Odysseus shoots Antinous through the throat just as the suitor is about to take a sip of wine. The king kicks the table and scatters the food on the floor, and the food mingles with Antinous's blood. He reveals himself to be the long-absent king of Ithaca. The suitors, horrified, plead for mercy, blame Antinous for their wrongdoings, and offer to repay all they have stolen. But Odysseus tells them that no amount of wealth can wipe out their crimes. Eurymachus calls the suitors to battle, but Odysseus quickly kills him. Telemachus kills Amphinomus and then runs to get weapons for himself, Odysseus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius.
This scene makes it clear that the suitors' crimes are not merely financial. They are crimes of honor against Odysseus and his wife and son, and the suitors cannot compensate Odysseus for honor lost. Only vengeance – the mechanism of justice – can wipe out the dishonor they have brought upon his family. The punishment defines the crime, and the crime separates the guilty from the innocent. In this way, Penelope, Telemachus, and Odysseus restore their innocence.
Eumaeus guards the side-door to the palace so that no suitors can escape. The goatherd Melanthius climbs through a secret passageway into Odysseus's storeroom and brings weapons to some of the suitors. Eumaeus and Philoetius catch Melanthius when he returns for more weapons and leave him strung up in the storeroom in great pain. Athena appears in the guise of Mentor; she then turns into a swallow and flies to a beam on the roof to watch the fighting. The suitors shoot arrows at Odysseus, but Athena makes sure the arrows miss their mark again and again. Odysseus and Telemachus slaughter the suitors like eagles attacking little birds. Odysseus spares only the bard and the herald Medon.
Athena helps to assure Odysseus's victory, but her intervention is, again, very indirect. In theory, she could strike down all the suitors herself, or ask Zeus to send lethal lighting bolts; instead, she allows the men to fight their own battle, but she protects Odysseus and his men form the arrows of the suitors: she exaggerates Odysseus's superiority and the suitors' clumsiness. She also takes the form of a bird, not a god – perhaps as a reminder of the many bird omens that have foreshadowed the battle.
Telemachus brings out Eurycleia; she is happy to see the suitors dead, but Odysseus warns her that it is wrong to rejoice over the bodies of the dead. He tells her that the men's dishonorable behavior earned them the wrath of the gods. He then asks her to gather the dozen servant women who shamed the household by sleeping with the suitors. Once they arrive, he tells the servant women to help Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius clear away the corpses and the blood. When they finish the job, Telemachus hangs the women with a cable; then the three men take Melanthius outside and cut off his nose, ears, genitals, hands, and feet. Finally, Odysseus asks the servants to sterilize the house with smoke.
Even in his heroic moment, Odysseus remains temperate, modest, and mindful of custom. His victory is bloody, but not bloodthirsty: he does not seem to take an animal pleasure in the slaughter. He does only what's necessary: he spares the innocent, and metes out punishment according to the severity of the crime. And the punishment, however elaborate and brutal it may seem, does not satisfy an injured ego – Odysseus sees himself merely as an instrument of the gods' wrath. To be pious, he must relinquish part of his free will.