Study Guide Questions – Discussion #3
Books 17-24: Revenge
17-20 Odysseus and Telemachus return to the palace in imminent danger
1. Book 17 – Omens
As Odysseus first sets eyes on his own palace after 20 years, what are the ways that he is tested by Athena? How much restraint is Odysseus forced to show? Why? How do the two omens in Book 17 work with respect to each other (i.e. Theoclymenus’ prophecy and Telemachus’ sneeze)?
2. Book 18 – King of the Beggars
What does the fight between Irus and Odysseus symbolize/foretell? Book 18 can be said to be important for Amphinomus, one of the suitors. What part does he play in the rivalry between Odysseus and the rest of the suitors? Why is his part necessary to the story? Penelope’s timed appearance is significant here. How does it heighten the mounting tension of the story? How does Eurymachus’ quarrel with Odysseus at the end of Book 18 balance that of Odysseus’ fight with Irus at the beginning?
3. Book 19 – Tease
The reunion of Odysseus and Penelope is somewhat of a tease. How is Odysseus able to hold back his feelings? Is he testing Penelope? If so, why should he? Why is Penelope so steadfast against believing that Odysseus will come back?
4. Book 20 – Gods and Prophecies
For all of Odysseus’ cleverness and fortitude, he still requires encouragement to stick with his disguise until it is time for him to reveal himself. At what two points do the gods respond to him? How manifest are these divine responses to the situation at hand? What is Odysseus’ main concern in Book 20? What is Penelope’s? How do these two differ, yet overlap?
Books 21-24: The contest of the bow and ultimate revenge on the suitors
5. Book 21 – Contest of the Bow
With Athena prompting Penelope to announce the contest of the bow, the revenge on the suitors is set into motion. How much of this plan is Odysseus in control of? What is Penelope’s role in this overall plan? What is Telemachus’ role in the plan? Could the plan come together without Eumaeus’ or Philoetus’ help? According to the text of Book 21, in what parts does Athena actively instigate events?
6. Book 22 – Anger Unleashed
Although Odysseus’ anger is justified, shouldn’t he have taken Eurymachus’ offer for compensation after Antinous was killed? Wouldn’t that have made sense in light of the family feuds and revenge killings that are sure to follow? Why does Athena let Odysseus struggle in combat with the suitors for as long as she does? Why does she show the “aegis” when she does, thereby making the suitors flee (p. 345), but not sooner? In the midst of the killing, Leodes the soothsayer begs for mercy. Leodes was the first to try the bow on p. 326 and foresaw this calamity, but Odysseus still kills him anyway. Why? Phemius the bard also begs for mercy, but he and Medon the herald are spared. Why? Are the punishments of the serving women and Melanthius just or too harsh?
7. Book 23 – Aftermath of Slaughter
Ironically, Penelope wakes up from a “sweet sleep” (line 17, p. 353). Why is she now, all of a sudden, blessed with a “sweet sleep”? Why does Penelope continue to hold back from believing that Odysseus has returned? If Odysseus himself hadn’t killed the suitors, as she says, then who does she believe has killed them? Why would this be frightening to her rather than happy? How is Penelope finally convinced that this stranger is her husband? Penelope finally recognizes Odysseus as her long-lost husband and Homer uses a simile to describe the moment (p. 360). What does the simile show about the relationship between Penelope and Odysseus?
8. Book 24 – Shades and Judgment
Book 24 opens by recalling some of the shades in Hades we met in Book 11. Some commentators say that Agamemnon’s and Achilles’ conversation is out of place here. Is it or is it not? Why does Odysseus continue to put on a false front with his father, even after the suitors have been killed? Eupeithes, Antinous’ father rouses up the Ithacans against Odysseus. What sort of threat is posed to Odysseus and his family? Zeus makes an irrevocable judgment of the situation on Ithaca. How does Athena respond to what Zeus says? Why must Zeus throw a thunderbolt? What does the situation on Ithaca show about the Greeks in general? about the Greeks at Troy?