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Books 17-18

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Books 17-18 of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The Odyssey | Books 17–18 | Summary

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Summary

Book 17

Odysseus sets off for the palace accompanied by Eumaeus, who still does not know Odysseus's true identity. Telemachus goes ahead, accompanied by a prophet who informs Penelope that Odysseus is back in Ithaca, scheming to overthrow the suitors, news that she refuses to believe.

Inside the banquet hall, Telemachus and Athena advise Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, to beg at the suitors' table for scraps as a way of discerning who the worst-behaved suitors are. Most of the suitors are kind, but Antinous antagonizes Odysseus, though Odysseus manages to control himself. He does, however, warn Antinous that to be unnecessarily cruel to a man in need will surely be noticed and punished by the gods.

Book 18

As the evening wears on, another beggar shows up, and Antinous eggs him on to start a fight with Odysseus. Odysseus demurs at first but eventually agrees to the contest. He does not use his full strength in order to avoid hurting the other man, but he wins anyway. Odysseus gives Amphinomus a warning of dire events to come, and the suitor is shaken, but he remains. As the suitors feast and carouse, Odysseus berates some of the maidservants for not tending to their mistress. When one talks back, he threatens them and scares them off. The suitors protest noisily until Amphinomus urges them to settle down and let Telemachus tend to the beggars. They agree and depart for home.

Analysis

Deception and cunning play a large role in this section. Consider the prudence with which Telemachus refrains from telling his mother that Odysseus has returned, as well as Odysseus's restraint in not defending himself against Antinous. The restraint of father and son goes hand in hand with their cleverness; by swallowing their anger and irritation, they are more likely to succeed in bringing their house back to order.

Many of the tensions laid out earlier in The Odyssey begin to build toward climax here, in the meeting between Odysseus and Telemachus and in the confrontation between Odysseus and the suitors. The suitors' end is again foreshadowed in the speech of beggar Odysseus to Amphinomus, in which he says that he is destined to be great even though he is now a beggar. He was brought down, he says, by recklessness and warns, "let no man ever by lawless all his life,/just take in peace what the gods will send." Amphinomus errs, though, and remains in Odysseus's halls, and "even then" Athena "bound him fast to death." While his kindness might suggest he merited mercy, he, like the other suitors, has abused the hospitality of Odysseus's house and must pay the price.

Odysseus accepts the challenge to fight the other beggar to defend his honor. Again, he uses caution, taking care not to injure the other beggar too badly. Odysseus is still practicing the restraint he has displayed since his return to Ithaca. He is also showing a willingness to delay his immediate satisfaction to achieve the larger goal of killing all the trespassing suitors and disloyal maids. A shrewd strategist, he bides his time until everything is in place.

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