Books 20–24 Summary and Analysis
Odysseus finds it difficult to sleep that night, worrying about what lies before him. He angrily notes the maidservants who sneak off and sleep with the suitors. Penelope finds it difficult to sleep as well, mourning for her husband. Just as Odysseus is drifting off to sleep, he is awakened by Penelope’s crying. To strengthen his resolve, he asks Zeus to show him a sign of his favor. Zeus sends a great thunderbolt, which a few of the servants interpret to be a sign of Odysseus’s homecoming. Odysseus is assured when he overhears them.
The servants prepare a great feast in the main hall. Eumaeus and Philoitios, the cattle foreman, arrive at the palace. They converse with the disguised Odysseus, expressing their longing for their master’s return.
Meanwhile, the suitors are plotting Telemachus’s murder when an eagle flies by with a dove in its claws. Amphinomos interprets this to be an ill omen and convinces the suitors to focus on feasting instead.
To further rouse Odysseus’s anger, Athena compels the suitors to loosen their restraint. As a result, they mock Odysseus again, and a suitor named Ctesippus throws an ox-foot at him. Telemachus scolds the suitors for their behavior, to which the suitor Agelaos replies that Telemachus should force Penelope to choose a husband with haste. Athena then drives the suitors to hysterical laughter, prompting the seer Theoclymenos to remark that the hall is filled with dark omens which point to their imminent deaths.
Penelope enters the main hall, followed by servants carrying axes and Odysseus’s great bow. She announces that whoever can use the bow to shoot through the openings of twelve axes will be her husband. Telemachus is quick to take up the challenge, asserting that he will free his mother from the obligation to choose a husband if he succeeds. On his third attempt to string the bow, Odysseus signals for Telemachus to give up. One by one, the suitors take up the challenge but fail to even string the bow.
Outside, Odysseus reveals himself to Eumaeus and Philoetius, a loyal cowherd. He orders them to lock the courtyard gates and join him in battle when the time comes.
The suitors have all failed Penelope’s task. Odysseus, in disguise again, offers to try the challenge, inciting vicious reactions from the suitors. Penelope assures them that the beggar will not win her hand in marriage—as, surely, he merely wishes to test his skill. Telemachus then commands his mother to go back to her quarters, as he will be the one to preside over the contest. She concedes.
Eumaeus brings the bow to Odysseus. The swineherd then discreetly orders Eurycleia to bolt all the doors of the main hall. First running his fingers over the bow, Odysseus then effortlessly shoots an arrow through the openings of the twelve axes, stunning the suitors into silence. Zeus follows with a bolt of thunder, an omen of the suitors’ demise. At his father’s signal, Telemachus arms himself and goes to stand next to Odysseus.
Odysseus shoots Antinous in the throat, killing him instantly. The hall is thrown into chaos, with the suitors cursing and threatening the beggar. Odysseus reveals himself and declares that the suitors’ actions in his home have earned them death. The suitors beg for mercy, offering to repay all they have cost him, to which Odysseus replies that their lives are the only payment he will accept.
Eurymachus rallies the suitors into fighting but is instantly shot by Odysseus. Telemachus runs to fetch Eumaeus and Philoetius, along with additional weapons and armor, while Melanthius sneaks in armor and weapons for the suitors. Telemachus spots Melanthius, however, and orders Eumaeus and Philoetius to stop him. The two capture Melanthius, bind his hands and feet, and leave him lying in the rafters.
Athena, in the form of Mentor, appears beside Odysseus and scolds him for not displaying the strength he had at Troy. She then transforms into a swallow and perches in the rafters,...
(The entire section is 1,780 words.)