The Odyssey Book 19
Odysseus turns to Telemachus and tells him to hide the weapons. Telemachus obeys and tells Eurykleia to shut the women in their chambers. She replies that it is time for him to pay attention to such things. Telemachus gives her the beggar as a torch bearer and she is moved by his stately speech. Odysseus tells Telemachus to be quiet because he is going to test Penelope and the hand-maidens. Telemachus does as he says and goes to his bed-chamber. Penelope steps from her chamber and is described to be like a goddess. Melantho sees Odysseus again and taunts him calling him a goat, threatening to burn his behind with a torch. Odysseus warns her that everyone comes upon hard luck. He was a wealthy man and is now a beggar. She had better be careful. Penelope hears this and harangues the maid and has Eurynome fetch a skin for Odysseus to sit on. She asks him to speak of where he is from and he request not to recall what will make him weep. Penelope replies that she has been in grief since Odysseus left and it has gotten worse. She recounts her deception on the loom that lasted four years and how they caught her unweaving at night. She continues:
"I have no strength left to evade a marriage
cannot find any further way; my parents
urge it upon me, and my son
will not stand by while they eat up his property.
He comprehends it, being a man full grown,
able to oversee the kind of house
Zeus would endow with honor." Book 19, lines 184-90
She asks the beggar again to tell his tale and he retells his false story and how he once saw Odysseus cast by a strong gale. He tells her that he was a host for him for twelve days until the wind was favorable again. Penelope believes him and weeps. Odysseus' heart aches for her and she asks for some proof that he was host to him. He describes a brooch and shirt that Odysseus wore and his messenger. She put the brooch and shirt on him so she thinks that he is telling the truth. Odysseus tells her not to weep and tells her the story of the cattle of the sun and how Odysseus was supposed to come to Ithaka from Skheria. He says he hears this from the king with whom her stayed last and Penelope exclaims that if this were all true they would love him. She tells him that Odysseus will not come back and calls her maids in to bathe the beggar and give him finer clothing. The she tells him that the lives of men are short. Odysseus tries to take neither a bathe nor bedding, but she insists. He submits to being bathed by Eurykleia. She bathes his feet and begins to move upward when Odysseus realizes that he has an old scar she will recognize. He got it from a boar when he was a young man hunting with his maternal grandfather. Odysseus went after the boar first and speared him in the shoulder as the boar gored his thigh right above the knee. When he went home he got the glory of telling that story. The old nurse recognizes the scar:
You are Odysseus! Ah, dear child! I could not
see you until now- not till I knew
my master's body with my hands!" Book 19, lines 549-52
She turns to Penelope but Athena makes it so that she doesn't notice. Odysseus pulls Eurykleia to him and tells her that he may have to kill her if she isn't quiet. She is amazed that he speaks to her this way and promises to reveal all the disloyal hand-maidens. Odysseus tells her that she should be quiet as she continues to bathe him. Penelope breaks the silence and asks if she may ask one more question of him. She asks him if she should stay with her son or marry and tells Odysseus of a dream of 20 fat geese and an eagle. The eagle broke their necks and told her to be glad because they were the suitors. Then he told her that her lord had returned. Odysseus asks her how the dream could be read any differently and she says that there are two gates of dreams: one ivory and one horn. False dreams come from the ivory and real ones from the horn. She says that tomorrow she will have a contest between the suitors and whoever can string Odysseus' bow and shoot through 12 axeheads may marry her. Odysseus tells her not to delay the contest and she tells him that he is a great comfort. She wishes he could comfort her longer but she has to go to sleep. They part and Penelope goes to sleep.