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In Homer's Odyssey, the title character has been away from home for twenty years. This has created numerous imbalances within Odysseus' household.
Odysseus' mother has died (he encounters her spirit in the underworld in Odyssey 11).
Odysseus' father, Laertes, has moved away from the central estate and lives in squalor on the outskirts of Odysseus' land holdings.
In Odysseus' absence, his home has been infested by 108 suitors for the hand of Odysseus' wife Penelope. This situation has resulted in the steady disintegration of the financial resources of Odysseus’ household. To remedy this, Odysseus’ son Telemachus leaves home in search of his father. This leaves his household unprotected and his mother Penelope at the mercy of the suitors. Penelope herself has had to resort to a clever weaving trick to keep the suitors at bay.
Barring divine intervention, only the return of Odysseus and the destruction of the suitors can restore balance to the household. The presence of the suitors has upset the hospitality (Greek: xenia) expectations of the household. The bad behavior of suitors is a violation of a custom under the protection of Zeus himself. Thus, when Odysseus destroys the suitors, he functions as an agent of Zeus. At the end of the epic, we see Odysseus, Telemachus, and Laertes standing side by side against the relatives of the slain suitors. Harmony within the household of Odysseus has been restored.
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