Odysseus: Guise Of A Mortal Man Essay, Research Paper
‘?You! You chameleon! / Bottomless bag of tricks! Here in your own country / would you not give your stratagems a rest / or stop spellbinding for an instant?’ (Homer, XIII, 345-48) This exchange between the Grey Eyed Goddess Athena marks Odysseus’ return to his homeland of Ithaca, and spells doom for the Suitors. But it is also the embodiment of what Odysseus is. His guile and wit are compared many times to the great gods of Olympus. And it is these skills as a deceiver that allow him to conduct surveys of his people in secrecy, and ultimately save his life.
Upon his return to Ithaca, Odysseus met up with a stranger upon its shores. Not trusting his surroundings he concealed his identity, little did he know that the Grey Eyed Goddess Athena was the one he had encountered. After an exchange of deception Athena made herself known, telling Odysseus of the evils of the suitors and their siege upon his castle. At this she tells him of a plan, a plan to test the loyalties of his servants and his home. Athena disguises Odysseus as an old beggar, making his cloths tattered, and his skin leathery. And tells him to venture inland to the home of the swineherd, Eumaios. Here he begins his trials of the people of Ithaca, testing their worth.
Eumaios, also referred to as ‘O my swineherd’ by Homer, is an old and faithful servant to the house of Odysseus. He tends to his swine along with a few young hands. Daily he is required to send his best hogs to the manor to feed the gluttonous suitors that eat away at Odysseus’ home and stores.
On the eve of Odysseus’ return Eumaios was tending his herd as he had done countless nights before, when an old man appeared on his land. ‘Twas Odysseus shrouded in the beggar skin given to him by Athena. Upon his arrival the herd hounds charged the stranger. Odysseus, seeing his first opportunity to test one of his subjects, merely sits on the ground, welcoming the onslaught. Eumaios, seeing the stranger in peril, jumped to his feet and threw stones and the baying hounds. After some brief questioning on the part of Eumaios, he offers Odysseus a seat by his fire to eat and drink to his hearts content. During this dining Odysseus and Eumaios take turns questioning one another. Odysseus, through this dialog, determines that Eumaios is a loyal servant, and a valuable ally in the fight against the suitors. Together they talk the night away, telling tales of times forgotten, until sweet sleep cast its spell on them both.
Meanwhile, dancing Athena turned south to the land of Lakedaimon in search of Odysseus’ son, Telemakos. Telemakos, at the prompting of Athena, had traveled abroad looking answers concerning the fate of his father. But after speaking with King Menelaos he was bid to bed down in his castle for a night to rest his bones. But Athena came to him, instructing him to return home, for his mother had chosen a suitor to marry, although this was a lie to stir in him the desire to return home. She also warns him of the suitors plot to intercept his cutter and destroy him on his voyage home.
After a few urgent words from Telemakos the great king Menelaos allowed him to depart, but insists that he return with gifts a-plenty. On the trip home Telemakos has his crew drop him off on the far shores of Ithaca, to avoid the ambush the suitors had set. The Grey Eyed Goddess Athena instructed Telemakos to first return to the swineherd Eumaios’ cabin, and bed there for a night to avoid the watchful eyes of the suitors. It is here that Telemakos first meets his father in beggar disguise.
Seeing his son enter the cabin, Odysseus could barley contain his emotions. But he set his mind to scheming again, ever vigilant and wary. When Telemakos entered he stood to test his hospitality. Telemakos, seeing the old beggar stand, immediately motioned for him to sit and offered him meat and drink. Odysseus’ heart swelled with pride seeing his young son turn into the man standing before him. But Telemakos was lacking spirit. He was fawning in the shadow of the suitors so Odysseus and the Grey Eyed Goddess Athena attempted to rouse his anger. Odysseus steps forward:
‘?All that you say
gives me an inward wound as I sit listening.
I mean this wanton game they play, these fellows [suitors],
riding roughshod over you in your own house,
Admirable as you are. But tell me,
are you resigned to being bled? The townsmen,
stirred up against you, are they, by some oracle?’
(Homer, XVI, 99-105)
At this the great Odysseus leaves the room, beckoned by Pallas Athena to the outdoors. Here she restores him to his kingly self, so he may reveal his identity to his son. Telemakos had sent Eumaios on an errand to the city, leaving him alone for the return of his father. After some doubt, Telemakos accepts Odysseus for who he is, from there they begin to plot the destruction of the suitors. But Athena convinces Odysseus to retain his beggar for so that he may still test his peasants.
The next day Eumaios led Odysseus to town so he could ‘beg’ from the townsfolk. On their way to the castle they encountered Melanthios, the cowherd. Long ago he had decided to join forces with the suitors, forsaking his king and queen. His lack of honor shows itself in this encounter with Eumaios and Odysseus. He starts by slinging insults at the old beggar and swineherd, poking fun at his frail frame and soiled rags. When he got no reaction from Odysseus he kicked at his hindquarters, laughing all the way. Odysseus, being a man of great patience, held his tongue but secretly plotted his demise along with the rest of the foul suitors.
