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Book 24 Notes from The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 24

While they leave for the house of Laertes, Hermes takes the souls of the fallen suitors down to the underworld to join the rest of the dead. They meet the ghosts of Achilles, Ajax, and Agamemnon . Achilles speaks to Agamemnon and pities his death at home instead of in battle where he should have died. Agamemnon agrees with him and describes the elaborate funeral games that were held after Achilles fell. His mother presented them with extravagant prizes. His body was burned and his bones interred in an amphora with Patroclus, his fallen comrade. As they spoke, Hermes came close to them and Agamemnon recognized one of the suitors Amphimedon. He asks the suitor how he came to the land of the dead. Amphimedon recounts the trickery of Penelope at her loom, keeping the suitors waiting for years. After four years they found out that she was unraveling the work. Then he tells Agamemnon that the swineherd and Telemachus conspired and snuck Odysseus into the hall as a beggar. The beggar was allowed to try the bow:

"So the great soldier
took his bow and bent it for the bowstring
effortlessly. He drilled the axeheads clean,
sprang, and decanted arrows on the door sill,
glared, and drew again. This time he killed
Book 24, lines 196-201

He tells Agamemnon about the rest of the carnage and that the bodies lie unburied in the hall. when Amphimedon stops, Agamemnon shouts aloud that Odysseus was fortunate to marry such a loyal wife. He describes how differently his wife behaved and how shameful it was.

As they talk of the world of the living, Odysseus and his companions near the house of Laertes, which has become run down since his departure. Odysseus tells his companions to go inside and prepare a meal as he walks the fields trying to find his father, who has gone to clear out a distant field. He finds his father working the earth near a fruit tree looking downtrodden. He decides that he should test him first. He speaks to him:

"Old man, the orchard keeper
you work for is no townsman. A good eye
for growing things he has; there's not a nurseling,
fig tree, vine stock, olive tree or pear tree
or garden bed uncared for on this farm.
But I might add- don't take offense- your own
appearance could be tidier. Old age
yes- but why the squalor, and rags to boot?"
Book 24, lines 270-7

He asks Laertes who his master is and pretends that he is a man from elsewhere who has come in search of Odysseus whom he took care of and presented with gifts. Laertes' eyes begin to fill with tears and he tells Odysseus that he has come to Ithaca. He tells him that Odysseus has never come home and is probably dead and left unburied far away. Then Laertes asks him where he is from and how he came to Ithaca. Odysseus tells him many lies: He is from Sikania, his name is Quarrelman and his ship is in a nearby cove. He tells him that he saw Odysseus five years before heading home. Laertes is overcome by grief and he pours dirt over his head. Odysseus is struck by this and embraces his father telling him who he is and that the suitors are taken care of. Laertes asks for some proof and Odysseus shows him the boar's wound on his thigh and the old man almost faints and thanks the gods but is worried that the death of the suitors will bring their kin against them. Odysseus tells him to leave the worrying to him. They go back to the house where Telemachus and Eumaius are preparing a meal. Athena makes Laertes stronger. Laertes tells his son that he wished he were young again and could have helped him fight the suitors. The slave Dolios come to the house and is amazed to see Odysseus. He asks him if Penelope knows he has arrived and Odysseus laughs at the question. They all sit down and eat.

Meanwhile the news of the battle reaches the town and everyone goes to an assembly. An old man gets up and encourages the assembled men to pursue Odysseus for the murder. Medon, Odysseus' herald, stands to speak:

"Now hear me, men of Ithaka.
When these hard deeds were done by Lord Odysseus
the immortal gods were not far off. I saw
with my own eyes someone divine who fought
beside him, in the shape and dress of Mentor;
it was a god who shone before Odysseus,
a god who swept the suitors down the hall
dying in droves."
Book 24, lines 489 - 96

Another old man gets up and tells the townspeople that the deaths were their own fault. He urges them to let the matter drop. Many people agree, but a good number run for their arms. The father of Antinous rallies them. Athena approaches Zeus while this happens and asks him what he plans to do. Zeus says he already has plans but advises that Odysseus be made king in a sworn pact and everyone be made friends again. Athena goes down to Odysseus as he finishes his dinner, before the mob arrives. Odysseus arms with his companions and his father. Athena appears as Mentor and Odysseus encourages Telemachus not to shame his family in the coming melee. Athena halts them and tells them to invoke her name and Zeus' as they throw their spears. The fight began and Antinous' father is killed immediately. Athena stops them and tells them to make peace. Everyone is unnerved by the voice of the goddess. She speaks to Odysseus:

"Son of Laertes and the gods of old,
Odysseus, master of land ways and sea ways,
command yourself. Call off this battle now,
or Zeus who views the wide world may be angry."
Book 24, lines 605-609

Odysseus obeys her and the parties swear to peace, with Athena (in the form of Mentor) as their peacemaker.

Topic Tracking: Guests and Hosts 15
Topic Tracking: Disguise and Defeat 15

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