BOOK XXIV – ODYSSEUS AND LAERTES
In Hades there is concern at the arrival of so many souls of leading
noblemen, these being the dead suitors.
Agamemnon asks Amphinedon to tell the whole story, and they are impressed by
the cunning and strength of Odysseus, and the patience of Penelope.
Back at Ithaca, Odysseus greets his aged father and hopes again to see the
There is some unrest in the land as vengeance is sought by some of the
suitors’ families. A group of dissidents arm themselves and set off for the farm of Laertes in order to spill blood.
Zeus, meantime, feels that the action taken by Odysseus is fully justified
and that peace should be restored to Ithaca. He gives his daughter full permission to ensure this happens.
Odysseus meets the party of dissidents and their leader is killed by the
spear of Laertes and Odysseus and Telemachus slay some of the rest, and the survivors flee.
Thunderbolts from Zeus reinforce Odysseus’ position, giving a clear message
that any further revolt will be against the gods’ wishes.
Odysseus continues his long reign as King.
Something that perhaps has not changed greatly over the centuries is the
double standards regarding male and female sexuality. It is quite permissible for Odysseus to engage in sexual encounters with Calypso and Circe and others as well perhaps. This is part of the male
make-up and does not diminish Odysseus’ presence, but perhaps enhances it.
On the other hand, we have Penelope who has remained absolutely faithful, repelling the advances of over one hundred suitors at her door. Odysseus never expresses any doubt concerning his wife’s faithfulness, but the way in which he treats the suitors by slaughtering them almost to a man would make you think that they had conducted themselves improperly in respect of Penelope. Perhaps Odysseus considers that their mere presence in his palace is violation enough. His revenge is certainly complete and we see a further facet to his character in the butchery that takes place in the halls of his palace. We read from Alexander Pope’s translation of 1726,
“A ship’s tough cable, from a column hung;
near the high top he strain’d it strongly round,
whence no contending foot could reach the ground.
Their heads above, connected in a row,
they beat the air with their quiv’ring feet below:
thus on some tree hung struggling in the snare,
the doves or thrushes flap their wings in the air.
Soon fled the soul impure, and left behind
the empty corpse to waiver in the wind.”
These lines describe the hanging of the maids of the palace, which Odysseus
clearly regarded as having descended into the depths of prostitution and shame.
Their infidelity has cost them dear, just as with Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra. She too met her death because of her unfaithfulness and murder of her husband. It is clear that virtue and faithfulness were important characteristics of women in these times, and those women that possessed these qualities were revered by all honorable men, but those that have brought shame on themselves faced the ultimate punishment.
In contrast to the brutality of the hanging of the maidservants, we have the
touching scene when Odysseus is reunited with his father, Laertes. We read from Walter Shewring’s 1980 translation,
“His father, caught in a sudden black cloud of grief, took the grimy dust in
both hands and scattered it over his horny head, sobbing passionately. Odysseus’ heart was stirred, and a keen pang shot through his nostrils as he looked at his beloved father. He leaped forward and
clasped and kissed him and said: I am the man you are seeking, father; it is my very self that you see, returning in the twentieth year to my own native land. Put aside your sorrow and tears and lamentation.
'' As for Laertes, his knees failed him; his heart melted, as he knew for truth the undoubted tokens Odysseus gave him. He threw his arms around his dear son and well nigh swooned as Odysseus clasped him
Thus is demonstrated the scope of Homer’s genius. He deals with scenes
of violence, adventure, and love with equal intensity and tenderness.
You will note that Penelope hesitates in recognizing her long lost
husband. It is almost as if she has got into the habit of being without him, and has lost all hope that she will ever be reunited with him. We read from Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of 1961,
“She turned then to descend the stair, her heart
in tumult. Had she better keep her distance
and question him, her husband? Should she run
up to him, take his hands, and kiss him now? ''
And she, for a long time, sat deathly still
in wonderment – for sometimes as she gazed
she found him – yes, clearly – like her husband,
but sometimes blood and rags were all she saw. ''
“What other woman could remain so cold?
Who shuns her lord, and he come back to her
from wars and wandering, after twenty years? ''
A smile came now to the lips of the patient hero, Odysseus,
who turned to Telemachus and said:
‘Peace: let your mother test me at her leisure.
Before long she will see and know me best.’”
Penelope is like a beautiful formidable mountain that many men have tried to
Remember when she appeared to the suitors her beauty was enhanced by Athena, but none of the suitors were able to come close to conquering this mountain, and even Odysseus himself on his return has to scale the cliffs once more before Penelope will be ultimately conquered. It is worth the struggle for apparently none of Penelope’s and Odysseus’ passion has waned, and we learn that Athena delays the dawn so that the reunited couple can extend their lovemaking.
Penelope used many devices to repel her suitors.
She would not consider marriage until Telemachus had reached adulthood, but her most famous ruse was the shroud that she was weaving for her father-in-law Laertes. She said she would choose a husband when she completed the shroud, but every night she would secretly unravel the day’s work, so the task would never be completed.
Homer’s writing has been a source of inspiration to writers down the ages.
His techniques have been studied at length and his style of narration copied in various forms.
His descriptive writing has also inspired the art world, and you can visit
almost any Art Gallery in the world and you will see classic paintings depicting scenes from Greek mythology. Some of the most famous paintings are ‘The Birth of Venus’ (Aphrodite – Greek) by Botticelli 1482,
‘The Blinding of Polyphemus’ by Fresco 1580, ‘Leda and Zeus in Guise of Swan’ by Leonardo da Vinci 1516 (Leda was Helen’s mother), and ‘Poseidon and his Chariot’ by Cavalori 1497, to name but a few. Likewise
there have been many sculptors who have drawn on the mythical world for inspiration.
With the advent of film-making the stories of Homer have been the subject matter of many films that brought new challenges to the special effects departments.
Homer’s work has been translated into many forms of art.
You will see from our quotations that many literary figures have tried to encapsulate the essence of Homer. Perhaps the complete picture can only be obtained by referring to them all. This wolfnote has drawn on a few of the many sources in an attempt to do this. Homer will remain a source of inspiration for future generations.