Greek Literature

The Odyssey: Books #22–24

The final journal. Once again, it’s crazy how we were able to get through two of the most well known Greek novels in one semester. Book 22 was probably my favorite book, but I’m not really sure what that says about me considering the fact that it was by far the most violent. I just felt like this was the climax, the moment that everything has been leading up to. Odysseus has made his triumphant return, is done with his evaluations, and is ready to take action. And that, he does. It was perfect the way he just kills them off with ease. This whole book was just filled with little hints of irony. I almost pitied the suitors because they were just that clueless *almost*. The suitors have been described as nepios, or disconnected from society, many times, but I didn’t really connect the dots until I read Book 22. They really have no clue what’s going on. Antinous got an arrow through the throat while he was trying to take a drink and they still were not able to put two and two together. Odysseus had just shown that he had perfect aim, but the Suitors still didn’t get that he killed Antinous intentionally. I understand not recognizing Odysseus at first but at this point, it’s just laughable.

It’s also funny how the Suitors continue to dig their own graves as this “fight” goes on. I say “fight” because they tried to fight back but it ended up being a massacre more than anything. Odysseus had prepared so well for this that there was literally no way to escape death. Eurymachus tries to make Antinous the scapegoat by blaming everything they’ve done on him and his greed. Everyone knows that Eurymachus was also one of the leaders, and Odysseus watched as they treated him horribly as a beggar. Lying’s not going to save anyone. That’s why Odysseus evaluations of everyone were so important. He was able to assess everyone personally because when it comes to the time of death, they’re willing to say anything to save their own lives. The Suitors also threaten Athena, who’s disguised as Mentor. Death was already inevitable, but the Suitors just seem to solidify that at every moment possible. Shouldn’t they have learned by now that strangers aren’t always who they seem? The last visitor they disrespected is killing them off one by one. If they had treated them with the slightest bit of respect maybe they would’ve lived (probably not but it might’ve helped a little bit).

This revenge is just so epic. It’s 4 men against what? 100 suitors? I’m not sure of the exact number but I know it’s a lot, and I know for sure it’s not proportional to the number of Odysseus men. They really kill someone pretty much every time they attempt to, but 100 men can’t hit 4 men for the life of them. After they’ve all died, then comes the gruesome punishment of the women. In class, somebody questioned whether or not the women truly deserved the punishment they received. They were compared to officers during Nazi Germany, many of whom were just following orders of an evil leader. I definitely believed they deserved this punishment, and I also agree with the severity of it. How cruel is that, to make the maids clean up the mess from the bodies they once obeyed, knowing that they will be next. If you’re going to execute someone, that’s the way to do it productively. Telemachus hit two birds with one stone. He had that awful mess cleaned up, and was able to kill all of the people who had ever betrayed him in his father’s absence.

Anyway, I think the maids deserved this punishment because they were not just innocent bystanders forced by the Suitors to do their work. They actually enjoyed the new leadership and reveled in Odysseus’ absence. They slept with the Suitors in their free time and heckled Odysseus as a beggar. They had no loyalty and accepted the Suitors as they went against every societal norm. It was easy to tell that Suitors were not good people, and only bad people like them would follow them blindly. I’m not saying the maids should have fought back or opposed the Suitors. I understand they were not capable of that. I just think they shouldn’t have enjoyed what they were doing. Eumaeus and Philoetius were also forced to listen to the Suitors while Odysseus was gone. The only difference is, they did not enjoy it. Everyday Eumaeus reluctantly brought the Suitors food for their feasts, but at the same time, he wished for Odysseus homecoming. Both of them always made it clear whose side they were on. If we’re still comparing the maids to Nazi Germany, I think they’d be the ones who actually enjoyed the killing and saw no wrong in what they were doing, so they definitely deserve their punishment.

