What is the significance of Penelope's dream in Book 19 of The Odyssey?
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The dream that Penelope relates to Odysseus who is disguised as a guest in her house is clearly ironic as it represents the return of her husband and is prophetic because it also refers to the way that Odysseus will slay the suitors who crowd around his wife. Note how Penelope describes the dream:
Twenty geese I have in the house that come forth from the water and eat wheat, and my heart warms with joy as I watch them. But forth from the mountain there came a great eagle with crooked beak and broke all their necks and killed them; and they lay strewn in a heap in the halls, while he was borne aloft to the bright sky.
The dream in a sense interprets itself, as the eagle speaks to Penelope and identifies himself as Odysseus, her returned husband, who has slain her suitors and reclaimed his rightful position. Yet what is interesting about the dream is that Penelope weeps when she sees the slain geese. This suggests that there is a slight ambivalence in her heart towards the suitors and that, on some level, she might actually like the attention she is receiving as they vie for her attention. The prophetic nature of the dream in announcing the return of her husband and his act in killing the suitors clearly suggests that her fondness of the geese bears some resemblance to reality as well.
Because of the birds as symbols in Penelope's dream, it is a augur dream. Augurs are prophets who interpret birds as symbols. In fact, there is an augur in Ithaca, an old friend of Odysseus's, who tries to warn the suitors to back off or they will all die. Penelope's dream is a reference to this prophet.
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