Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 16

The swineherd’s dogs recognize Telemachus, and Eumaeus himself tearfully welcomes him back: “As a father, brimming with love, welcomes home / his darling only son in a warm embrace” (16.19-20). Inside, of course, Odysseus is unrecognizable. They all have meat, bread, and wine; and Eumaeus tells Telemachus the stranger’s story — that he comes from Crete, etc. Odysseus then hears, and is outraged by, the state of matters at home with the suitors swilling wine and gorging themselves. Telemachus tells Eumaeus to privately inform Penelope that he has returned.

Athena signals Odysseus aside and tells him now’s the time to reveal his identity to his son so that they can begin planning the suitors’ doom. With her magic wand she transforms him back into himself. Telemachus is awestruck. “Friend, you’re a new man — not what I saw before! / Your clothes, they’ve changed, even your skin has changed — / surely you are some god who rules the vaulting skies!” (16.204-206). Odysseus reveals his identity as father. Telemachus refuses to believe this at first, but Odysseus recounts a bit of how he returned. Then, “Come, give me the full tally of these suitors — / I must know their numbers, gauge their strength. / Then I’ll deploy this old tactician’s wits, / decide if the two of us can take them on, / alone, without allies, / or we should hunt reserves to back us up” (16.265-270). There are many dozens of them. Odysseus knows that Athena will help.

Eumaeus tells Penelope of Telemachus’ return, but the suitors learn of it too and lament underestimating him. Antinous, the worst of the suitors, proposes simply killing Telemachus and dividing up his estates, with the palace alone left for Penelope and whoever she marries. Another suitor advises following the wishes of Zeus. Having learned of the murderous plotting as reported by the herald Medon, Penelope descends and chews out the batch. Another of them, Eurymachus, falsely swears that he will protect the boy. Penelope returns to her bedroom, weeps for Odysseus, and sleeps, thanks to Athena.

Athena transforms Odysseus back into an old beggar before Eumaeus returns, lest he go to Penelope and blurt out this news. The three eat and sleep.


Odyssey: Book 17
Odyssey Index