Once they had arrived in town Odysseus went to work in his own great hall where the shameless suitors sat, devouring his stores. Here Odysseus sat in the door jam, observing the wicked men while they ate. Athena came to his side:
‘Yes, try the suitors.
You may collect a few more loaves, and learn
Who are the decent lads, and who are the vicious-
Although not one can be excused from death!’
(Homer, XVII, 417-20)
So he went among the suitors, begging bread and meat, seeing how they would receive a pauper. He picked and prodded through the men, taking what he could get, telling his sad tale to all that would listen. Soon he approached Antinoos, leader of the pack of scavengers. As before, he politely begged to sire, telling his tale, waiting to see the swine’s reaction. Halfway through his story Antinoos cut him off, shaming him back to the entryway from which he came. As he withdrew Odysseus let fly a few harsh words about the young suitors manners. Antinoos, being the little man that he was, let fly his stool, striking Odysseus in the back. Odysseus never budged, but only shook his head, murderous thoughts overtaking him.
There in the court entryway he plotted, but was soon interrupted by a newcomer, Iros was his name. He challenged Odysseus for the rights to the suitors’ spoils, a prospect that greatly amused them. They crowded round to watch the two tramps duke it out. A prize of blood pudding and a seat with the suitors was offered to the winner of the bout. Odysseus, being the kingly man that he was, gave the beggar a chance to step down humbly. But the foolish Iros spat boisterous words in his face. Shaking his head, Odysseus soundly thrashed the portly beggar, earning himself a seat with the suitors, drawing them closer to his death grip.
After an evening a feasting the suitors retired to their estates, leaving Odysseus to sleep in the on the slab of the entryway. But Penelope, anxious to hear news of her long lost husband, summoned him at Eumaios’ prompting. Odysseus heeded her call, and sat with her next to the fire. Here she questions him. She asks of his origins, and how he came to be on Ithaca. Penelope, being the inquisitive woman that she was, tested Odysseus to see if his story would hold true. It did and Odysseus, master spinner of tales, told her not to worry Odysseus’ return was at hand. Although she was in tears, there was much gratitude in her heart. She ordered a new tunic and sandals for the old beggar. And sent for a maid to wash his feet. But, being the sly man that he was, Odysseus found in this another opportunity to test his subjects. He called out to Penelope, imploring her not to lavish him with such gifts. He would accept a footbath, but only if it were by a maid that would equal his own age, knowing full well whom Penelope would send.
Eurykleia, the eldest of Odysseus servant maids, and like a grandmother to Telemakos, brought the basin to wash the old mans feet. He listened to her pains as she spoke of her lost lord and the horrible siege of the suitors. He hushed her, and prompted her to continue with the bath. But just as Eurykleia began, Odysseus realized the scar on his leg. It would give him away sure enough if she laid eyes on it. But it was inevitable, she saw the scar and recognized him immediately. But Odysseus caught her tongue before she could cry out. To give away his identity now would spoil his plans of revenge. So from henceforth he used Eurykleia to advance his plans of destruction. He commanded her to reveal the whores, who had conspired with the suitors, so he may deal them their fate after he had dispatched the foul suitors
The next morning the suitors returned, as they had for the last three years, to devour the good of Odysseus’ house. But the trap had been set; the suitors were just cattle being led to the slaughter. Pallas Athena was there, standing by Odysseus’ side, hungry for battle. Odysseus, after laying his hands on his great bow began to lay waste to the suitors. Telemakos, Eumaios, and the cowherd assisted him by barring the suitors in the court. Telemakos hid the arms, leaving only enough for the four brave warriors. The first to fall was Antinoos, an arrow buried feather deep in his neck. The day was bathed in the blood of Odysseus’ enemies. Every suitor fell, all 108 of them, to the hands of the four patriots and the great goddess Athena.
After the slaughter, Odysseus had Eurykleia round up the treacherous whores, making them clean the death from the room. Afterwards they were hung the most dishonorable death one can be granted. Melanthios, after being captured, was ritually dismembered and left for the dogs and birds to devour. One last trial still loomed ahead of the great hero Odysseus, his loving and mournful wife. His wits had one last test before he could truly be home.
Eurykleia rushed to Penelope’s bedchamber, bringing news of her husband’s return and of the suitor’s deaths. But, deep in her grief, Penelope would not hear it. She cursed her nursemaid for spouting such notions to make her heart ache. But in the doorway he appeared. Athena, making him young and shining Odysseus once more, left his side to great Olympus. But Penelope would still not take this image of Odysseus, ’twas a god in disguise, here to play with her emotions. But Odysseus, being fleet of mind, spoke quickly of the secret they both held. The bedpost, the bedpost was the key. For Odysseus had built the bedchamber around an old Olive tree. Using its powerful trunk as the support for the room. At hearing this Penelope rejoiced, her love, her lord, had finally returned.
Homer, The Odyssey, Trans. Robert Fagels, Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Editor: Manord Mack, 6th Edition, Vol. 1, Publisher: Norton 1992, 208-540