The Odyssey Books 18-20 Summary

     Book eighteen begins with a man named Irus mocking Odysseus as he leaves the palace, which leads to a brawl. Antinous saw them and decided they should set up a fair fight in a ring between them. Odysseus did not want his identity revealed, so instead of using his full strength, he punched Irus in a way to knock him out and end the fight. One of the suitors, Amphinomus, then offered Odysseus some bread and his congratulations. Odysseus tried to suggest to him that he might want to leave the castle, but Amphinomus wouldn't listen. Eurymachus, one of Penelope's servingwomen, tried to comfort her as she grieved her missing husband and despaired over the unkind suitors. Finally, Penelope decided to ask the suitors to bring her gifts in order to help her choose the one she would marry.

     In book nineteen Telemachus first removes all the weapons from the wall in the great hall as part of the plan that he and his father have devised. The disguised Odysseus goes to speak to his wife Penelope. He makes up a story about his lineage and travels. Then he tells her that he saw Odysseus at one time. He accurately describes the clothes Odysseus wore, which Penelope recognizes. She despairs that her husband will never return, but Odysseus assures her that he feels her husband will return soon. Penelope then asked her servingwoman Eurycleia to wash Odysseus's feet. Eurycleia had served Odysseus since he was a child, so while washing his feet, she noticed a scar that she recognized as the one he received in his youth. From this scar, she realized that she was washing the feet of Odysseus, but he tells her to keep the knowledge to herself. Before she goes to sleep, Penelope tells Odysseus that she has come up with a way to choose a new husband. She will set up a test of skill to see which man can shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads and that will be the man she will marry.

     In book twenty Odysseus and Penelope both sleep fretfully. Odysseus worries that he and his son cannot take on so many suitors alone, but Athena assures him the gods will be on his side. Penelope prays for death as she does not want to marry another man. In the morning the suitors gather and once again mistreat Odysseus. They also discuss their plot to kill Telemachus, but Amphinomus convince them not to do it. One of the suitors, Ctesippus, was angry to see Odysseus there begging again and threw an ox hoof at him. Odysseus moved out of its way, but the angered Telemachus threatened to kill Ctesippus for his bad behavior. The men laughed at Telemachus, which angered him further. He looked to his father to wait for the signal when Penelope entered to announce the challenge.

     This section provides build up to the climax of the story. Odysseus is plotting his revenge on the suitors who don't see it coming. Even his own wife doesn't recognize him although one of her servants does. As usual Athena is guiding and supporting Odysseus to the point where people may question how wise and powerful he really is. Athena seems to be calling the shots while Odysseus just carries out the orders.

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