Eurykleia announces to Penelope of her husband’s return, yet Penelope calls her crazy and laments that she is torturing her. Eurykleia claims she is speaking the truth; Penelope believes, then does not believe her again. When she descends and sees Odysseus, she produces the same pattern of vacillating feelings, until Odysses produces knowledge of the construction of their bed, the frame built around an olive tree, and her resistance crumbles as she throws herself into his arms. She confesses that she had always been afraid of tricks from the suitors and that was the reason she felt it necessary to always keep her guard up. They go to bed, make love, then afterwards fall into conversation, as Odysseus tells her of the prophecy of Teiresias and of the stories of his voyage home. Waking in the morning, he informs her that he is going to visit his father on his estate, but he is also concerned that a rumour of the death of the suitors may have spread and instructs her to stay in her upper chamber. He leaves with Telemachos, the swine and oxherd, and as they leave the city, Athene covers them in darkness.
What a lovely reunion between Odysseus and his wife! Although she oscillates between disbelief and belief, I think her reaction is sincere; she truly has been afraid of tricks from the suitors, yet her dearest wish is for her husband to return home. Her greatest wish and her greatest fear together vie for supremacy in her mind, and is it no wonder that she cannot reconcile her feelings and make a reasonable judgement?
Odysseus' plan for the murder of the suitors, again shows his wily reasoning. He also had devised a plan if anyone questioned the noise coming from the palace:
“So I will tell you they way of it, how it seems best to me. First, all go and wash, and put your tunics upon you, and tell the women in the palace to choose out their clothing. Then let the inspired singer take his clear-sounding lyre, and give us the lead for festive dance, so that anyone who is outside, some one of the neighbours, or a person going along the street, who hears us, will think we are having a wedding. Let no rumour go abroad in the town that the suitors have been murdered, until such time as we can make our way out to our estate with its many trees, and once there see what profitable plan the Olympians show us.”
Penelope & Euryclea
Angelica Kauffman 1772
source Wikimedia Commons
Hermes summons the souls of the suitors and “they followed, gibbering,” as he leads them to Hades. There, a number of Greek heroes appear, including Achilles and Agamemnon. Achilles laments that Agamemnon was cut down in the prime of his life and experienced a “death most pitiful”, when he could have died in the land of the Trojans. Agememnon reciprocates with a narrative of the funeral of Achilles. When they see the souls of the suitors, they are astounded, and Agamemnon questions Amphimedon, who appears to give an accurate accounting, but puts the blame on Penelope for her “planning out death and black destruction.” He also criticizes Odysseus' treatment of them after their death. Amusingly, after Amphimedon’s elaborately long story, Agamemnon only remarks on the wonderful loyalty of Penelope. As this is happening, Odysseus and his company arrive at his estate and find his father in the orchard. Odysseus ponders whether to announce himself outright, or “to make a trial of him and speak in words of mockery.” He decides the latter. Chiding his father for his ragged appearance, he then pretends that he has encountered Odysseus in another country, and offers another extravagant lie as to his history. When his father begins to groan and lament, he finally reveals himself. Laertes, like Penelope, is at first sceptical, whereupon Odysseus shows him his scar. His father hugs him with joy but then expresses fear at repercussions that must come because of Odysseus' actions. They go into the house where Laertes is bathed and anointed, then appearing like an immortal god; he laments he did not take part in the battle against the suitors with his son. Meanwhile “rumour” is flying through the city and Eupeithes, the father of Antinoös calls for revenge, yet Medon says that Odysseus' conduct was with the approval of the gods, throwing fear into the assembly. Halitherses reasons that the suitors' own actions brought on the terrible tragedy, bringing half the crowd to his side. Athene asks Zeus for advice and he judges that Odysseus’ actions were proper, and that it is time for friendship and peace. Athene flies down in the form of Mentor, as Odysseus sees men approaching the estate and cautions Telemachos not to “shame the blood of your fathers.” Athene gives Laertes an uncommon strength and he is able to throw his spear right through the helmet of Eupeithes. The parties fall to fighting until Athene stops them, calling for a cessation from “wearisome fighting” and claiming that “without blood, you can settle anything.” Recognizing the goddess, the men flee towards the city. Odysseus makes to follow, but Zeus throws down a thunderbolt and Athene commands him to stop the quarrelling. So pledges were sworn on both sides, settled by Athene, and we can assume Odysseus lived and prospered until his death, as foretold by the prophecy of Teiresias.
Fame and Glory
The conversation between Achilles and Agamemnon were contrasting an ignoble death vs. a noble one. Achilles had fought and died bravely at Troy, and therefore he was buried with honour and ceremony, and his name is still remembered. Conversely, Agamemnon died a shameful death, struck down covertly by his wife’s lover, and his body was not treated properly after burial. It seems that in Hades, his only concern is the loyalty or disloyalty of women
Will the deception of Odysseus never end? I could not believe he chose to tease and “play with” his father, after all the poor old man had been through. However, he called his actions a “trial” so perhaps he felt he still needed to establish the loyalty of whoever knew is true identity.
|The Palace of Ulysses|
source Wikimedia Commons