Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 17

By Homer

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Book 17

  • Telemachos wakes up and wants to go check on his mom. He leaves orders that Eumaios is to bring "the beggar" to town during the day so that he can beg for food.
  • Back in the great hall, Penelope is ecstatic to see her son alive. She asks him for news of Odysseus, but Telemachos tells her to be patient.
  • Telemachos, who seems awfully bossy, orders her to go bathe, change her clothes, and pray that Zeus will help them with their revenge against the suitors. Meanwhile, he has to take care of a passenger who unexpectedly sailed with him yesterday.
  • Telemachos quickly spots Odysseus' loyal friends—Mentor (the real one this time), Antiphos, and Halitherses—and goes off to consult with them.
  • Periaios brings Theoklymenos (the cousin-murderer) to Telemachos and asks the prince to send some maids so that they can get Menelaos' gifts into the house.
  • Um, let's wait until the suitors are gone, says Telemachos.
  • The men eat while Penelope weaves and asks (again) for news of Odysseus.
  • Telemachos tells her about his visit with Menelaos and then mentions that Odysseus was last seen alive on the island of Kalypso.
  • Theoklymenos interrupts and tells Penelope about the sign he interpreted for Telemachos the day before—the sign which prophecies that Odysseus is in fact already back in Ithaka and plotting revenge.
  • But Penelope doesn't believe it. (Phew. That was a close one!)
  • Medon calls the suitors (who are playing sports and engaging in other manly pursuits—real sports, not NHL for Xbox 360) to come in for dinner.
  • Meanwhile, Odysseus and Eumaios head into town.
  • Eventually, the pair runs into Melanthios the annoying goatherd. He mocks and abuses the beggar, but Odysseus doesn't respond. He just prays (aloud) to the gods that Melanthios gets what he deserves.
  • Given what we've seen so far, we're about 99% sure this will in fact happen.
  • When they reach the hall, Eumaios goes in first.
  • But when the disguised Odysseus speaks, an old dog sitting on a dung heap nearby pricks his ears up and tries to wag his tail.
  • Odysseus recognizes him as Argos, the hound that he trained as a puppy but never had the chance to take hunting before he left for Troy. Now poor Argos is old and mistreated by everyone, which is super sad.
  • Odysseus sheds a tear for the poor condition of his favorite dog and asks about the animal.
  • Eumaios says that the animal was swift, strong, and courageous in his prime, but now he's just abused by everyone.
  • As the men enter the hall, Argos breathes his last breath and dies happy, having recognized and seen his master after twenty years.
  • Is someone cutting onions in here?
  • Eumaios grabs a spare bench and seats himself across from Telemachos while the disguised Odysseus enters the hall.
  • Telemachos, who has to pretend he doesn't know this guy, gives the beggar a generous hunk of bread and meat and tells him not to be shy in asking for food.
  • Odysseus goes down the line, begging food from each man. With this strategy, he learns who goes on the good list and who on the naughty list.
  • This would be a great way to decide who lives and who perishes, if Athene didn't command that everyone has to die, which she does.
  • Everyone gives Odysseus something until Melanthios recognizes him as the same old beggar from before and insults the man.
  • After hearing this, Antinoös turns on Eumaios and lectures him for bringing a beggar to the hall.
  • Telemachos stops Eumaios from his angry reply, but only so he can insult Antinoös himself. He commands the suitor to give the beggar some bread.
  • Instead, Antinoös threatens to throw a footstool at the man. But beggar Odysseus ignores him.
  • After he has begged and received from everyone else, Odysseus calls on Antinoös to give something. He begins by telling him a false sob story of how he was a rich man once and had the misfortune to sail to Egypt.
  • Antinoös interrupts with a refusal to feed him.
  • Gee, beggar Odysseus says, it's a shame that Antinoös looks so much more lordly than he is.
  • Zing!
  • Enraged, Antinoös throws a footstool at the beggar (in his defense, he did give fair warning) and clips him on the shoulder.
  • Odysseus doesn't even wince, but everyone else is embarrassed by Antinoös' bad manners.
  • Upstairs, Penelope hears all the noise and can tell that Antinoös is causing trouble again. She sends her maid to fetch the beggar to her for questioning—she wants to ask him for any news on Odysseus.
  • But the beggar says that he'll meet with the Queen later tonight; he wants to avoid any suspicion from the suitors.
  • Penelope is bummed at first, but she quickly realizes that this is a clever beggar.

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