The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Telemachus goes into the city; the suitors are friendly to him, but their intentions are dark. He tells Penelope that Menelaus had heard that Odysseus had been trapped on Calypso's island. Theoclymenus adds his prophecy: he says that Odysseus is in Ithaca as they speak, plotting revenge. Not long after, Eumaeus and Odysseus set out for the city, with Odysseus disguised as a beggar. On their way, they run into the goatherd Melanthius, who insults them and even gives Odysseus a kick. Odysseus wants to hit him back but he stays calm.
Though the suitors try to act deceitfully, no one seems fooled; to the reader, who shares the author's omniscience, their attempts at cunning seem transparent and pathetic. The episode with the goatherd shows how much Odysseus king has changed during his travels: only recently, he could not endure an insult from Broadsea or from the Cyclops without retaliating.
Themes
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
As the two men approach the castle, Eumaeus warns Odysseus-the-beggar that someone might hit or mock him just for the fun of it, and Odysseus replies that he can withstand any humiliation after his years of wandering. As they speak, Odysseus notices an old dog lying neglected in the dust and dung: it's Argos, who was once Odysseus's puppy. Master and dog recognize each other right away, but at that moment the old dog quietly dies.
Odysseus implies that his desire for home has become stronger than his pride. He has suffered so much, and so ingloriously, that he no longer fears suffering of any kind. The gods have flung him from place to place, they have spared his life on a whim; he has no vanity left to protect. His only goal is to defend the honor of his house and family. He begins by bringing joy to his dog as it draws its dying breath.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Odysseus enters his own house for the first time in twenty years. Telemachus tells Eumaeus to instruct Odysseus-the-beggar to go around the table begging for scraps, and Athena seconds that advice: it's a way of separating the bad suitors from the innocent ones. Most suitors pity him and give him food, but Antinous asks Eumaeus angrily why he has brought the strange beggar to court.
Though all the suitors except Antinous treat Odysseus-the-beggar quite well, they are all fated to die. Athena and Odysseus may want to test the suitors individually, but they are already guilty as a group. Their dishonorable actions outweigh any private kind-heartedness.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Antinous flings a stool at the king, but Odysseus contains his anger once again, and tells the other suitors that such undeserved violence will meet with punishment from the gods. The other suitors agree that the gods will strike down Antinous for his crime. Telemachus is anguished to see his father abused, but he hides his feelings. Eumaeus speaks briefly to the queen and then goes back to his farm, but Odysseus and Telemachus stay behind with the suitors.
Odysseus and Telemachus both show great self-restraint; they are willing to tolerate momentary disgrace – to disguise their anger and shame – to restore the honor of the household. Glory is more selfish than honor, which often requires one to sacrifice one's vanity to defend an idea.
Themes
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
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