Outline / Summary
After the traditional invocation
to the Muse and a brief prologue highlighting the most important themes and
actions, the poet describes a counsel on
Telemachus, emboldened by
Athena’s words of wisdom, confronts the suitors for consuming his inheritance
and abusing the hospitality of the palace at
Telemachus arrives on Pylos, the
Telemachus and Pisistratus
arrive at the palace of the Spartan king and queen during a wedding feast but
are perhaps all the more warmly welcomed for that. Menelaus and Helen make their guests
comfortable and reminisce about those glorious days in
After her sojourn with
Telemachus, Athena has returned to
Nausicaa, princess of the Phaeacian people, is encouraged by Athena to do her laundry the next day. She asks permission from her father and takes a bevy of young girls with her to the riverside where they wash clothes, play catch, and discover the (very nude) Odysseus asleep on the beach. He approaches the princess and she offers him the hospitality of her people on the understanding that he will not expose her to ridicule.
Athena guides Odysseus to the palace where he begs Queen Arete for refuge. Her husband Alcinous grants it and Odysseus tells the queen a small segment of his distressing voyages.
Alcinous orders his people to make a ship ready for our traveler and loads it with many gifts, a traditional sign of friendship and respect. The Phaeacians begin a course of games, but are interrupted when a loud boaster challenges Odysseus to compete. Our hero responds admirably and they all settle down to an evening of wine and song, which is unfortunately interrupted by the weeping hero himself, who consents to tell his own tale.
Odysseus reveals his identity
and tells of his adventures after leaving
Landing on the
Odysseus travels as instructed
to the realm of Hades and his wife Persephone to learn his fate from Teiresias, the blind prophet. After following Circe’s gruesome
instructions, he first encounters his dead comrade, then Teiresias
who explains to him his possible fates.
He speaks next with his mother, then is
privileged to see a procession of legendary Greek women. After a brief interruption by his listeners,
Odysseus goes on to describe his meetings with the heroes of the Trojan
War: Agamemnon, Achilles, and
Odysseus and his men return to
Circe’s island from their underworld voyage where he receives slightly fuller
instructions for his voyage. Odysseus
survives his encounter with the Sirens, most of the crew make
it through the dangerous
The Phaeacian people return Odysseus to his homeland and are poorly repaid by Poseidon for their graciousness. Odysseus awakes in confusion and fear and is welcomed home by his protector Athena who warns him to be on his guard and return on the sly.
Odysseus follows the guidance of his guardian and approaches the hut of his swineherd Eumaeus. From him, Odysseus learns the current state of affairs in the palace and that his servant has been loyal to his master. He, however, refuses to share his own identity and tells another of the invented tales we have already seen him wield with Athena.
Concurrent with the action of Book XIV, Athena visits Telemachus at Menelaus’ palace, where we left him in Book IV. She encourages him to return, but instructs him, like Odysseus, to return in secret. Helen grants the boy a wedding present of his own and augurs a triumphant return for both he and his father. As he travels home, Odysseus wiles away the time with Eumaeus’s storytelling until they are joined by the young man.
Telemachus’ entrance to the swineherd’s hut is treated in some detail. Eumaeus encourages him to treat the beggar kindly, but Telemachus fears the gluttony and avarice of the suitors will not allow him to do so. After telling his father of his origins and travails, an incredulous Telemachus listens to his father’s revelation that he is indeed Odysseus. The two are reunited in a moving scene and plot how to reclaim their palace.
Telemachus takes his father to
the palace as a beggar and tells his mother what little he was able to learn on
his journey. The suitors further sully
their souls by ridiculing the beggar they believe Odysseus to be and refusing
to even give him scraps from their usurped table. The beggar is, however, recognized by his
The suitors continue their ill treatment of Odysseus, who gains some revenge from beating one of them to a pulp. At the reprimand of Telemachus, they retire for the evening.
Our hero and his son lay the groundwork for their siege of the suitors while the “old beggar” converses with Penelope. Whether she knows his identity or not, it is obvious that she mourns the absence of her husband and, at wit’s end, is about to devise another test for the suitors, one that falls in well with the schemes of her husband and child. Meanwhile, Odysseus is recognized by his former nurse whom he swears to silence.
Odysseus is encouraged by signs and omens from the gods, but the day is a foul one, filled with continued abuses.
Penelope challenges the suitor to draw the great bow of her husband and with it shoot an arrow straight through 12 axe heads. Telemachus shows great cunning in managing the details of the test, at which the suitors predictably fail. After ensuring the loyalty of two men servants, Odysseus suggests that he might be offered a chance to compete. The suitors resist, are chastised by Penelope, who is then seconded and overcome by Telemachus. The “old beggar” draws the bow with ease, shoots straight through the axe heads and prepares to slaughter the usurpers.
In a violent and bloody debacle, Odysseus, Telemachus, and the loyal servants massacre the suitors, force the whoring maids to clean up the mess, and then hang the hapless women. The scene closes with the ritual purification of the banquet hall.
Euryclea, Odysseus’ nurse, informs her mistress that the suitors have been slain. With a few paltry tests of his courage and cunning now successfully overcome, Odysseus must face his last, greatest challenge: his wife. When Penelope suggests that this beggar who claims to be her husband should sleep in his “own” bed, moved to another chamber, he protests that the bed cannot be moved, thereby revealing the secret of their marriage and winning back her heart and her mind. The two retire together and spend the long night making love and telling stories, to their hearts’ content.
Back in Hades, the spirits of the suitors meet many of the same shades discovered there by Odysseus, to whom these ruthless cowards cannot hold a candle. Odysseus is reunited with his father, confronts those who would avenge the death of the suitors, and is pacified by his guardian Athena, who bids the townspeople peace.