Analysis: What’s Up With the Ending?
For a long time, some readers have felt that the ending of the Odyssey smells a little fishy. In fact, two scholars from ancient Alexandria claimed that the "ending" of the Odyssey came in line 296—of Book XXIII! According to these wise guys, everything after Odysseus and Penelope go to bed together—including all of Book XXIV—was added later by somebody other than Homer.
Why would they think that? Your guess is as good as ours, though plenty of later scholars have tried to back them up, arguing that Book XXIV isn't of the same quality as the rest of the Odyssey. Now, it may be true that the ending is a bit abrupt—just when a big battle is about to pit Odysseus, Telemachos, and Laertes against the families of the dead suitors, Athena steps in and tells everybody to be friends with a little ominous thunder from Zeus.
We're not so sure. We think that Book XXIV has a lot of important stuff, like Odysseus's reunion with his father Laertes. Also, in Ancient Greek culture, where honor and revenge were very important (check out the Iliad for further examples of this), it simply wouldn't make sense to end the poem with a bunch of guys still out to get Odysseus. Not to mention that Book XXIII actually shows Odysseus and Telemachos discussing the problem of the suitors' families and deciding to go hide out in the country with Laertes. Was Homer just going to leave that thread hanging?
We at Shmoop like the ending of Book XXIV, because we like the idea that the poem charts a shift from a revenge system of justice—where the suitors' families would be totally right to go after Odysseus and Telemachos—to a gentler, kinder sort of justice, one that's more in the style of "thoughtful Telemachos" than strong and heroic Odysseus. It just makes sense to us. What do you think?