I found Odysseus’ long-awaited return to Ithaka both surprising and a little awkward when I first read it. For nearly two decades, he’s “longed for wife and home,” and now finally he’s there, but stuck in an old beggar’s body and is allowed to see neither wife nor home. Instead, he sits just beyond his own palace while the suitors continue defiling it. True to the nature of the epic poem, Odysseus has one final challenge before his proper family and house can be restored. At first I was upset that he couldn’t heroically jump off the ship, swim onto Ithaka, run up the mountains sword-in-hand and fight each and every suitor immediately. I suppose that’s the image I had imagined from modern movies that tend to be one ongoing battle scene. As the three chapters unfold in Eumaios’ hut, I began to realize the significance of the fact that his return wasn’t so abrupt.

I don’t think it’s circumstantial that Odysseus and Telemakhos are finally reunited in a swineherd’s hut. Away from the glory of a palace, Penelope, and the scheming suitors, it counterintuitively sets up their reunion to be even more momentous. There are many previous posts about the significance of the two men crying with each other. I think Odysseus’ and Telemakhos’ tears are the only possible way to show the extent of their strong emotions, and this setting further emphasizes this point. Readers know that they aren’t crying due to homecoming, being back with wife and mother or the distress caused by suitors  – solely from seeing (or truly meeting) the other. Telemakhos’ involvement in the final slaying of the suitors also allows for his coming of age. In the beginning of the poem, it took the work of a godess to encourage him to sail in search of Odysseus, and now we finally get to see him take his rightful place fighting alongside his renowned warrior father.

There’s one other sidenote I thought I’d add. I was annoyed with Odysseus because of the little tests he performed on Eumaios. An old servant, who’s been faithful since the day Laertes took him in as his own, was giving Odysseus all the hospitality he could afford and this is how Odysseus was responding? Granted, no tests ever harmed Eumaios and he was able to further prove his kindheartedness, but I still was taken aback by Oddyseus’ actions.

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One Response to Homecoming?

  1. Lily says:

    I agree with you that these books seem to drag a little, but I guess that makes sense with Odysseus’ personality. He’s “the great tactician,” so of couse he wants to get the lay of the land, so to speak, before charging into action. In his disguise as a beggar he’s able to see firsthand the dynamics of the suitors, his wife and the servants at his house. What I found interesting, though, was that he’s not planning to spare any of the suitors, so going and seeing what they were up to felt kind of pointless. Athena even says, “Try the suitors…learn who are the decent lads, and who are vicious–although not one can be excused from death!” This also struck me as an interesting contrast to Christian ideals of forgiveness we may be more used to. Especially after we meet Amphinomos, it seems a bit like the suitors have to die just to fulfill Odysseus’ need for revenge, without any change to redeem themselves. Most of them probably sort of deserve it, but if there were some who didn’t?

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