Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Odysseus strips himself of his rags and kills Antinous with a shot to the throat. The suitors are enraged by this act and threaten to slay him. Odysseus announces who he really is, and the suitors are scared. Eurymachus begs for forgiveness on behalf of all the suitors and promises to recompense him for all the food and drink that has been consumed in the halls. Odysseus refuses and gives the suitors the choice of fighting or fleeing to avoid death. Eurymachus and Amphinomus are the next to die.
Telemachus brings shields, spears, and helmets for Odysseus, Philoetius, Eumaeus, and himself. Melanthius, who is on the side of the suitors, brings them arms from the storeroom. Upon seeing this, Odysseus is alarmed and asks Eumaeus and Philoetius to stop him from getting any more weapons. These two tie up Melanthius. Athena appears in the disguise of Mentor to encourage Odysseus, but, wishing to test his strength, she does not give him a clear victory. Agelaus urges the wooers to together throw their spears at Odysseus, but none hit their intended mark. The battle continues and Amphimedon, another suitor, succeeds in wounding Telemachus before the latter kills him. Philoetius strikes the vain Ctessipus. In the midst of the fighting, Athena holds up her destroying aegis - a shield with the Medusa's head on it - high from the roof. The wooers are scared and flee to the far end of the hall, where they are slaughtered. Leiodes asks for mercy, but Odysseus does not grant it. Only Medon and Phemius, a bard, are spared.
Once Odysseus sees that all the enemies are dead, he asks for Eurycleia. She is about to cry aloud for joy but is checked by her master. He wishes to know which of the women have been disloyal and which have kept the honor of the house. The twelve shameless women are brought forth and are made to carry the dead outside and to clean the tables. When the hall has been cleaned and set in order once again, these twelve women are hung by Telemachus on Odysseus' instructions. Melanthius is led out and killed cruelly. Odysseus then washes himself and purifies the house with sulfur and fire. Meanwhile, Eurycleia goes through the halls to call out the women. They come out and welcome Odysseus with embraces and kisses. He is moved and longs to weep, as he remembers each one of them.
The epic reaches its climax in the suitor-slaying scene in this Book. The warrior of The Iliad, who has become the wanderer of The Odyssey, needs all his powers of decision, command, and improvisation to beat the suitors. These he amply displays. The man who kills Dolon in the battle of Troy is not likely to spare the suitors or the servants, male or female, who have worked for them. Odysseus in The Odyssey is a magnified version of Odysseus in The Iliad, but he remains substantially the same man. It is significant that when Odysseus kills the suitors, he has every advantage over them, and though this is due to his foresight, it is not the way in which Achilles would have taken on an enemy. Odysseus does start with something like Achilles' unforgiving wrath and spurns Eurymachus' offer to repay his loss. His anger, however, unlike Achilles', does not last. He spares Phemius and Medon and forbids Eurycleia to whoop in triumph. "It is not holy to exult over dead men," he says. He sees himself only as the enactor of just punishment.
The bloody slaughter of the suitors may dismay the reader slightly, but one has to understand that their punishment is well-deserved and supported by the gods. The hanging of the unfaithful women show that Odysseus is master and king and that no treachery shall be tolerated. The re-establishment of order is completed with the cleaning of the house with sulfur and fire, which symbolizes purification and renewal. Odysseus is once again the rightful master of the house; his mission has finally been accomplished despite many pitfalls and dangers.
Eumaeus and Philoetius prove to be dependable and are a great help to Odysseus in his battle with the suitors. It is they who tie up Melanthius as he is about to bring out more arms for the suitors. They also fight bravely and are responsible for the deaths of a few suitors. Their presence shows that Odysseus is capable of winning great loyalty. Indeed, the party of Odysseus in Ithaca is held together by loyalty to him and hatred of the suitors.
It is interesting to note that Athena aids Odysseus so long as he is courageous and heroic. She chides him with wrathful words when she sees him weakening. While she does offer him help, she does not allow his victory to be too easy. Odysseus is being tested, and this fight against the suitors, who are greater in number than Odysseus' party, is a part of his test.
Finally, the women come forth from the chamber to greet Odysseus with embraces and kisses. The conspicuous absence of Penelope builds anticipation for the reunion of husband and wife, which finally takes place in the next Book.