Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 22

Odysseus shouts, “Look — your crucial test is finished, now, at last! / But another target’s left that no one’s hit before — / we’ll see if I can hit it — Apollo give me glory!” (22.5-7). The target is Antinous, distracted by his wine-guzzling.

[In a 1997 film version of The Odyssey, Antinous shouts at Odysseus, “Wait, wait. What is our crime? We treated your wife as a queen. We lived off your land, but that can be replaced. We did not kill anyone.” “Your crime is that you tried to steal my world, the world I built with my hands, and my sweat, and my blood, the world I shared with a woman who bore me my son; and no one will ever take that from me. Now you will die to a man in a river of blood.”]

In the original, Antinous is first, gettng an arrow through his neck; blood spurts through his nostrils; his foot jerks, sending food through puddles of “bloody filth” (22.21). The others panic, trying to tell themselves that this kill happened by chance. Odysseus announces his identity and their doom. “Terror gripped them all, blanched their faces white” (22.43). (A different translation tells us “sickly green fear pulled at their entrails.”) Eurymachus tries to scapegoat the dead Antinous: he got what he deserved for inciting us all to overrun the place. But spare us. We’ll restore the losses with a tax on other people. No deal.

It’s a bloodbath. Odysseus shoots suitors’ livers while Telemachus spears their guts. Telemachus also retrieves more weapons. The traitorous goatherd Melanthius fetches the suitors from the storeroom some arms. Eumaeus spots the guy sneaking back for more and tells Odysseus, who instructs that Melanthius be hoisted to the rafters with his arms and legs lashed behind him: “let him dangle in agony, still alive, / for a good long time!” (22.185-186). Good servants vs. the bad one, they carry out these orders.

Athena disguised as Mentor enters the fray. When a suitor insults whom he thinks is Odysseus’ friend, Athena gives Odysseus a rousing pep talk but continues to make him and his son prove their bravery. She does deflect shots fired at Odysseus though. After much further slaughter, a prophet tries to appeal to Odysseus sense of mercy, saying that he tried to restrain the suitors. Odysseus isn’t buying it and decapitates him. The bard who sang for the suitors is the only one left alive and also appeals to Odysseus. Telemachus intervenes on his behalf, and he is spared.

Odysseus makes sure no one escaped. Telemachus calls out Eurycleia. Of fifty women serving in the house, twelve “went tramping to their shame” (22.449). They are to be put to work cleaning up the mess of corpses and gore, then, “once you’ve put the entire house in order, / march the women out of the great hall — between / the roundhouse and the courtyard’s strong stockade — / and hack them with your swords, slash out all their lives — / blot out of their minds the joys of love they relished / under the suitors’ bodies, rutting on the sly” (22.466-470). The women do haul and stack the corpses, gather up the guts and cart it all outside, and scrub down the hall. They they are hanged. Melanthius, who has been hanging all this time, is hauled out where his nose and ears are lopped off; and they “tore his genitals out for the dogs to eat raw / and in manic fury hacked off hands and feet” (22.503-504).

Time to wash up. Odysseus has Eurycleia fumigate the place before calling in Penelope and her women. The nurse wants to get Odysseus some better clothes than the rags he’s still in, but first things first. The women gather around Odysseus enthusiastically; he is overcome, breaks down and weeps.

Odyssey: Book 23
Odyssey Index