Book 14 Summary and Analysis
Eumaeus: Odysseus’ loyal swineherd
Odysseus sets out for the shelter of Eumaeus the swineherd as per Athene’s instructions. The faithful and loyal swineherd has kept Odysseus’ pigs in order and has tended them skillfully. As Odysseus approaches the crude dwelling, he is accosted by Eumaeus’ dogs; the swineherd himself, however, quickly comes to his rescue and brings him to his dwelling.
Eumaeus cares for Odysseus’ needs, feeding him immediately upon bringing him into his house. As he speaks to the disguised Odysseus, Eumaeus constantly makes references to his beloved master, whom he asserts is lost and roaming the world in misery. When Odysseus requests Eumaeus’ master’s name, the swineherd reveals Odysseus’ own name. Yet the swineherd bitterly warns his guest not to suggest that he has heard of Odysseus’ imminent return. Eumaeus and other loyal followers of Odysseus have had enough of being constantly duped by lying beggars.
In spite of Eumaeus’ warning, Odysseus embarks on a false tale about how he himself had heard of Odysseus in his travels. Odysseus tells Eumaeus that he is the son of a wealthy Cretan named Castor. Despite his illegitimate birth, the storyteller continues, he had risen to power in Crete and accompanied the prince Idomeneus to the Trojan War. After fighting at Troy for ten years, the narrator stopped only briefly at Crete, and then journeyed to Egypt and sailed down the Nile. There he met disaster, for his men pillaged outlying fields despite the narrator’s warning, and the Egyptians swiftly punished them the following day. However, the narrator found favor with the Egyptian king and prospered in his house for seven years. From there, the narrator accompanied a crafty Phoenician to his home in Asia Minor. After spending a year with his new host, the narrator set out with the Phoenician to Libya, where the Phoenician secretly planned to sell the narrator into slavery. However, Zeus sent a storm that destroyed the Phoenician vessel, and the narrator was cast adrift on the seas. After floating on a makeshift raft for nine days, the narrator landed on the shores of Thesprotia, a mainland region in southwestern Epirus not far to the northeast of Ithaca. There, the narrator befriended the Thesprotian king, Pheidon, who told the narrator that he was preparing a splendid homecoming for Odysseus, who was taking a brief retreat at a nearby city. However, before Odysseus returned to the city, the narrator joined a group of sailors heading past Ithaca for the isle of Doulichion. These bad men also planned to sell the narrator into slavery and tied him up while they took an evening meal on the shores of Ithaca. The narrator escaped their clutches and wandered through Ithaca until he arrived at the swineherd’s dwelling.
Eumaeus, while sympathizing with Odysseus’ tale, does not believe the part about Odysseus’ presence in Thesprotia and discourages his guest from speaking such lies in the future. Nevertheless, he continues to care for him, and when the other swineherds return from their daily rounds, Eumaeus prepares a great feast for them all in his guest’s honor. After all have eaten well, they bed down for the evening. A cold storm arises, and Odysseus tests Eumaeus to see whether he will offer his guest a warm mantle. He tells a story of how Menelaus, Odysseus, and other Greeks including himself had been stationed one evening in the marshy field surrounding Troy. The narrator had asked Odysseus for some way to procure a mantle for himself. Odysseus had cleverly sent one of the other Greek spies on an errand to the Greek camp, and the narrator was able to seize the discarded bedding of the messenger.
Acting upon the hint, Eumaeus does indeed bestow an extra mantle on his guest, but then the swineherd himself goes outside into the cold night to personally oversee the welfare of the pigs. He lays down and sleeps among the droves of swine.
Discussion and Analysis
(The entire section is 1,098 words.)