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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 22: DEATH IN THE GREAT HALL

Odysseus positions himself in front of the only doorway, pours the arrows out of the quiver into a pile at his feet, and shoots Antinoos. Antinoos is drinking with his head tipped back when he's hit: "Odysseus' arrow hit him under the chin and punched up to the feathers through his throat." "Did he dream of death?" Homer asks. "How could he?" Antinoos' nostrils spurt blood and in his death throes he kicks over his table, knocking his meat and bread to the ground "to soak in dusty blood." It's a graphic description, like those in The Iliad, where many deaths in battle are shown in similar detail.

The suitors think the shot that killed Antinoos was accidental. Not so. Odysseus reveals his identity and states their crimes against him. This is his moment. Anyone who has ever wished to get revenge on enemies can understand why the hero's adrenalin is starting to pump. The suitors hunt for an exit, and Eurymakhos tries to bargain with Odysseus, but Odysseus will not compromise. No one will escape. Eurymakhos rallies the suitors, telling them to grab their swords, and rush Odysseus.



Eurymakhos attacks first, but Odysseus stops him with an arrow. Amphinomos comes running at him next. As predicted, Telemakhos kills him with a spear. It hurts to see Amphinomos die. Then Odysseus holds off the suitors while Telemakhos runs to the storeroom for armor and weapons. While the two servants and Telemakhos equip themselves, Odysseus keeps shooting. He does not waste one arrow.

The suitors are dwindling fast. Melanthios volunteers to climb the wall and fetch weapons from the storeroom. When Odysseus sees what's afoot, he sends the two servants to catch Melanthios and hang him from the storeroom rafters.

The four now face forty remaining men. Athena appears briefly to give them courage. She spurs Odysseus on, even taunts him, then disappears in the form of a swallow. Agelaos now leads the suitors, and his strategy is to get Odysseus. He has six of them aim at him at once, but Athena makes the shots miss. The four, however, throw their lances and kill four suitors, then rush to take the fallen men's spears while the suitors retreat. The suitors take aim and throw again, but Athena interferes once more, though just to make the fight seem fair, Homer tells us that Telemakhos gets a superficial wound on the wrist and Eumaios' shoulder gets grazed. Again the four successfully hurl their spears. The cowherd hits Ktesippos, the man who threw the cow's foot at Odysseus.

At this point the aegis, Athena's shield, appears aloft in the courtyard and terrifies the suitors, who begin to run wildly and beg for mercy. Odysseus kills Leodes despite his pleas, but he sends Medon, the crier, and Phemios, the bard, outside to safety. All of the suitors now lie dead, like a pile of fish poured from a net. Odysseus sends for Eurykleia. When she sees him covered with blood, she begins to exult, but he stops her. "To glory over slain men is no piety," he says. He asks her to separate the righteous from the wicked maids. The corrupt ones are made to haul out the dead and scrub down the hall. Telemakhos and the cowherd scrape the earth with hoes, but the women have to carry out the blood-soaked mud. Then Telemakhos and the cowherd hang the twelve disloyal maids: "Their feet danced for a little, but not long."

Melanthios is brought from the storeroom and killed by mutilation. His nose, ears, genitals, hands and feet are cut off. The smoke from fire and burning brimstone (sulfur) are used to purify the courtyard. The four victors wash their bloody hands and feet. Eurykleia calls the loyal maids. The servants welcome Odysseus, kiss him, and cry. The chapter ends with the revenge complete.

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