The Odyssey by Homer

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Book 17 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Melanthius: a scornful goatherd

Argos: Odysseus’ faithful old dog

Eurynome: Penelope’s maidservant

In the morning, Telemachus leaves Eumaeus’ dwelling and returns to the palace, where he is greeted warmly by his mother and the many servants who feared for his life. Telemachus commands his mother to vow sacrifices to the gods should their hardships be avenged. Penelope obeys, while Telemachus himself goes to the place of assembly. There Telemachus meets Peraeus with Theoclymenus the prophet. Telemachus tells Peraeus to hold onto his Spartan treasures until the conflict with the suitors is resolved. Telemachus then returns to his palace with Theoclymenus. Telemachus, Theoclymenus, and Penelope share a meal together, during which Theoclymenus reveals to Penelope the portent he had read to Telemachus the day before.

Meanwhile Odysseus and Eumaeus have headed towards the city at Telemachus’ command. On their way there, they meet the scurrilous Melanthius the goatherd, who both verbally and physically abuses Odysseus. Odysseus holds his peace, struggling to control himself from slaying the goatherd. Unshaken by Eumaeus’ curses, Melanthius leaves the two behind and enters the palace.

When Odysseus and Eumaeus arrive at the palace, where the disguised beggar is supposed to beg his supper, they see the old dog, Argos, lying atop a heap of dung. This dog, which Odysseus left behind in its prime, is now a most pitiful creature, covered with ticks and barely able to move. Yet, recognizing Odysseus, the dog wags its tail and lays back its ears in a show of its loyalty. The wretched dog soon dies, having met its master again after twenty years of separation.

Eumaeus enters the palace, shortly followed by Odysseus. Telemachus gives his disguised father a meal and commands him to beg from among the suitors. All the suitors pity him but Antinoös who, gently provoked by the disguised beggar, throws a footstool at Odysseus, who walks away in silent bitterness. Penelope summons Odysseus to her presence, for she wishes to question him concerning his travels. Eumaeus tries to dissuade her from the interview, telling her that the man has indeed claimed to have heard news of Odysseus but that he is like so many other storytellers who have told her similar information. Nonetheless, Penelope wishes to speak to him, although, at Odysseus’ suggestion, she agrees to wait until after the suitors have departed for the evening. Eumaeus, having served as messenger between Odysseus and Penelope, finally takes his leave of Telemachus and heads back to his shelter; Telemachus commands him, however, to return in the morning.

Discussion and Analysis
Now that Odysseus has appeared before the larger Ithacan community in disguise, there is more room for the dramatic irony that fills many of the verses of the Odyssey. We see this notably during the Melanthius episode. Although Odysseus holds his peace after Melanthius’ attack, Eumaeus calls upon the gods to return Odysseus to his home so that he can punish the scornful goatherd. Melanthius’ response is suitably ironic:

Shame on the speaking of this nasty-minded dog. Some day
I will get him aboard a strong-benched ship, and take him
far from Ithaca, where he could win me a good livelihood.
If only Apollo, silver-bowed, would strike down Telemachos
today in his halls, or he were killed by the...

(The entire section is 850 words.)