The Odyssey Book 21
Athena looks at Penelope and feels sorry for her. Penelope brings out the bow of Odysseus that he got as repayment for sheep that were stolen from Ithaca. She opens a store room door and looks over the fine clothing and has maids bring out 12 axeheads. She enters the hall filled with suitors and speaks:
"Here is my lord Odysseus' hunting bow.
Bend and string it if you can. Who sends an arrow
through iron axe-helve sockets twelve in line?
I join my life with his and leave this place, my home,
my rich and beautiful bridal house, forever
to be remembered, though I dream it only." Book 21, lines 78-83
She has Eumaius carry it into the courtyard. Philoitios cries at the scene and Antinous tells him to stop. He knows that this will not be an easy task but he makes it sound hard to intimidate the other suitors. Telemachus laughs and then covers it up by saying that Zeus has made him a half-wit. He tell them that he would like to bend the bow himself. He digs a little trench and tries three times and almost has it on the fourth try but stops with a look from Odysseus. He addresses the crowd and makes fun of his own youth. Antinous tells them to go one man at a time, thinking that if he goes last the bow will be the most supple.
The first suitor to try fails and announces that no one will be able to do it. Antinous tells him that he is just a weakling and at the prompting of Melanthios they warm and grease the bow. Everyone fails. Eumaius and Philoitios leave together and Odysseus follows them. He asks them if they would stand by Odysseus and when they both give positive answers he reveals himself and promises them marriages and gifts. They rejoice and weep. He tells them to stop and drift back inside separately. He tells Eumaius that when he is inside he should give him the bow to try. Philoitios is to lock all the doors and tell the women to lock themselves away. Eurymachus picks up the bow but cannot string it. He curses the humiliation. Antinous says that it is a holiday and they should feast and delay the contest for a day. Just then Odysseus speaks out and asks if he may try the bow... Antinous replies violently and compares him to a centaur who went insane from drunkenness. Penelope tells Antinous that he is being discourteous and that the beggar should be allowed to try. Eurymachus responds that they would be shamed if he could do it and she tells him that he has not good repute anyway so why should it matter if he is shamed. Telemachus responds to his mother:
"Mother as to the bow and who may handle it
or not handle it, no man here
has more authority than I do- not the lord
or our own stony Ithaka nor the islands lying
east towards Elis; no one stops me if I choose
to give these weapons outright to my guest." Book 21, lines 388-393
He tells her to go back into her chamber and stay there and she does, stunned by her sons speech. The swineherd gives the bow to Odysseus and the suitors yell at him. Telemachus tells Eumaius that it is all right and the suitors laugh at him. Odysseus tells Eumaius to make sure all the women are locked in their rooms. He takes his time looking over the bow and the suitors laugh at his seriousness. He strings the bow in one motion as a musician would an instrument. Zeus lets out a peal of thunder and Odysseus shoots through the 12 axes. He tells Telemachus that the stranger he invited into his house served him well. Telemachus readies himself for battle.