Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 20

By Homer

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Book 20

  • Beggar Odysseus settles down to bed on the floor outside of Penelope's room, but has trouble falling asleep. Kind of like before the night of a big game, or in this case the slaughter of 100+ men.
  • He sees some of the maids slipping out to go sleep with the suitors. He's enraged at the maids' betrayal but stays silent.
  • Athene arrives and to give Odysseus a game-day speech, while Penelope cries upstairs.
  • She prays for death and then dreams that Odysseus comes back, but of course doesn't believe the good omen.
  • Odysseus wakes at dawn and, in a moment of angst, asks Zeus for a sign that he was meant to come home.
  • Zeus hears and sends a thunderclap through a perfectly clear sky.
  • A maid grinding barley hears the thunder clap and knows Zeus must be around and listening. She prays that all her hard work to feed the greedy suitors will soon be over.
  • Oh, and that all the suitors die.
  • This is convenient for Zeus, who gets to grant two prayers at once.
  • And we're back to Odysseus, who takes heart at seeing the thunderbolt.
  • Telemachos checks up on beggar Odysseus and then orders the maids to prepare a feast, because today is a holiday.
  • Melanthios returns to taunt the beggar more. Does he ever learn? And also, doesn't he have anything else to do?
  • Afterwards another man approaches the beggar—Philoitios, the resident cowherd. He greets the beggar warmly and notes his resemblance to Odysseus. We quickly see that he is ashamed and outraged at the suitors' behavior in his lord's house.
  • The beggar asks Eumaios and Philoitios if they would fight on Odysseus' side against the suitors should he return to Ithaka. Sure!
  • The suitors temporarily drop all their plans of killing Telemachos and turn their minds to the real task at hand—eating breakfast
  • Telemachos seats the beggar opposite himself with his own share of food and a goblet of wine and challenges anyone to insult him.
  • For the most part, no one does, although there is some mild grumbling from (surprise) Antinoös.
  • We find out that the "holiday" is really a day of sacrifice to Apollo.
  • Athene, who apparently loves conflict, wants the suitors to tease Odysseus so he'll get all worked into a rage. Because she always gets her way, the suitors indeed taunt the beggar, one by one.
  • Eventually, one suitor, Ktesippos, throws a cow's foot at the beggar. Odysseus ducks, but Telemachos rushes to the beggar's defense.
  • Yet another suitor, Agelaos, gets everyone back to the issue at hand: who's going to get Penelope. He asks Telemachos to see reason: it's obvious that Odysseus isn't coming back, so Penelope needs to get over herself already and marry one of the suitors.
  • Telemachos refuses and the suitors laugh at him. Athene, who still wants to see some blood, makes his refusal seem especially hilarious to the suitors so they laugh for a really long time.
  • Prophetic fugitive Theoklymenos, has a vision of the hall filled with dripping blood and shades of the dead. Then he tells everyone about it.
  • You would think this would dampen the mood, but the suitors just laugh at him, too.
  • Telemachos rolls his eyes and tries to ignore them, a task made easier by the knowledge that, very soon, the hall will indeed be filled with their dripping blood.

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