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Course Hero, "The Odyssey Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed November 20, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Odyssey/.

Book 21

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 21 of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The Odyssey | Book 21 | Summary

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Summary

The contest begins. Penelope brings out Odysseus's bow, and Telemachus tries and fails to string it three times; on the fourth attempt, his father signals him to stop with a quiet shake of the head. The suitors begin to take turns, and each of them fails as well. Antinous finally requests that they postpone the contest for a day.

Odysseus finally reveals himself to Eumaeus and the servant Philoetius and fills them in on his plan of revenge. They agree to help. After the suitors have all failed to string the bow, Odysseus asks if he might try. He strings it with ease and shoots an arrow through the 12 axes. He and Telemachus turn to face the suitors together, and Telemachus draws his weapons.

Analysis

Telemachus's failed attempt to string the bow is probably meant to put the suitors off any suspicion they might have felt. That he comes close to stringing it suggests he is nearly as strong as his father. He obeys his father's silent instruction, of course; he is not the one in charge. He also asserts his importance when he attempts to keep his mother out of harm's way. He knows the slaughter that is about to happen and wants to keep her safe.

Odysseus's ability to string the bow and shoot an arrow through the 12 axes speaks to his heroic strength. The scene is also important because, not only does it reveal his real identity to the suitors, but it also shows that he is stronger and more capable than they are.

The book ends on a riveting cliffhanger that marks fine storytelling. The lasting image of father and son, armed and bent on exacting their revenge, compels the reader—and the action—forward.

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