The Odyssey by Homer

The Odyssey book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Odyssey Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Book 20 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Philoitius: a loyal oxherd

Agelaus: a chief suitor

Summary
Odysseus beds down on the floor but is soon bothered by the noise of the disloyal maidservants fleeing the palace to make love to the suitors. Odysseus feels the urge to destroy them on the instant but eventually gains control of himself and lets them go for the moment. He then suffers a night of anxiety and restlessness. He fears that he will be unable to defeat the suitors due to their overwhelming numbers. Athene descends from Olympus, however, and reassures him that with her aid, he is able to accomplish virtually anything. She then drifts him off into a peaceful sleep. Just as Odysseus falls asleep, Penelope awakes torn by doubt concerning her decision to marry one of the suitors. She wishes the gods would carry her off in a stormwind and deposit her in the land of the dead, where she might be reunited with Odysseus at last. Just so, she recalls, did the gods destroy the unmarried daughters of Pandareus.

Dawn arrives, and Odysseus begs Zeus for signs of success. The storm god replies with a peal of thunder in a cloudless sky. Odysseus also overhears a young maid wishing the thunder is a sign that this will be the last feast celebrated by the suitors. Odysseus gladly welcomes these favorable portents.

Meanwhile, Eurycleia commands the many household servants to ready for the day’s feasting, which will begin early because the day is a public festival. Eumaeus arrives and greets Odysseus warmly, but Melanthius arrives and verbally abuses the disguised stranger once more. Philoitius the cowherd also arrives, having ferried over the livestock he tends for Odysseus on the isle of Cephallenia. Philoitius treats Odysseus kindly and expresses his loyalty for the master whom he hopes will one day return to Ithaca.

The suitors arrive and begin their feasting, waited upon by the herdsmen, Eumaeus, Philoitius, and Melanthius. Telemachus sets a place for Odysseus and commands the suitors to behave themselves and not abuse the stranger. In spite of his warning, a brash suitor named Ctesippus throws an ox hoof at Odysseus, who neatly dodges it. Telemachus rebukes him, only to rouse the anger of the suitors. Another suitor named Agelaus attempts to calm down the group, but demands that Telemachus resolve the conflict by bestowing his mother on one of them. Telemachus asserts that he has suggested previously to his mother to marry, but that he dreads asking her to leave against her will.

At that moment, the suitors are possessed by an uncontrollable hysteria. They laugh wildly with a will not their own. Theoclymenus interprets this as a dark omen, but Eurymachus mocks him severely. Theoclymenus stalks out of the palace in a dark mood and rejoins the benevolent Peraeus. The suitors continue to mock Telemachus, telling him that he should ship his useless guests off to Sicily to be slaves. Penelope, in the meantime, has set up a chair outside the room and listens to the hall’s revelry which is destined to end in violence.

Discussion and Analysis
Scholars have noted the significance of Book XX: it sets the stage for the final act of the Odyssey : Odysseus’ and...

(The entire section is 811 words.)