Book 18 Summary and Analysis
Iros: a quarrelsome beggar
Melantho: an unkind maidservant
After Eumaeus has left, an angry beggar nicknamed Iros approaches the palace and threatens Odysseus with bodily harm should he fail to leave the place immediately. Odysseus resists the overbearing vagabond, and the suitors entertain themselves with the conflict. They set up a contest between the two of them, and Odysseus quickly knocks his fellow out and drags him away through the courtyard, much to the delight of the suitors.
The scandalous affair is not lost on Penelope, who is angry that the stranger should be so mistreated in her house. She decides to approach the suitors, but before she does so, Athene wraps her in a pleasant sleep that greatly enhances the queen’s beauty. When Penelope descends with her handmaidens, the suitors are enraptured with her glorious visage, and Eurymachus compliments her beauty ardently. Penelope takes advantage of the moment to entice the suitors and coerce more presents out of them, a guileful act not lost on her admiring husband. The suitors quickly comply by sending their heralds out for more presents, and Penelope returns to her upper chamber bearing luxurious gifts.
The suitors continue their feasting into the evening hours, and they set up lights throughout the room. Odysseus suggests to the maidservants who are tending the fires that they withdraw to the upper chamber to keep Penelope company while he personally mans the fires. The maidens ridicule the disguised Odysseus at his suggestion, but he snaps back at them fiercely and they flee from him terrified.
Eurymachus begins directing harsh comments toward Odysseus, implying that the beggar would much prefer to beg than put in an honest day’s work. Odysseus responds that he could outperform Eurymachus in any task, given the opportunity. Angered, Eurymachus hurls a footstool at Odysseus, who quickly ducks behind Amphinomus. The stool goes wild and wounds a cupbearer.
The suitors are outwardly bitter concerning the disruption of their customary festivities. Telemachus attempts to silence them, but this only angers them more. Amphinomus, however, is able to bring about a swift reconciliation and commands the suitors to drink some wine and return to their houses. The suitors agree to his advice and leave the palace for the evening.
Discussion and Analysis
We see more dramatic irony surrounding Odysseus’ presence among the suitors. When he has triumphed over Iros, the suitors toast him, saying:
May Zeus, stranger, and all the other immortals give you
what you want most of all and what is dear to your spirit,
for having stopped the wandering of this greedy creature
in our neighborhood.
Of course, what Odysseus wants “most of all” is the death and destruction of the suitors, so it is amusing to hear these words come from the suitors themselves. Indeed, the irony is not lost on Odysseus himself, for “great Odysseus was pleased at the omen.” The irony of the situation is akin to a message from the gods in...
(The entire section is 762 words.)