Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 17

“When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more” (17.1), Telemachus goes home. Penelope emerges, “looking for all the world like Artemis or golden Aphrodite” (17.37). Telemachus tells her to offer a sacrifice to Zeus; he seems more mature and confident now. He recounts his travels, summarizing what we read in Book 4. The seer Theoclymenus seconds Telemachus’ reassurance that Odysseus will soon appear.

Meanwhile, Eumaeus and the disguised Odysseus head toward town. The cross paths with Melanthius (Laertes’ steward Dolius’ son), who is herding goats for the suitors’ gluttony. He sneers: “Look! … one scum nosing another scum along, / dirt finds dirt by the will of god — it never fails! / Wretched pig-boy, where do you take your filthy swine, / this sickening beggar who licks the pots at feasts?” (17.236-239). He gives Odysseus a kick. “Odysseus was torn … / should he wheel with his staff and beat the scoundrel senseless? — / or hoist him by the midriff, split his skull on the rocks?” (17.257-259). Decisions, decisions. Of course he does neither, but maintains self-control.

Odysseus and Eumaeus approach Odysseus’ palace. “Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there / lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears … / It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus’ dog / he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got / since all too soon he shipped to sacred Troy. / … / Bot now with his master gone he lay there, castaway, / on piles of dung from mules and cattle, heaps collecting / … / Infested with ticks, half-dead from neglect, / here lay the hound, old Argos. / But the moment he sense Odysseus standing by / he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped, / though he had no strength to drag himself an inch / toward his master. Odysseus glanced to the side / and flicked away a tear, hiding it from Eumaeus, / … / But the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos’ eyes / the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away” (17.317-360).

Antinous rails at Eumaeus for dragging in the beggar. Odysseus acts humbly, but Antinous heaves a stool at Odysseus, who is hit but does not stagger. Some of the other suitors think Antinous has gone too far: “Your fate is sealed if he’s some god from the blue. / And the gods do take on the look of strangers / dropping in from abroad –” (17.533-535). Telemachus is seething; Penelope curses Antinous, considering him the very worst of the entire bad lot. She tells Eumaeus she would like to speak with the beggar.

Odyssey: Book 18
Odyssey Index