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Penelope goes to the storeroom to get the famous bow and a quiver of arrows so that the contest may begin. As she does this, the poet interweaves the history of the bow. She appears among the suitors and addresses them, agreeing to marry the one who shall most easily string Odysseus' bow and shoot through all twelve axes. Eumaeus and Philoetius weep on seeing their master's bow, and Antinous rebukes them. Telemachus digs a trench for all the axes. He nearly strings the bow himself but is stopped by a frowning Odysseus.
The suitors decide the order that they will attempt to string the bow. Leiodes tries his hand, but fails. Antinous asks Melanthius to bring a great ball of lard and to light a fire so that they may warm and grease the bow with it. He does this, but none of the suitors are able to bend the bow enough to string it.
Meanwhile, Eumaeus, Philoetius, and Odysseus leave the hall. Odysseus tests their loyalties before showing them his scar and revealing his true identity. They are overjoyed to see their master and kiss him lovingly. Odysseus asks Eumaeus to bring him the bow and quiver when they return to the hall and asks Philoetius to bolt and bar the doors.
They return as Eurymachus is giving up. Antinous suggests postponing the contest to the next day. After the men agree, Odysseus asks to be allowed to test his strength by stringing the bow. Antinous refuses. Penelope thinks that the beggar should be allowed, as he is a guest, but Telemachus stops her from speaking any further and asks her to go back to her household duties, as the bow is a man's business. She obeys him. Eumaeus brings the bow to Odysseus and tells Eurycleia to bar the doors of the women's chamber. Philoetius bars the outer gates of the court. Finally, Odysseus lifts the bow and, after viewing it from every side, easily strings the bow. Zeus thunders forth a blessing, and Odysseus, heartened at the omen, sends a shaft through all twelve axes. Odysseus, signaling with his eyebrows, tells his son it is time for supper. Telemachus grasps his sword and spear and comes and stands by his father.
The epic reaches its climax. Penelope goes to fetch the bow, and, in true epic fashion, its history is related before Penelope brings it into the hall before the suitors. Eumaeus and Philoetius display their affection for their master when they actually cry upon seeing the bow. Antinous continues to be brash and rude and rebukes the two servants for their tears.
Telemachus has benefited from his travels and shows his maturity. He urges the suitors not to delay the trial of the bow, and his efficient setting up of the axes impresses everyone. He is on his way to becoming as heroic as his father Odysseus. After a few unsuccessful tries, he nearly strings the bow himself, but this feat is reserved for his father, and he is stopped abruptly by a frown from Odysseus. A difference has to be maintained between Odysseus and Telemachus, and the former still has pre-eminence over the latter. Later in the Book, Telemachus displays his leadership qualities once again, when he stops his mother from speaking any further about the bow. He claims that the power to give or deny the bow rests solely with him. His assumption of responsibility and his self-confidence here are in great contrast to his inexperienced, hesitant self at the start of the epic. At the end of this Book, when he stands beside Odysseus, he seems worthy of a position next to his esteemed father.
The fourth recognition of Odysseus takes place in this Book. Odysseus reveals himself to Eumaeus and Philoetius, but only after he has tested their sincerity and loyalty. Odysseus has learned from his wanderings, and he is clever enough not to trust even friends too easily. It is this trait that has enabled him to survive his many adventures and has earned him the adjective "enduring." Once again, his scar plays an important role in this recognition.