals his love for and concern about his master Odysseus. He is one of the few servants who genuinely prays for his master's return. When Odysseus stays with him, disguised as a beggar, Eumaeus talks about the misbehavior of the suitors with disgust. He wishes that Odysseus would return to seize his rightful place with Penelope. Eumaeus' concern for the disguised beggar Odysseus, his generosity in giving him a mantle, and his reluctance in letting him go to the city to beg also indicate that he is a large-hearted, sincere man. On recognizing Odysseus, he helps him dutifully. He becomes an important part of Odysseus' party against the suitors. Telemachus, too, treats him with respect and addresses him as "father." Eumaeus and Eurycleia represent the loyalty that a hero such as Odysseus is capable of winning. At the end, when Odysseus promises Eumaeus a house, a wife, and a higher status in return for his help, the reader feels these rewards are well deserved.

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