Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 13

It worked. Alcinous and the Phaeacians are edified. The king instructs everyone to chip in to help Odysseus: “each of us add a sumptuous tripod, add a cauldron! / Then recover our costs with levies on the people: / it’s hard to afford such bounty man by man” (13.14-16). Thanks a flippin’ lot, say the people. Everyone goes to sleep.

“When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more” (13.29), Alcinous sacrifices an ox, Demodocus sings a song, and Odysseus speechifies praise upon the king, who has furnished Odysseus with a crew. Odysseus sleeps. The Phaeacians leave him peacefully ashore on Ithaca with his treasures.

You can’t spell Poseidon without P.O. With the tweak and approval of the plan from brother Zeus, Poseidon smashes the Phaeacian ship and piles a mountain around their port, cutting them off from the sea, so that they “learn at last / to cease and desist from escorting every man alive” (13.171-172). Alcinous recognizes that this had ben prophesied. He desperately has massive sacrifices to Poseidon prepared. We never find out what happens, because the scene shifts to Odysseus.

He awakens, and Athena has shrouded him in mist in order to change his appearance as to be unrecognizable. Odysseus is skeptical, of course: “whose land have I lit on now? / What are they here — violent, savage, lawless? / or friendly to strangers, god-fearing men? (13.227-229). Not knowing he is on Ithaca, he curses the Phaeacians for stranding him, and he doesn’t know where to stow his loot. Athena appears as a young boy, and when asked what land this is, he/she eventually reveals it’s resplendent Ithaca. Odysseus is overjoyed, but, “always invoking the cunning in his heart” (13.289), says he thinks he’s heard of the place. He tells a tall tale regarding his involvement in a Trojan War episode, and Athena is amused. She tells him he must not reveal that he is home: “No, in silence you must bear a world of pain, / subject yourself to the cruel abuse of men” (13.352-353). The two compliment each other on their wiliness.

Athena shows him that he is indeed home, and she reports that suitors are oppressing Penelope and must pay dearly. “God help me!” says Odysseus, “Clearly I might have died the same ignoble death / as Agamemnon, bled white in my own house too, / if you had never revealed this to me now” (13.437-440). Athen transforms him into an old man in rags: “She shriveled the supple skin on his lithe limbs, / stripped the russet curls from his head, covered his body / top to toe with the wrinkled hide of an old man / and dimmed the fire in his eyes, so shining once’ (13.493-496). His clothes are filthy and he gets a crappy beggar’s sack. Athena goes to fetch Telemachus.

Odyssey: Book 14
Odyssey Index