The Odyssey Books 16–19 Summary and Analysis
by Homer

The Odyssey book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Odyssey Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Books 16–19 Summary and Analysis

Book 16

Telemachus arrives at Eumaeus’s home, where he meets Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar. The three talk of how Odysseus’s household is overrun by wicked suitors, prompting Odysseus to remark that honor calls for their slaughter at the hands of Telemachus and his father. Telemachus agrees. Still following Athena’s plan, he then instructs Eumaeus to run to the palace and inform Penelope that he has returned.

In Eumaeus’s absence, Athena appears to Odysseus (and Odysseus alone) and advises him to reveal himself to his son. The goddess then restores Odysseus’s appearance, leaving Telemachus in awe, believing himself to be in the presence of a god. Odysseus informs Telemachus that he is his father, and the two reunite in tears. They then discuss how they will handle the suitors. Telemachus is doubtful that he and Odysseus will manage to overtake the suitors, as there are over a hundred of them, but Odysseus assures him that the gods are on their side. Finally, Odysseus instructs Telemachus to keep his return a secret from everyone, including Eumaeus, Penelope, and Laertes.

At the palace, the suitors are frustrated to hear that Telemachus has evaded their ambush. Antinous suggests that they murder Telemachus as soon as they have the chance. Amphinomus, however, voices his concern that their plans might anger the gods.

Penelope, who has learned of the suitors’ schemes, confronts Eurymachus, reminding him of the time Odysseus saved his father’s life. Eurymachus lies and asserts that the suitors have no intention of harming Telemachus.

Book 17

Telemachus, accompanied by the seer Theoclymenus, arrives at the palace. He informs his mother of what he learned from King Menelaus—that Odysseus is trapped on Ogygia by the nymph Calypso. Theoclymenus, however, adds that signs point toward Odysseus’s imminent return and swift revenge upon the suitors.

Meanwhile, Eumaeus and Odysseus are on their way to the palace when they encounter the goatherd Melanthius. Melanthius insults the disguised Odysseus and even kicks him. Despite his urge to retaliate, Odysseus remains silent. When he and Eumeaus arrive at the palace, Odysseus meets the eyes of his old hunting dog, Argos, who recognizes him immediately. Argos, having seen his master one last time, dies peacefully. Odysseus holds back his tears.

Telemachus, following the plan Odysseus laid out, instructs Eumaeus to let the disguised Odysseus go around the main hall and beg the suitors for scraps. This way, Odysseus will be able to experience firsthand what the suitors are like. Most of the suitors give him food, but Antinous complains that a beggar is hardly fit to attend their feast. He insults Odysseus and throws a chair at him. Odysseus admonishes Antinous, telling him that the gods have a way of punishing such cruelty. It hurts Telemachus to see his father mistreated, but he holds his tongue.

Before returning home, Eumaeus meets briefly with Penelope and informs her that the beggar has news of Odysseus. She agrees to meet with the beggar, really Odysseus, after all the suitors have retired.

Book 18

A beggar named Arnaeus (or Irus) arrives at the palace and insults Odysseus in front of the suitors. This gives the suitors the idea to pit the two beggars against each other for sport, with the winner of the fight to be given choice cuts of meat and a place at the suitors’ table. When Odysseus takes off his robe to spar with Arnaeus, he reveals his muscular build. So as to hide his full strength, Odysseus decides not to kill Arnaeus and instead defeats him by breaking his jaw.

At the table, the suitor Amphinomus shows kindness to the disguised Odysseus. Because of this, Odysseus tells him a cautionary tale of greed and dishonor, hinting that Amphinomus must leave the palace or perish along with the other suitors when Odysseus returns to take revenge. This troubles Amphinomus, but as he is fated to die along with the rest of the suitors, he does not leave.

Meanwhile, Athena compels...

(The entire section is 1,548 words.)