The Odyssey
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Book 15-16

Summary: Book 15

Athena travels to Sparta and tells Telemachus that he must hurry home to Ithaca before the suitors succeed in winning his mother’s hand. She also warns him of the ambush laid for him and explains how to avoid it. Finally, she tells him to go to the home of the swineherd Eumaeus, who will convey the news of his safe return to Penelope. Telemachus announces his departure the next day and accepts gifts from Menelaus and Helen. As Telemachus is about to leave the palace in his chariot, an eagle carrying a goose stolen from a pen swoops down beside him. Helen predicts that Odysseus is about to swoop down on his home and exact revenge on the suitors.

Once at Pylos, Telemachus has Pisistratus, Nestor’s son, drop him off at his ship, saying that he has no time to visit Nestor again. The ship is about to set off when Theoclymenus, a famous prophet’s descendant, who is fleeing prosecution for manslaughter that he committed in Argos, approaches Telemachus and asks to come aboard. Telemachus welcomes him and offers him hospitality when they reach Ithaca.

Odysseus tests the limit of Eumaeus' hospitality by offering to leave in the morning. It is a false gesture that, he hopes, will prompt Eumaeus to offer to let him stay longer. He asks the old man not to go out of his way and says that Eumaeus will earn if he keeps working for the suitors. But Eumaeus will have none of it. To get mixed up with those suitors would be suicide, he warns.

Odysseus and the swineherd then exchange stories. Eumaeus explains how he first came to Ithaca: the son of a king, he was stolen from his house by Phoenician pirates with the help of a maid. The pirates took him all over the seas until Laertes, Odysseus’ father, bought him in Ithaca. Laertes’ wife brought him up alongside her own youngest daughter. Telemachus too reaches the shores of Ithaca next morning. He disembarks while the crew travels to the city by ship. He entrusts Theoclymenus to a loyal crewman, Piraeus. As they part, the duo sees a hawk fly by carrying a dove in its talons. Theoclymenus interprets this incident as a favorable sign of the strength of Odysseus’ house and line.

Summary: Book 16

When Telemachus enters Eumaeus’s hut, he finds the swineherd talking with a stranger, who is Odysseus in disguise. Eumaeus recounts Odysseus’ story and tells the stranger to stay with Telemachus at the palace. But Telemachus is not ready to go to the palace as he is wary of the suitors. Eumaeus then himself heads to the palace alone to inform Penelope about her son's arrival. When the father and son are alone in the hut, Athena appears and calls Odysseus outside. Odysseus re-enters the hut in the pristine glory of his heroic person. Telemachus cannot believe his eyes but then the father-son embrace and weep. Odysseus revisits his trip with the Phaeacians and then plots the overthrow of the suitors. He devises a plan to launch a surprise attack from within the palace. Odysseus will enter the palace disguised as a beggar and Telemachus will hide in the palace’s surplus arms section where the suitors can-not find him easily. The duo will get hold of the arms and kill the suitors.

Before Eumaeus can give Penelope news of Telemachus’s return, the messenger from the ship arrives in the palace and announces that Telemachus has come back. Dejected that their plot has failed, the suitors gather outside the palace to discuss their next move. One of the suitor, Antinous, suggests killing Telemachus before he can call an assembly and air the suitors’ dirty plot. But another suitor, Amphinomus, one of the more thoughtful and well-behaved suitors, suggests they wait for a sign from the gods before acting recklessly. Penelope later sees Antinous in the palace and rebukes him for plotting against her son, the details of which Medon had overheard and revealed to her (Book 4). Eurymachus calms Penelope down with his false concern for the safety of Telemachus.


Homer establishes the details and characters crucial for bringing the story to its climax in Books 15 and 16. The plot becomes much more complicated and is heading for the final denouement. The paths of Odysseus and Telemachus converge for the first time in the epic poem. Athena arranges a meeting of the father-son duo in the privacy of Eumaeus’s hut. Their meeting in the palace might raise suspicion because princes and beggars have no reason to interact with each other.

From a literary viewpoint, the irony of a king and prince reuniting in the lowly hut of a swineherd brings out human qualities in the epic heroes. They are not just emotionless figures of a story but passionate individuals going through the highs and lows of life.

Till the suitors’ discovery of Telemachus’s return, Homer desists from individualising the suitors. They are an undifferentiated mass of degenerate, one-dimensional characters with whom the readers have no desire to sympathise. But now, two voices are heard. One is the suitors' spokesman, Antinous, who is predictably thuggish. The second voice, a more thoughtful and moderate, suggests patience. Homer introduces the suitor Amphinomus, who is thoughtful, pious, and eager to see what the gods think before doing anything rash. He is also one of Penelope’s favorites. Homer lends positive attributes to the suitors to complicate the justness of Odysseus’ revenge. As the suitors are no longer exclusively faceless villains, Odysseus’ revenge will not only singe the malevolent suitors but also a few not-so-bad individuals.

Helen’s and Theoclymenus’s interpretations of the bird omens rely on the perception of Odysseus as an aggressive and predatory creature. In each incident, a more powerful, regal bird (eagle, hawk) dominates over a more common and vulnerable one (goose, dove). Just as these birds of prey swoop down upon their unsuspecting victim, so too, will Odysseus pounce upon the suitors without warning, the interpretations imply. The ancient Greek culture revered omens as indications of unalterable divine will. As the narrative progresses, Telemachus finds that prophet Theoclymenus begins to play an important role. The number of omens in need of interpretation rises dramatically, as Homer increasingly depicts the suitors as condemned men waiting their impending doom. Homer keeps exploring the concept of xenia, or hospitality, and reflects various characters’ concerns through it.
Nestor’s insistence that Telemachus stay and feast with him in Pylos before returning to Ithaca confirms that he is a commendable and gods-fearing man.
Telemachus’s tendency to avoid this social commitment may be a breach of social propriety, but, he is eager to go back home. Here, he resembles his shrewd father. His reluctance is justified on the grounds of his practical considerations over decorum and other formalities. In addition to the genuine urgency of the moment, Telemachus’s warm reception of Theoclymenus mitigates the inconsiderateness.

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