In Homer's Odyssey, why did Odysseus kill the priest and spare the life of the poet?
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In Odyssey 22, the title character reveals his true identity and begins to slaughter the 108 suitors who have been infesting his palace and feasting his family out of their fortune. At lines 310-377 of the Greek text, we hear about the priest Leodes and the singer Phemius, both of whom had served the suitors in various ways and both of whom now beg Odysseus to spare their lives.
In the case of the priest, Odysseus does not spare him. Odysseus reasons that if Leodes had served as their priest, then there must have been times that Leodes prayed that Odysseus would never return and that he himself would get to marry Penelope:
‘If you were really their priest you must often have prayed that the day of my joyful return would be long delayed and that my loyal wife would go with you and bear you children. For that you will not escape a sorry death.’ (A.S. Kline translation)
As for the singer Phemius, he fares much better than the priest, thanks to the intervention of Odysseus' son Telemachus, who bears witness to his father than Phemius was innocent of any wrongdoing. Thus, before Odysseus can kill Phemius, Telemachus cries out,
‘Wait, don’t put an innocent to the sword: and we should spare Medon the herald, too, who used to care for me as a child in this house.'
Indeed, I find it interesting that the poet Homer includes this account about a poet being spared, but has the priest slaughtered. Talk about poetic justice!
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