Book 19 Summary and Analysis
After the suitors have departed Odysseus and Telemachus remove the weapons and armor from the great hall and stow them in the upper chamber of the palace. Telemachus retires to his room, but Odysseus remains in the great hall until Penelope arrives and sits with him before a roaring fire. She questions him as to his name and country. When he initially attempts to avoid the issue, she leads the conversation by relating her own situation among the suitors and her attempt to stall them for as long as possible. When she again requests his identity, he tells her his name is Aethon from Crete. Altering the story he told Eumaeus significantly, he claims to be the younger brother of the famous Cretan prince, Idomeneus. When his older brother departed for Troy, “Aethon” remained behind in Crete. There he had the opportunity to entertain the traveling Odysseus for twelve days because the Ithacan had encountered stormy weather on his way to Troy.
Penelope is moved by his story but demands proof of its authenticity by asking her guest to describe Odysseus’ clothing and appearance. Odysseus cleverly describes a mantle and golden clasp that Penelope herself had given him. Penelope no longer doubts his tales, so Odysseus tells her that her husband is in Thesprotia and possesses the means to return soon to his household. Although Penelope wishes to believe him, she doubts that she will ever be rejoined with her long absent husband.
Nevertheless, she offers to have her guest washed and bedded for the evening, but Odysseus refuses a bed and says he will accept a footbath only from an older woman whose heart has known the same sorrow that he has experienced. Penelope summons Eurycleia, who gladly offers to tend the stranger whom she claims reminds her so strongly of her long lost master.
However, as Eurycleia examines his leg, she notices a scar that Odysseus had received as a boy when visiting his maternal grandfather, Autolycus. Odysseus had been hunting with Autolycus’ sons on Mount Parnassus during a visit to receive promised gifts from his grandfather, who had named Odysseus and suggested the visit years earlier. Now Odysseus was hunting a wild boar, and presently engaged the beast at close quarters. Although slaying the beast, Odysseus received a leg wound, just above his knee. His grandfather’s family brought him to the house and healed him, and then sent him home bearing many gifts. Odysseus then related the story to his family and household.
Now, when Eurycleia realizes who sits before her, she is overjoyed and drops Odysseus’ foot into the water basin, tipping it over and spilling the water. She turns to inform Penelope, but her mistress is kept distracted by Athene. Odysseus quickly grabs his nurse by the throat and commands her to keep her mouth quiet. Eurycleia obeys her master and contains her excitement, running to fetch another water basin to finish bathing his feet.
Penelope next relates a curious dream of hers to Odysseus. She dreamt that twenty geese were eating in her house when an eagle swooped down and slaughtered them. While she wept for the slain geese, the eagle returned and claimed to be Odysseus, who had returned to slay the suitors, who were represented in the dream as geese.
However, Penelope believes this seemingly prophetic dream to be a false one. Resigning herself to her fate as a future wife of one of the suitors, she tells Odysseus that she will give herself away at last the next day. She will set up twelve axes, as Odysseus himself used to do, and command the suitors to string Odysseus’ mighty bow and shoot an arrow straight through the assembled axe handles. The one who succeeds at the trial shall claim Penelope for his own. Odysseus encourages her to institute the contest, claiming that Odysseus himself will return before the suitors accomplish the difficult feat.
Although pleased by Odysseus’ speech, Penelope admits that the hour for sleeping is upon her. She climbs to her upper chamber...
(The entire section is 1,016 words.)