What elements of inaction fuel suspense in Homer's Odyssey?

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noahvox2 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Whereas Homer's Odyssey is often regarded as one of the greatest adventure stories ever told, for about three-quarters of this epic, not that much seems to happen. There's lots of action when Odysseus tells about his adventures in Books 9-12 and when Odysseus kills more than 100 men in his living room in Odyssey 22. Other than that, though, Homer's epic poem seems to involve a lot of sitting around, feasting, and bathing.

Much of the inaction in the epic centers around the question of when Odysseus will finally reveal his true identity. He spends three books with the Phaeacians before he finally tells them who he is. Similarly, in Odyssey 13-15, we find Odysseus in the hut of Eumaeus before he finally reveals himself to Telemachus in Odyssey 16. Next, we go from Odyssey 17 to 23 before Penelope discovers that the most recent beggar to visit her house is actually her husband. Several times, between Odyssey 19 and 21, Penelope is within a few feet of Odysseus, but she still doesn't realize she is in her husband's presence. At one point, after Odysseus' nurse Eurycleia discovers this beggar's true identity, she is on the verge of telling Penelope, but goddess Athene prevents it:

As she spoke, she glanced towards Penelope ready to tell her that her dear husband was home. But Penelope failed to meet her look with recognition, because Athene had distracted her attention.

Thus, Homer spends a great deal of time building suspense in this epic. From a modern perspective, he may wait too long, but there's no denying that feeling of exhilaration when Odysseus finally says,

‘The guest in your hall has not disgraced you. I have not missed the target, nor did it take me long to string the bow. My strength is undiminished, not lessened as the Suitors’ taunts implied. Well now it is time for the Achaeans to eat, while there is light, and afterwards we shall have different entertainment, with song and lyre, fitting for a celebration.’

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