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The Odyssey

by Homer
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In books 17–21 of the Odyssey, Odysseus returns to his palace as a beggar. Why is he in this condition? How is Odysseus treated by the suitors in his own household while he is a beggar? What does this say about the suitors?

Odysseus has been disguised as an old beggar by Athena so that he will be able to surprise the suitors in the palace. If he is in disguise, they will not know that he has returned and will not be on their guard. When Odysseus comes to the palace with Eumaeus, the suitors, especially Antinous, are cruel to him, and they even force him to fight another beggar for their entertainment.

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Odysseus returns to Ithaca as a beggar. The goddess, Athena, has disguised him so that no one will know that he has returned. It behooves him to have the element of surprise when he encounters the suitors and exacts his revenge on them. Athena orders him to go to each...

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Odysseus returns to Ithaca as a beggar. The goddess, Athena, has disguised him so that no one will know that he has returned. It behooves him to have the element of surprise when he encounters the suitors and exacts his revenge on them. Athena orders him to go to each suitor to gather crusts and test them, to see who actually has any mercy or charity among them. Many do give him crusts, for they "pitied him," but Antinous is cruel and abusive, insulting Odysseus and accusing Eumaeus, the loyal servant to Odysseus, of bringing in "vagabonds" and "rascals." Odysseus approaches Antinous directly, praising him and suggesting that, as he seems to be so rich, he should be the most generous among them. Antinous interrupts him and calls him a "pest to plague [their] feast." He insults and abuses Odysseus, eventually throwing a stool square at Odysseus's back. The other suitors do chide Antinous for his crime of striking a "luckless beggar" just in case he happens to be a god in disguise.

When another beggar, Irus, arrives at the palace, Antinous determines to pit the two against one another in a fight for food. It is degrading and mean, and "All [of the suitors] leapt from their seats with whoops of laughter." After Odysseus pummels Irus, the suitors all cheer for him. I think these two examples show that the suitors are not truly generous or compassionate but, rather, that they do things like offer crusts because they want to avoid potential punishment from Zeus, who protects travelers and those who require hospitality. Further, they seem to see Odysseus, as a beggar, as a mode of entertainment rather than a person who just wants a meal and a bed. They are too easily misled by Antinous and his cruelty.

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