K ing Nestor
The Wine Red Sea: Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 -2020 by Peter J Ponzio

You, Eumaeus - Book XIV

Odysseus’ answer to Eumaeus is at both ironic and surprising - “’Good god,’ the crafty man pressed on,/’what a dark, suspicious heart you have inside you!/Not even my oath can win you over, make you see the light’” (XIV 441-443). Of course, Odysseus is possessed of a suspicious heart, and is also crafty. He is testing the loyalty of his swineherd with a tale he concocted. The tale includes just enough truth to make it believable; as a master of deceit, Odysseus knows that a mixture of lying and truth makes a better tale than bare falsehood alone. Odysseus then proposes a bargain with Eumaeus: if Odysseus does not come home, Eumaeus can punish him as he likes, even throwing him off a cliff. Eumaeus, shrewd as ever, asks the stranger what kind of reward he would win by treating a guest badly. Their banter ended, Eumaeus orders the fattest pig to be slaughtered, praises the gods and offers a prayer before dining: “Bring him home, our wise Odysseus, home at last!” (XIV 479). Eumaeus then gives the choicest cuts to his guest, and provides the best bedding and blankets for the stranger’s sleep. The test is nearly over; you, Eumaeus, proved to be a loyal servant.