The Odyssey Books 19-24


Book 19 Summary

  • Odysseus and Telemachus hide the weapons, and the only person Telemachus tells is Eurycleia. Penelope comes down and wants to speak to the beggar. Melantho abuses him again and Penelope hears, and the maid is rebuked by both Odysseus and Penelope.
  • Odysseus is given a seat next to Penelope and she asks about his background. At first he won't tell her, but eventually he says he is a Cretan Prince who has lost all his fortune and who once entertained Odysseus. To test if he is telling the truth, Penelope asks him to describe Odysseus' clothes and the people with him. He does this and she believes him and cries.
  • Odysseus tells her that Odysseus will be home soon and that he is in Thesprotia. Penelope says a maid will wash his feet, but he says he will only let them be washed by an old woman who has suffered like he has. Penelope calls Eurycleia.
  • Odysseus turns his chair towards the darkness so Eurycleia won't see his scar, which he got as a child at his grandfather's estate. Eurycleia says how much he looks like Odysseus, and when she touches the scar she drops his foot. He threatens to kill her if she tells anyone.
  • Penelope asks him whether she should remarry or not. She says she had a dream in which an eagle killed her geese and then told her this was what Odysseus would do to her Suitors.
  • Penelope says she is going to make the Suitors try to string an arrow through the twelve rings of Odysseus' axes and that she will marry the winner. She goes upstairs to bed.
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Book 19 Quotes

Slaves: "I won't spare you, though you're my own nurse"

Narrative techniques (retardation): The passage about Autolycus

Heroes: "Not a man alive can rival him"

Kleos: "Not a man alive can rival him"

Narrative techniques (dramatic irony): "No doubt Odysseus' hands and feet are like our guest's by now, for people age quickly in misfortune"

Dolos: "No doubt Odysseus' hands and feet are like our guest's by now, for people age quickly in misfortune"

Xenia: "My maids, wash our guest and spread a bed for him"

Women: "She wept for Odysseus, her beloved husband, till Athene shed sweet sleep on her eyelids"

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Book 20 Summary

  • Odysseus can't sleep, and Athene appears, telling him to trust her. She puts him to sleep, and at the same moment Penelope wakes up, and prays to Artemis to kill her. She laments until dawn, when Odysseus wakes up and hears her.
  • He asks Zeus for an omen from someone in the palace and also from outside. Zeus sends a peal of thunder in the starry sky, and a woman from the mill in the palace recognises it as Zeus and says she wishes today will be the last day the Suitors eat in the palace.
  • Eurycleia sets the maids to work. Eumaeus brings some pigs to the palace, and greets Odysseus. Melanthius brings some goats and abuses him again. Philoetius brings some cows and says how much the beggar looks like Odysseus. He says he would help Odysseus if he were to come back and kill the Suitors.
  • An omen of an eagle carrying a dove in its talons tells the Suitors that their plan to kill Telemachus won't work, so they start their feast. It is a festival day in the town.
  • Telemachus gives Odysseus food and warns the Suitors not to be violent. They are angry about this, and Ctesippus, one of the Suitors throws a cow's hoof at Odysseus who dodges it.
  • Telemachus says he would have killed him if it had hit Odysseus. Agelaus tells Telemachus to make his mother remarry. Athene makes the Suitors laugh at everyone else, and stains them and the room with blood. Theoclymenus prophesies their deaths, and leaves.
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Book 20 Quotes

Women: "That would be just like my mother, who for all her wisdom is far too ready to make much of a lesser man and send a better man packing"

Slaves: "The excellent Eurycleia"

Narrative techniques (foreshadowing): "Your heads, your faces and your knees are veiled in night"

The power of fate: "Their laughing faces took on a strained and alien look. Blood was spattered on the food they ate. Their eyes were filled with tears, their hearts with forebodings of grief"

Supernatural: "Their laughing faces took on a strained and alien look. Blood was spattered on the food they ate. Their eyes were filled with tears, their hearts with forebodings of grief"

Heroes: "I have learned to use my brains by now and to know right from wrong: my childhood is a thing of the past"

Kleos: "Here's a sigh for Odysseus, that marvellous man"

