Book 24 Summary and Analysis
Laertes: Odysseus’ father
Dolius: an aged servant of Laertes
Eupeithes: the vengeful father of Antinoös
Hermes leads the souls of the dead suitors down to Hades’ realm. There, Agamemnon and Achilles have been discussing their deaths. Agamemnon envies Achilles, whose body was fought over by his companions, and whose funeral rites were grand and accompanied by great games as befits a dead hero. Agamemnon, on the contrary, died ignobly at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. As the suitors approach the gates of the Underworld, the surprised Greek heroes approach them. Agamemnon singles out Amphimedon, whose house he had visited long ago. The Greek commander asks the perished suitor to explain what force slaughtered so many noble specimens of manhood. Amphimedon then summarizes Odysseus’ return to Ithaca and his subsequent revenge against the suitors. Agamemnon applauds Odysseus’ great victory and Penelope’s steadfastness, envying his friend’s good fortune which differed so drastically from his own.
Meanwhile, Odysseus and his men reach the farm inhabited by Laertes; the estate is far removed from the main Ithacan city. Sending Telemachus and the two herdsmen into the house to prepare a meal, Odysseus alone approaches Laertes. Seeing his father in pitiful condition and working himself to the bone in his orchard, Odysseus decides to test his father’s ability to recognize him. He first mocks his father’s deplorable condition, then asks him to provide Odysseus’ whereabouts. He tells Laertes that he had received Odysseus as a guest in his house five years earlier. Laertes, convinced his son has perished, begins mourning for him afresh, pouring dirt upon his aged head. Odysseus can stand the sight no longer and immediately reveals his identity to his father. Laertes is doubtful at first, but Odysseus proves his authenticity by showing his father his famous scar and by reciting a list of trees that Laertes had allotted to him years ago. Laertes, weeping tears of joy at the revelation, enters the house with his son.
There the others have prepared their meal, but before they can eat, the aged servant Dolius and his sons return from their labors to greet Odysseus. Amazed at his presence among them, Dolius’ family welcomes their returned master heartily. The company then proceeds to eat their meal.
Meanwhile, rumor has gone forth to spread the news of the suitors’ deaths to their families. The mourning kinsmen perform the funeral rites for their dead and ship the bodies of those from the surrounding islands back to their homes. The anguished Ithacans meet in assembly, and there Eupeithes, Antinoös’ enraged father, suggests they punish Odysseus immediately for this horrible crime. However, Phemius and Medon arrive at the assembly to inform the Ithacans of the gods’ participation in this struggle on the side of Odysseus. This speech, as well as further prophetic warnings by Halitherses, deters some of the Ithacans from taking arms against Odysseus.
However, more than half of the assembled Ithacans arm themselves and follow Eupeithes to battle. Odysseus and his company have finished their meal and await the coming of the angry islanders. Seeing their approach, the twelve of them (Odysseus, Telemachus, Laertes, Eumaeus, Philoitius, Dolius, and Dolius’ six sons) ready their weapons and armor. The clash between the two factions is imminent, but Athene, up on Olympus, begs her father to allow a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Zeus complies wholeheartedly, and Athene descends from Olympus and appears to Odysseus’ band in the shape of Mentor.
As Mentor, Athene stirs Laertes’ courage and enhances his strength. The aged warrior hurls his spear at Eupeithes, felling him in a single blow. Odysseus and Telemachus dive into the crush of warriors, but before the fight can escalate, Athene stuns the Ithacan warriors and sends them fleeing in terror from the battlefield. Odysseus...
(The entire section is 1,345 words.)