Homer, The Odyssey, Books 15, 16, 17



Book 15‑‑Telemakhos takes his leave of Menelaos and Helen, gives safe passage on his ship to Theoklymenos the fugitive prophet, and is welcomed by Eumaios (and disguised Odysseus) on his secret return to Ithaca


1)  How does Athena's message to Telemakhos re-establish his concern for specific types of events in Ithaca after our long sojourn with Odysseus? 


2)  How do you take Meneleus' speech about "measure is best in  everything"?  Consider the circumstance and what might be  measured speech on such an occasion, given what we know about the  plot at this moment?  Is his performance temperate and in tune with the times?  Compare also the young men's decision upon returning to Pylos.


3)  What gift does Helen give Telemakhos and what theme does it begin to establish (esp. see Athena's message, above)?


4)  When the eagles appear, who is asked to interpret their behavior and who in fact does so?  What does this mean?


5)  Theoklymenos' ancestry is disclosed in unusually dense detail just as he appears to beg sanctuary with Telemakhos' crew.  Why?  Have you seen any of these names before?  What is his function in this narrative?  You will find other examples of this type scene and type character in the Icelandic sagas--sometimes the decision to welcome the pursued man to the ship is a bad mistake.  What kind of decision does Telemakhos make here?


6)  Why is Eumaios' story of his situation unusual in this heroic epic?  There are no characters like him in the Iliad.  On the contrary, the one lower-class character who dares to speak to heroes, the belligerent Thersytes, is publicly humiliated by Odysseus for daring to challenge Agamemnon's authority (Book II).  How did Eumaios come to be Laertes' slave, and what is the poet's narrative strategy in introducing this piece of background material for him?  How does Odysseus evaluate Eumaios' situation after hearing his tale?


Book 16‑‑Odysseus and Telemakhos reunited in Eumaios' hut and plan their war upon the Suitors; Penelope and the Suitors told of Telemakhos' safe return (but NOT told of Odysseus' return); Suitors plot Telemakhos' death and Penelope confronts them.


1)  Consider the extended simile which describes Eumaios' joy at Telemakhos' return.  Who should be occupying the roles in the simile and what does it cost one of them to resist taking his place in it?


2)  What does O. request of T. and how does T. respond?  What theme does this announce and how does O. respond to T's evaluation of the situation in the hall?


3)  How does T. respond to the news that his father is standing before him?  O. explains his changed appearance by appealing to Athena's powers--how would you interpret this statement?


4)  How many suitors are there (ll. 294 ff.)? 


5)  T. raises a concern for the practical interests of gods in the affairs of men (ll. 311-15which later will be advanced by the philosopher Anaxagoras--what is his position and what issue does it raise for Homer's audience and for the suitors?


6)  According to Athena, what is Odysseus' plan?  Why didn't he just kill the  suitors in the night?  How would you describe the strategy this plan uses?


7)  How do Eurymakhos, Antinoos, and Nisos feel about T's return?  Why does E speak first?  What does this suggest about social relations among the suitors since Book I?


8)  Penelope makes a surprisingly strong attack on the suitors--what do we learn from her and from Eurymakhos' reply?


9)  Why have O and T not told Eumaios that O has returned to Ithaka?


Book 17‑‑Telemakhos enters the hall and tells Penelope that Odysseus has survived--Theoklymenos, by omens, predicts Odysseus has already come to Ithaka; Odysseus disguised as a beggar returns to his own hall, insulted by Melanthios; tests Antinoos, highest ranked among the Suitors; Penelope summons the "beggar" to her rooms.


1)  Overall, notice the rapid changes in scene, like those we began to see in Book 16‑‑why isn't this book told  with more continuity?


2)  Penelope's character continues to emerge as more powerful, more aware of her plight, and more capable of altering circumstances in this book.  How does the poet indicate her increased status?  For instance, in Penelope's encounter with Telemakhos, with what epithet is  she described?  What does Telemakhos tell her to do, and what  might a perceptive person deduce from this?  How does P react? How does Telemachus' behavior with Penelope reflect his father's  habits?  How does her response to his first question, and her decision to ask the second, shape your view of her character? 


3)  When Telemakhos returns to the hall, his mother sits silently  and "spun a fine wool yarn" (17: 123).  It certainly is a  "realistic" detail of women's occupation in the household (with  weaving).  Also, in Greek mythology, what might this allude to  and what may it mean here? 


4)  Lines 157‑64 repeat a speech we've heard in Book IV (Menelaos on p. 63)and one which is commonly found in The Iliad.   What image is called up, and who first spoke it?  Look for a  repetition in a pin described in Book 19.  Later in this speech,  he draws on a set of images we might call the "iron wedding"  group‑‑the "cold bed," the "wedding with death," and this  passage's "stunning dowry" (172).  How does this strategy enable  you to see two or more images at once?


5)  What roles are played here by the minor characters Theoklymenos and Medon?


6)  What are the suitors doing while waiting for dinner, and how  does this relate to the activities of a man like Odysseus?  In  the sixth century, the rise of city‑states over the megaron‑based  estates led to a city aristocracy in which young men frequently  turned to such behavior.


7)  When Odysseus meets Melanthios, how does the goatherd's  behavior relate to Eumaios' and how does he treat Odysseus?  That is, how can we tell that he has been imagining himself as something greater than a goatherd?  Compare his speech with Eumaios' and Antinoos'.  What  evidence does his attack on Odysseus reveal, and why doesn't he  notice it?  Compare this with what Nausikaa warns of in Book 6.   Note also the suitor with whom Melanthios allies himself.


8)  One of the persistent type‑scenes in the epic is the  "recognition scene."  What are the key components of the Argos‑ Odysseus scene and upon what is evidence does the dog know O?   What is the effect of this recognition, and why is it important?


9)  How does Antinoos respond to Odysseus' test of his  generosity, and what elements of the response are thematic?  How  do the others in the hall react?  Compare the suitors' conduct in the hall with the behavior of people in the halls of Nestor and Menalaos.  What has gone wrong with these men's socialization?  What is missing in their lives because of the Trojan War, and how do they compare with men like Odysseus and Menalaos, who were of the generation of their fathers?  (For some interesting parallels of behavior in young elephants, click here.)


10)  The poet uses a characteristic litotes (epic understatement) to describe O's eating from his knapsack on the ground ("lowly table," i.e., no table).  How does this draw our attention by comparison to other meals O has taken so far?


11)  How do Melanthios and Antinoos work together, and how does Odysseus test both?  How do the various members of the household respond to A's attack on O?


12)  When Penelope calls for the "tramp" to be brought before her,  what does she wish for and what happens at that moment?  Why do  these two behaviors have special significance?


13)  Why doesn't Odysseus immediately accept the summons to speak  with his wife, and what does this tell you about him?