Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 20

As some of the maids titter amongst themselves as they sneak off to various suitors’ beds, Odysseus remains awake, plotting the deaths of all of them. Raging, Odysseus gives himself a pep talk: he has borne much worse. Athena descends from the sky and counts Odysseus’ blessings for him, but he is concerned about how to slaughter all the suitors.

Penelope wants to die; even her dreams torment her. During the morning activities, a clap of thunder in a clear sky is taken as an lucky omen. The goatherd Melanthius arrives and insults the disguised Odysseus, while a good cowherd, Philoetius, is kind to Odysseus and laments how unbearable the situation has become. Meanwhile, the suitors are plotting again to kill Telemachus, but another bird omen suggests that they will fail in this enterprise and perhaps they should just keep feasting. Telemachus brazenly treats Odysseus with honor in front of them all and takes some mockery for it. Athena indirectly riles up Odysseus by egging on one of the suitors to chuck an ox-hoof at the beggar; but Odysseus ducks. Telemachus tells the suitor it was good that he missed or else he would have had a sharp spear shoved in his bowels and his father would have been busy with the funeral. “Athena set off uncontrollable laughter in the suitors, / crazed them out of their minds — mad, hysterical laughter / seemed to break from the jaws of strangers, not their own, / and the meat they were eating oozed red with blood” (20.385-388). A seer has an ominous vision of tears and fire and a room dripping everywhere with blood. The suitors laugh at him, but he warns them of doom. Penelope is listening to all this, while the suitors get ready for lunch. The poet implies that there will be no supper….

Odyssey: Book 21
Odyssey Index