Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 15

Meanwhile, resuming the story from Book 4, Athena finds Telemachus and Pisistratus at Menelaus’ palace and prompts Telemachus to get going, since so often women invest everything in their new husbands and forget their dead husbands and kids. (Not really a worry, but a motivating prod.) She warns of the intended ambush of the suitors on his way back. Telemachus rouses Pisistratus: they must depart from “Menelaus, the great spearman — / [who] gives us warm salutes and sees us off like princes. / That’s the man a guest will remember all his days: / the lavish host who showers him with kindness” (15.58-61). Menelaus also speechifies about hospitality: “I’d never detain you here too long, Telemachus, / not if your heart is set on going home. / I’d find fault with another host, I’m sure, / too warm to his guests, too pressing or too cold. / Balance is best in all things. It’s bad either way, / spurring the stranger home who wants to linger, / holding the one who longs to leave — you know, / ‘Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest'” (15.74-81). So, we’ll immediately see you off. Right after feasting and drinking some more. And gift-giving.

Helen offers Telemachus a robe: “a keepsake of Helen — I wove it with my hands — / for your own bride to wear / when the blissful day of marriage dawns” (15.138-140). One wonders how lucky such a gift from Helen, of all people, will be. As Telemachus promises to spread word about Menelaus’ generosity, an eagle carries off a goose, and Helen reads the omen as an indication that “Odysseus will descend on his house and take revenge — / unless he’s home already, sowing seeds of ruin / for that whole crowd of suitors!” (15.198-200).

“When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more” (15.211), Telemachus and Pisistratus drive back to Nestor’s palace, and Telemachus avoids stopping in, due to Nestor’s hospitality which will delay him further. Returning to his ship, Telemachus encounters a prophet with a complicated side-story who asks to be taken on board. Telemachus knows he must avoid the ambush of the seafaring suitors.

Meanwhile, Odysseus and the swineherd Eumaeus have supper with the fieldhands, and the still disguised Odysseus announces, “at the crack of dawn / I mean to go to town and do my begging, / not be a drain on you and all your men” (15.342-344). He also floats the idea of offering to do chores at Odysseus’ palace, but Eumaeus warns that it’s too dangerous to be among the suitors — and this guy does know swine! He tells Odysseus that he should stay here: that he is no burden.

Eumaeus confirms that Odysseus’ mother died grieving for her son and that Odysseus’ father Laertes has aged considerably from his suffering. He tells at length his own story of how he came to serve in Ithaca.

Meanwhile, Telemachus and crew arrive back home. The prophet, Theoclymenus, wonders where he should stay, and Telemachus apologizes for the current situation precluding his ability to offer sufficient hospitality. Another bird omen appears: a hawk ripping out a dove’s feathers. This is taken as a good sign for the royal line, and Telemachus takes off towards the swineherd’s shack.

Odyssey: Book 16
Odyssey Index