The Odyssey by Homer

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In The Odyssey, how does Odysseus test the loyalty of the swineherd, Eumaeus, and the cowherd, Philoeteus?

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When Odysseus returns to Ithaca after twenty long years abroad, the theme of loyalty begins to pervade the remaining Books of the epic. In the end, however, there seems to be three categories of servants at the climax of the poem: those like Eumaeus, Philoeteus and Eurycleia, who have remained loyal to Odysseus and Penelope; those like the goatherd Melanthius and some of Penelope's serving women, who have sided with the suitors and believe Odysseus to be long dead; and finally those like Phemius, the bard, who served the suitors during Odysseus' absence but after their slaughter claims he only did so under duress.

This division among his serving folk means that upon his return Odysseus no longer knows where his friends and enemies lie. However, the bitterness of Eumaeus' and Phileoteus' language towards the suitors and the hopeful longing with which they speak of Odysseus' eventual return helps Odysseus to recognize that they are still faithful servants to their true king. Before the slaughter of the suitors, Odysseus gives them an ultimatum: if Odysseus were to return and intended to fight the suitors, who would they side with? This question tests the servant's loyalty not only because they both ultimately choose to side with their rightful master, but also because the numbers of the suitors (who are purportedly 108 strong) far outweigh that of Odysseus and Telemachus. Thus their decision to side with Odysseus tests both their loyalty, their faith in their master's ability to...

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