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Books 19-20

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Books 19-20 of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The Odyssey | Books 19–20 | Summary

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Summary

Book 19

After the suitors have retired for the evening, Odysseus and Telemachus take action for the next day by hiding all the weapons in the house. Odysseus meets with Penelope but still refrains from revealing his true identity to her. Odysseus's childhood nurse, Eurycleia, recognizes him first when she notices a scar he received as a child. Odysseus makes her swear not to tell Penelope. She offers to tell him which maids were disloyal to him; he replies that he will watch them and judge for himself. Penelope tells the disguised Odysseus that she is planning a contest the next day to finally choose a suitor. She will ask them to demonstrate a skill that only Odysseus has proved before, involving stringing and using his mighty bow. Odysseus the beggar claims that her husband will be home before the contest can begin. Penelope retires to her room and weeps.

Book 20

Odysseus stays up late that night thinking about the next day's revenge on the suitors. Athena appears to him and tells him he will be victorious not only over the suitors but over any of their families that seek revenge. Odysseus also overhears Penelope praying for her death if Odysseus does not reappear. He offers a prayer to Zeus, who sends a crash of thunder as an answer of support.

The next day the seer Theoclymenus warns the suitors about dark omens he is seeing: blood, mist, and ghosts. The suitors laugh him off. Only Amphinomus, who recognizes the eagle flying overhead with a dove clutched in its talons as an omen, believes the seer's words. He also attempts to warn the other suitors, but they ignore him.

Analysis

It's uncertain as to when, exactly, Penelope guesses Odysseus's true identity. She seems skeptical of the "beggar" from early on and grows increasingly suspicious as he continually tries to tell her that Odysseus will return home soon. Is she just testing the beggar's honesty about knowing Odysseus, or does she, in fact, suspect the truth? She also mistakenly refers to the beggar as Eurycleia's "master" but corrects herself quickly. She appears to feel she can speak freely with him in a way that seems unlikely for a woman of her status to use in addressing a beggar. Her mentioning the contest she plans to stage seems like another test, because only Odysseus has ever been able to perform the task she is asking the suitors to prove. Whether she has guessed his identity or not, she shows cleverness again in devising a test the suitors are bound to fail.

With tensions mounting the epic takes on a tone of foreboding. Odysseus grows restless and uneasy seeing the suitors continue their revelry, blind to the fate that will soon befall them. In Book 20 Telemachus demonstrates he has grown bolder and braver, scolding the suitors for their bad behavior. It's a mark of how far he's come since the beginning of the story, when he let them run rampant over the household.

Athena's intervention is significant in these scenes. The night before the upcoming massacre, she gives peaceful sleep to weeping Penelope and reassures Odysseus. The next day she mocks the suitors by exacerbating their misbehavior, forcing them to throw things, and even they seem unnerved by their behavior.

The eagle omen that Amphinomus comments on recalls the eagle omen from the beginning of the epic. Then, two eagles careened through the air and flew off. This eagle has a dove as its prey. Amphinomus understands the message—the suitors, like the dove, are certain victims of a more powerful force.

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