The Odyssey by Homer

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Book 13 Summary and Analysis

Odysseus ends his tale, and the Phaeaceans, highly impressed, return to their homes for the evening. The next morning, at Alcinoös’ behest, the Phaeacean lords return to the palace to render Odysseus even costlier gifts than they had before. These are loaded aboard the ship reserved for Odysseus’ journey home. Alcinoös then begins another feast in Odysseus’ honor.

Odysseus, impatient to be on his way home, waits anxiously for evening to arrive. As Alcinoös yet again toasts Odysseus on his journey, the adventurer does not even stop to drink; he hands Arete his cup, says a quick farewell, and strides out of the hall and down to the ship. The Phaeaceans set blankets for him on the ship’s deck, and the weary Odysseus falls into a deep, oblivious sleep. The Phaeaceans row their powerful ship all night long and miraculously arrive in an enclosed, Ithacan bay before sunrise. They gently disembark the sleeping Odysseus and his many Phaeacean gifts; the crewmen then sail quickly away from Ithaca.

Poseidon, enraged over Odysseus’ rescue, approaches Zeus. Although the sea god realizes that Zeus had ordained Odysseus’ eventual homecoming, Poseidon wishes to punish the Phaeaceans for their involvement in the matter. He asks Zeus if he might be allowed to petrify the returning Phaeacean ship and then pile a mountain over the top of Alcinoös’ city. This would indeed coincide with a prophecy told to Alcinoös concerning a possible fate for the Phaeaceans. While Zeus agrees that Poseidon should punish the Phaeaceans, he does not believe he should go so far as to drop a mountain on them. Poseidon travels to Scheria and turns the ship returning from Ithaca to stone before the Phaeacean people’s very eyes. Alcinoös, recognizing the portent, discourages the Phaeaceans from ever transporting strangers again. He also commands them to sacrifice to Poseidon, in the hope that he might relent from fulfilling the second half of the prophecy: namely, covering the city with a mountain.

Meanwhile, Odysseus awakens on Ithaca, but Athene drifts a mist over him that makes the land seem unfamiliar to him. Odysseus, despairing over his fortune, curses the Phaeaceans for abandoning him on an unknown shore. When Athene approaches him disguised as a young boy, Odysseus eagerly asks the seeming lad what land he has entered. After cataloging the nature of the place, Athene finally admits that he is on Ithaca.

Odysseus, though inwardly rejoicing, decides to pretend he is an unfortunate traveler who was abandoned by Phoenician escorts on this island of which he is only remotely familiar. After enjoying his performance, Athene appears to Odysseus in her pure form, remarking on his propensity to assume disguises. Odysseus, glad to be rejoined by his divine companion, asks her why she had abandoned him to his dismal fate since the time of Troy’s fall. She explains to him how she has indeed been helping him, but that her work was performed secretly so as not to arouse the powerful Poseidon’s attention.

Athene then helps Odysseus hide his many treasures in a cave located in the enclosed harbor where the Phaeaceans deposited Odysseus. She next informs him of the situation in his home and also tells him about Telemachus’ journey to Sparta. Athene advises Odysseus to keep his presence in Ithaca a secret until he comes upon a way to destroy the suitors. Odysseus agrees to her strategy.

Athene transforms his outer appearance into that of an old beggar so that Odysseus might travel through Ithaca in complete disguise. She then commands Odysseus to go to the dwelling of Eumaeus the loyal swineherd. Athene herself departs for Sparta so that she might convince Telemachus to return to his home.

Discussion and Analysis
Odysseus’ arrival on Ithaca is the midpoint of the Odyssey. As such, it is only appropriate that symbolic foreshadowing run through the scene between Odysseus and Athene. We have seen thus far Odysseus’ wanderings from Troy to Ithaca. Now we...

(The entire section is 1,142 words.)