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Book 21 Summary

  • Penelope goes to get the bow, and weeps when she sees it. He had been given the bow by Iphitus. She gives the bow to Eumaeus to hand to the Suitors.
  • Eumaeus and Philoetius start to cry, and are abused by the Suitors. Telemachus sets up the axes himself in a skilful way. He tries to string the bow, but Odysseus stops him before he can.
  • Leodes tries to string it but his hands are too delicate. Melanthius makes a fire so the Suitors can try to warm and grease the bow to make it easier. Eumaeus and Philoetius go outside.
  • Odysseus follows them and asks whether they would help Odysseus kill the Suitors or not, and they say they would. He reveals his identity to them, showing them his scar, and they all weep.
  • Odysseus gives them orders and they return inside. Eurymachus can't string the bow. Antinous says they should stop because it is a festival and feast instead.
  • Odysseus asks to try and string the bow to see how supple his hands are. They are outraged, and Penelope says she will give him gifts if he can string it and shoot through the axes. 
  • Telemachus sends his mother upstairs, and Eumaeus gives Odysseus the bow, despite threats from the Suitors. Eurycleia is told to lock the women in their quarters and Philoetius locks the courtyard door.
  • Odysseus strings the bow without difficulty and shoots through the axes while sat down. Telemachus arms himself and stands by his side.
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Book 21 Quotes

Women: "The bow is the men's concern, and mine above all; for I am master in this house"

Kleos: "There's not a man in this whole company like Odysseus"

Narrative techniques (foreshadowing): "The colour faded from their cheeks; and to mark the moment there came a thunderclap from Zeus"

The power of fate: "The colour faded from their cheeks; and to mark the moment there came a thunderclap from Zeus"

Slaves: "Eumaeus burst into tears, and the cowman beyond him also began sobbing when he saw his master's bow"

Justice and revenge: "The rest, which the Achaean lords were soon to experience, were still inside their hollow quiver"

Heroes: "He strung the great bow without effort or haste"

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Book 22 Summary

  • Odysseus shoots Antinous. He reveals himself to the Suitors, and Eurymachus tries to talk him round and then rally the Suitors to fight but he is also shot by Odysseus.
  • Telemachus kills Amphinomus, and then goes to get weapons and armour for the four of them.
  • Melanthius gets armour for the Suitors, and Odysseus sends Eumaeus and Philoetius to tie him up and leave him hanging in the storeroom. They do this, and then Athene appears as Mentor.
  • Odysseus has an idea that it is her, and he appeals to Mentor to help him. The Suitors say they will kill Mentor and have his estate if he doesn't help them, which angers Athene.
  • Athene gives more courage to Odysseus and his men, and makes the spears of the Suitors miss their targets. They kill them all. The cowherd ironically kills Ctesippus, who threw the cow-hoof at Odysseus earlier. Leodes begs for his life but Odysseus kills him as he was unloyal.
  • Phemius the minstrel now begs mercy from Odysseus, and Telemachus insists that he is spared, and Medon the herald. Odysseus spares them both and tells them to leave the hall.
  • Odysseus tells Eurycleia to bring the unfaithful maids, and she does. They are made to clear out the bodies and clean up the hall with the men. Odysseus had told the others to kill them with swords, but Telemachus hangs them instead to deny them a good death.
  • Eurycleia wants to wake Penelope, but Odysseus won't let her and tells her to light a fire to purify the house. This she does and the other maids come out and embrace Odysseus.
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Book 22 Quotes

Narrative techniques (imagery): "His life-blood gushed from his nostrils in a turbid jet"

The power of fate: "It had not dawned upon the fools that the fate of all of them was sealed"

Narrative techniques (irony/poetic justice): "Take that in return for the cow's hoof you gave godlike Odysseus when he begged in the hall"

Justice and revenge: "Take that in return for the cow's hoof you gave godlike Odysseus when he begged in the hall"

Heroes: "The others won't count, once he has fallen"

Kleos: "The others won't count, once he has fallen"

Narrative techniques (Homeric simile): "Lying in heaps in the blood and dust, like fish that the fishermen have dragged out of the grey surf in the meshes of their net"

Gods: "I'll have no cries of triumph here. It is an impious thing to exult over the slain"

Narrative techniques (Homeric simile): "Spattered with blood and gore, like a lion when he comes from feeding on some farmer's bullocks"

