The Odyssey



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The Odyssey: Book 7 Summary & Analysis

As Odysseus walks toward the city, Athena surrounds him with a protective mist. Disguised as a little girl, she guides him to the castle. She tells Odysseus to be bold and advises him to win the queen Arete's sympathies, because her judgment holds much weight in the kingdom. Odysseus marvels at Alcinous's fruitful realm and luxurious household. He goes inside the palace, where many people are feasting, and puts his arms around Arete's knees – at that moment, the mist around him dissipates. He blesses her family and begs her for safe passage home.
Athena hides herself and Odysseus from the Phaeacians; she uses cunning to avoid confrontation, though open battle is considered glorious. In his behavior with the king and queen, Odysseus chooses cunning and humility over glory. Rather than announce his famous name and flaunt his strength and nobility, Odysseus abases himself in front of the queen.
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Alcinous sits Odysseus down next to him, Odysseus eats and drinks, and they all raise their wine glasses to Zeus. Alcinous tells the lords that they will convene tomorrow to sacrifice to the gods and arrange the stranger's journey home. He wonders whether the stranger might be a god; the behavior of the gods has changed – they used to come to mortals undisguised. Odysseus responds that he is only mortal, weighed down with mortal suffering, and regrets that he must eat despite his grief: hunger eases his memory. He begs to be conveyed home – all he wants is to see his home and family again, and to die happily.
Odysseus emphasizes the distinction between different kinds of desire when he complains that the ignoble desire for food replaces the noble desire for home. Note also how once again a mortal is almost mistaken for a god: Alcinous implies the world is changing, and the distinction between gods and mortals seems to be eroding. Why have the gods become more secretive, more circumspect? The answer isn't clear.
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As the servants clear away the plates, Arete notices that Odysseus is wearing clothes from her household, and asks about them suspiciously. Odysseus tells her a fuller version of his story, then: he describes his entrapment on Calypso's island, his escape and difficult journey, and his encounter with Nausicaa – how she gave him clothes and directed him to the castle. He claims that it was his idea not to accompany the princess into the city. Alcinous wishes that such a man as Odysseus could stay in Phaeacia and wed Nausicaa. He tells Odysseus that he will arrange that a ship will carry him home the following morning.
Odysseus is not averse to a white lie, here and there: though the plan for entering the city was the princess's, he takes the credit. But he also knows when to loosen his disguise and reveal a bit more about himself. When the queen becomes suspicious, Odysseus appeases her with honesty and openness. To be cunning, one must sometimes be honest.
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