Book 23 is where Odysseus and Penelope are finally reunited. After 20 long years, they are finally back together again, and it was just grand as I thought it would be. It’s crazy that after 20 years they were able to maintain their homophrosune. Everyone doubted them. They thought Odysseus would never return, and that Penelope should move on. But, they both went on their own individual journeys and found their way back to each other. In some ways, Penelope’s journey was worse than Odysseus’. Obviously, Odysseus had to go through a lot more physical tests, but I think Penelope was challenged more mentally. If Odysseus had died out at sea, his journey would’ve ended there. Penelope’s however, would’ve gone on for the rest of her life. She would’ve been that shipwrecked crew member till the day she died, never finding land.

Odysseus’ journey was long, but he had home and Penelope to motivate him. He knew that they’d be there when he got back, in one way or another. His home could’ve been in shambles, but it would still be there. Penelope did not have that same motivation. She had been told by almost everyone around her that her husband was not coming back, and she somewhat believed it. There was no way to communicate with Odysseus and therefore no reassurance that he was coming back. She was also able to deny all of the Suitors that wanted her hand in marriage. Odysseus was not able to deny Circe or Calypso. If the roles were reversed, would Odysseus have been able to withhold the Suitors?

Penelope’s test for Odysseus was so simple yet so smart. All she had to do was slip in the thought of moving their bed and Odysseus went off. At that point his true identity was clear and the reunion was official. This part was very beautiful. After all of the pain and sorrow they’ve experienced, their love and connection to one another has not changed. They were the only two that could’ve gotten that question right. It’s insane that they have a connection so strong that a divinity couldn’t even separate them. After 20 years they pretty much have to get to know each other again. They stay up all night talking and catching up, almost like they’re still in that honeymoon phase. Athena literally lengthens the night so that they can talk longer. How cute is that? It’s pretty much the opposite of that saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” In this case, they’re having so much “fun” that time stops for them. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Book 24 was somewhat odd to me. It almost seemed like Book 23 and 24 should’ve been switched. The reunion of Penelope and Odysseus seemed like a grand finale, but it was followed by Odysseus and his father. I’m not saying Laertes wasn’t important, his recognition just wasn’t as great as Penelope’s. Also, the quarrel between the town and Odysseus was close to pointless. Athena made peace between the two sides basically before any real conflict could begin. Why couldn’t this have happened before the Trojan war? Do Gods just pick and choose when they want to see suffering?

The Suitors trip to the Hades was also interesting. I found it funny how surprised Agamemnon was at Penelope’s loyalty. I mean, I would be too if my wife murdered me to be with her lover. It’s sad that people like him will never experience homophrosune to the extent that Odysseus and Penelope had. The trip to Hades also connected the Odyssey to the Iliad well. They discuss what happened right after the Iliad. They describe Achilles’ funeral, and the Suitors explain how they died to everyone already down there. So basically, those from the Iliad and those from the Odyssey tell their stories to one another and make connections between the two.

In class, someone asked about which story had more kleos. Of course, the answer would be both because they’ve both survived thousands of years. But, if I had to pick one, it would be the Iliad. I thought it was an interesting question because I had always considered the differences between the two epics, but I hadn’t really focused on the similarities. I’m not exactly sure why I prefer the Iliad, it’s a combination of many reasons. I just thought it was better overall. Not to say that the Odyssey was bad in any way, the Iliad just stuck with me more. Maybe it’s because I love a good tragedy. I don’t normally associate happy endings with Greek culture. I know there are many comedies that Greeks have produced, but they are normally not the ones that you end up reading in your high school English classes.

Although Odysseus journey was difficult, he got a very happy ending. He was reunited with his family and got the best type of revenge. I also feel like the tragedy of the Iliad has more lessons to teach you. It teaches you about fate, consequences, and loss, while still including the love and family that the Odyssey has. The Iliad has pretty much everything the Odyssey has (besides monsters), just to a greater extent. The death and finality within the Iliad just emphasizes everything. Also, the Iliad had a lot more characters and moving parts. You could tell that story from many different perspectives and it would still be interesting. Unless told from Odysseus or a narrator’s point of view, the Odyssey gets much less interesting. He was pretty much alone for his entire journey, and we learn nothing about his crew. I did enjoy the Odyssey, I just resonated more with the Iliad.