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Book 23 Summary

  • Eurycleia tells Penelope that Odysseus is home, that he was the old beggar, and that has killed the Suitors, but she won't believe her. She eventually agrees to go downstairs and see who has killed the Suitors, although by this time she secretly believes that Odysseus is back.
  • She sits opposite Odysseus, and Telemachus rebukes her for not saying anything. Odysseus tells him to leave them in private so they can talk. He follows Odysseus' orders to make the servants dance as though there is a wedding to prevent news of the Suitors' deaths spreading.
  • Odysseus is bathed by the housekeeper, and Athene makes him handsome. Odysseus and Penelope call each other strange and then Penelope tells Eurycleia to move the bed and make it up. Odysseus is furious that his bed has been moved and details how he made it.
  • Penelope believes it's him because he has passed this test, and she cuddles him and weeps. Athene holds back Dawn so that night can drag on while they talk. Odysseus tells her about the task he has yet to complete, and they go to bed.
  • Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoetius sleep in the hall. Penelope tells Odysseus everything she suffered, and he does the same. They go to sleep and Athene only lets Dawn come when she is satisfied that they have had enough of each other's company.
  • Odysseus tells Penelope to stay in her quarters with her maids, and then he leaves.
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Book 23 Quotes

Women:"My hard-hearted, unmotherly mother, why do you keep your distance from my father like this?"

Narrative techniques (metaphor/epithet): "The lion-hearted Odysseus"

Heroes:"'Lady!' he cried, 'your words are a knife in my heart! Who has moved my bed? That would be hard even for a skilled workman"

Narrative techniques (stichomythia):"What a strange woman you are! (...) What a strange man you are"

Narrative techniques (pathos/imagery/emotive language): "Her white arms round his neck never quite let go"

Realism and fantasy: "She kept golden-throned Dawn waiting and would not let her yoke the nimble steeds who bring us light"

Narrative techniques (catharsis/anagnorisis/pathos):"At his words her knees began to tremble and her heart melted as she realised that he had given her infallible proof"

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Book 24 Summary

  • Hermes leads the Suitors' ghosts down to Hades. The souls of the dead Greeks are there, and Agamemnon retells Achilles how glorious his death was and how well he was mourned.
  • The Suitors arrive. Agamemnon recognises Amphimedon, and he asks how they all died. 
  • He is told why Odysseus slayed them, and Agamemnon praises Penelope but still says that Clytaemnestra destroyed the reputation of all women when she did what she did.
  • Odysseus and the others reach Laertes' estate, and he tells them to slaughter a pig for the meal while he tests his father, even though it saddens him to see how miserable he is.
  • He asks Laertes who he is, whether he is really in Ithaca, and where he can find Odysseus. Laertes says Odysseus is dead and that he is mourning him, and he asks Odysseus who he is. Odysseus makes a new identity for himself and claims to have hosted Odysseus.
  • Laertes throws dirt over himself in grief and Odysseus can't bear it any more, revealing himself, showing him his scar and saying how many plants Laertes had promised him.
  • They have a meal and the servants greet Odysseus. Rumour spreads, telling people that the Suitors are dead. Eupeithes, Antinous' father, rallies them to exact revenge on Odysseus.
  • Athene asks Zeus what to do, and he tells her to let both sides form a peace treaty and forget about the dead. Both sides reach each other, and Athene tells Laertes to pray to her and throw his spear. He does and it kills Eupeithes. They kill a few more of the people before Athene tells them to stop, and Odysseus is stopped by a warning thunderbolt from Zeus. 
  • The people run away, and peace is established by Athene, still disguised as Mentor.
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Book 24 Quotes

Women: "She has destroyed the reputation of her whole sex, virtuous women and all"

Heroes: "What a day this is to warm my heart! My son and grandson competing in valour!"

Kleos: "The deathless Gods themselves will make a beautiful song for mortal ears in honour of the constant Penelope"

Narrative techniques (retardation/flashback): "For seventeen days and seventeen nights we mourned for you, immortal Gods and mortal men alike"

The power of fate: "Some evil God landed Odysseus out of the blue in a distant corner of his estate"

Gods: "Act as you please, but I will tell you the best way"

Narrative techniques (foreshadowing/dramatic irony): "He saw himself avenging his son's death though he was never to come back alive"

Justice and revenge: "We shall be disgraced even in the eyes of generations yet unborn if we do not avenge ourselves on the murderers of our sons and brothers"

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