The Odyssey by Homer

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Book 23 Summary and Analysis

Eurycleia, acting upon Odysseus’ orders, ascends merrily up to Penelope’s chamber and wakens her with the news of her husband’s return and the suitors’ destruction. But, believing her servant to have lost her wits, Penelope scolds the aged nurse for playing such a cruel jest on her. Eurycleia swears that what she has said is true, and she stakes her life on that truth. Penelope, however, is unconvinced, and thinks a god has entered her palace to punish the suitors.

Penelope enters the great hall and sits opposite Odysseus staring at him inquisitively but saying nothing to him. Telemachus rebukes his mother for her obstinacy, but Odysseus silences his son and believes his wife’s silence is due to his own shabby attire. Odysseus goes to bathe and dress himself in finery, but first he warns Telemachus of the danger they must now face from the suitors’ avengers. Odysseus commands Telemachus, the herdsmen, and the faithful maidservants to perform music and dancing so as to fool the Ithacans into thinking Penelope has married one of the suitors.

When Odysseus has been restored to his godlike self, assisted by the charms of Athene, he again returns to Penelope. Yet Penelope is still reluctant to embrace him. Irritated, Odysseus commands a bed to be brought to him so that he can sleep alone in the great hall.

Penelope takes the opportunity to cleverly suggest that Odysseus’ own bed be brought to him. When Odysseus hears the suggestion, he is outraged, for Odysseus constructed the bed she refers to from the lodged stump of an olive tree. A chamber was built around the bed, whose roots still clung to the soil beneath it. The very notion that this bed could be moved sends him into a tirade on the infamy of the deed. Of course, this clue is all Penelope needs to assure herself of Odysseus’ authenticity, for only the two of them have ever seen this illustrious bed. Penelope embraces her husband firmly and weeps tears of rejoicing. She begs her husband’s forgiveness for her long doubt, explaining her fear that an impostor would deceive her.

Odysseus and his wife sit enfolded in each other’s arms for so long a time that Athene must delay the Dawn from its accustomed rising. Odysseus and Penelope finally enter their bedchamber, but not until after Odysseus has warned his wife of the trials that he still must face and the voyages he must undertake at the bidding of Teiresias.

The reunited pair engage in their pleasurable “old ritual.” After they have consummated their reunion, they tell each other of the many trials and tribulations they have endured for two decades. Odysseus begins his tale with his raid on the Ciconian and continues until his arrival on Ithaca with the aid of the Phaeaceans. They fall to sleep at last, and Athene finally releases the restrained Dawn to commence her duty. Odysseus rises and commands Penelope to withdraw to her upper chamber and avoid the suitors’ families when they come to claim the bodies of their deceased kin. Odysseus himself dons his armor and weapons and commands Telemachus and the herdsmen to do likewise. The four of them leave the palace and depart from the city, concealed by the power of Athene as they travel toward Laertes’ farm.

Discussion and Analysis
The cleverness and prudence we witness once more in Penelope certainly make her the most appropriate wife for Odysseus. The...

(The entire section is 875 words.)