Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 18

“Now along came this tramp, this public nuisance / who used to scrounge a living round the streets of Ithaca — / notorious for his belly, a ravenous, bottomless pit / for food and drink, but he had no pith, no brawn, / despite the looming hulk that met your eyes. / Arnaeus was his name” (18.1-6), Irus for short. He hurls abuse at Odysseus as an intruder on his beggar’s fiefdom. Odysseus is controlled but does threaten to beat him up. The fight is on, and the suitors think this is great grotesque fun. Odysseus wonders, “should he knock him senseless, leave him dead where he dropped / or just stretch him out on the ground with a light jab?” (18.105-106). As Irus punches, Odysseus smashes his neck below the ear. Blood spurts out of Irus’ mouth, and Odysseus heaves him out across the yard, propping him against a courtyard wall. Odysseus is rewarded with food. One fellow is especially kind: “Amphinomus, you seem like a man of good sense to me. / Just like your father — at least I’ve heard his praises, / … / You’re his son, they say, you seem well-spoken, too. / So I will tell you something. Listen. Listen closely. / Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth, / our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man. / So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees, / he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years. / But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times, / bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart. / Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth, / turn as the days turn” (18.145-157). Odysseus says there will be hell to pay, though he is taking this guy somewhat into his confidence; and the poet notes that he will be killed by Telemachus.

Athena inspires Penelope to rile up the suitors, partly it seems to motivate Odysseus and Telemachus more so. The goddess also magnifies her beauty. Penelope is displeased by the treatment of the beggar (Odysseus). Telemachus notes that at the moment there’s not much he can do against so many suitors. Penelope proposes that the suitors bring forth gifts, and “Staunch Odysseus glowed with joy to hear all this — / his wife’s trickery luring gifts from her suitors now, / enchanting their hearts with suave seductive words / but all the while with something else in mind” (18.316-319). The suitors announce that they will not depart until she marries one of them, but they can send pages to fetch gifts from their respective homes. They present fine clothes and jewelry.

One of Penelope’s maids, Melantho, has grown arrogant, being Eurymachus’ lover. She mocks the disguised Odysseus, who responds, “You wait, / you bitch…. / I’ll go straight to the prince with your foul talk. / The prince will chop you to pieces here and now!” (18.380-383). Athena secretly spurs on the suitors to increase their insults as further motivation for Odysseus. Eurymachus heaves another stool at Odysseus, but this time Odysseus ducks and a wine-steward gets clipped. Telemachus impresses them all with his diatribe against them, calling them idiots.

Odyssey: Book 19
Odyssey Index