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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 24: WARRIORS, FAREWELL

NOTE: The pace changes again. Instead of staying with Odysseus, Homer shifts the scene to Hades where the dead suitors are arriving, squeaking like bats.

The suitors are no longer interesting, not compared to the heroes Akhilleus and Agamemnon whose ghosts are also in Hades. Akhilleus tells Agamemnon that he should have had a glorious death at Troy, whereupon Agamemnon describes Akhilleus' own funeral to him. It was quite an occasion, what with his goddess mother's arrival, the funeral pyre, the mingling of his bones with those of his best friend, Patroklos, the heaped-up tomb, and funeral games. Its pomp and glory contrast with Agamemnon's ignominious ending. Without saying it directly, Homer makes you aware that Odysseus could have had either of these two fates.

But after a stormy period from roughly ages twenty-five to forty-five, he has been chosen to live to a serene old age, knowing domestic happiness and kingly peace. Agamemnon is not petty about his friend's good fortune. When he questions one of the suitors and hears about Odysseus' homecoming, he is jubilant that Penelope was faithful and that Odysseus succeeded where he failed.



In the meantime Odysseus and his friends reach the country. While the others have breakfast at a farmhouse, Odysseus goes to find his father. Laertes is dressed in workman's clothes, cultivating the earth around a young fruit tree. Should Odysseus run to him or test him first? By now you know Odysseus well enough to predict what he will do. As usual he tells a false story, in which he claims to have met Odysseus. But when he sees his suffering father put a handful of dust on his head as a sign of grief and despair, he can hold back no longer and tells Laertes who he is. His scar is one proof, but a stronger proof is his memory of the precise number of pear, apple, and fig trees that Laertes planted for him years ago. Knowing his son at last, Laertes nearly faints and clutches Odysseus for support.

Laertes worries that the Ithakans will want revenge for the deaths of the suitors. Back at the farmhouse Laertes is bathed and dressed in new clothes more suitable for his rank. Athena makes him look young and vigorous.

While the people at the farmhouse eat at midday (Homer keeps careful track of meals), the relatives of the suitors hold an assembly. The father of Antinoos, Eupeithes, wants a bloody revenge. Medon tells the citizens that Odysseus was aided by a god. Halitherses, Odysseus' old friend, says, "You would not control your sons," you brought this on yourselves. Observing from Mount Olympos, Athena asks Zeus if this discord will go on forever. It could. Wars lasting generations have started over less.

But Zeus wants this quarrel to end. Odysseus' honor is satisfied. He will be king by a pact sworn forever, and the gods will blot out the memory of the slain sons and brothers.

So Athena goes to the farmhouse to warn Odysseus. As the angry crowd approaches, Odysseus challenges Telemakhos to manly fighting, and Telemakhos says, in effect, "Let me at 'em." He's no longer the wistful boy you saw in Book 1. Laertes delights at hearing his son and grandson spar with each other.

As the citizens appear, Athena urges Laertes to throw his spear, killing Eupeithes. Odysseus and his men attack, and more blood would have been spilled had Athena not stopped the fight. When she appears before them, the townspeople flee. Odysseus is about to pursue them when Zeus throws a thunderbolt: No more. Later a peace pact is sworn to by all parties, under the guidance of Athena.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer
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