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The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 - 2018 by Peter J Ponzio

You, Eumaeus - Book XIV

Eumaeus and Odysseus Poetry, as well as prose, is written in the first or third person.  Yet, Book Fourteen of the Odyssey has passages that are rendered in the second person, that is, passages that make use of the word you, or are addressed to the second person, you.  There can be no question that the bond between Odysseus and Eumaeus is special; this special bond is highlighted by the manner in which Homer addresses Eumaeus, and the way in which Odysseus addresses Eumaeus.  At first glance, it may seem odd that Homer accords so special a place in literature for a swineherd, but loyalty, especially after twenty years is a prized possession. When the reader first meets Eumaeus, Odysseus has just arrived at the swineherd’s hut and is greeted by snarling dogs.  After calming the dogs, Eumaeus’ first words to the stranger recall his loyalty to his master:  “As if the gods/had never given me blows and groans aplenty. . . /Here I sit, my heart aching, broken for him,/my master, my great king-fattening up/his own hogs for other men to eat, while he,/starving for food, I wager, wanders the earth,/a beggar adrift in strangers’ cities, foreign-speaking lands. . . “ (XIV 42-48).  Here is a true friend; not concerned with his own suffering, but worried about the suffering of his master.  Here too, is a bond that can reach out over great distances, that somehow perceives the sufferings of Odysseus.   Odysseus then thanks the swineherd and asks that “. . . Zeus/and the other gods give you your heart’s desire/for the royal welcome you have shown me here” (XIV 60- 62).  Odysseus’ words have more meaning than Eumaeus understands at the time:  for the swineherd is granted his heart’s desire, and has extended a royal welcome to his master. The reader then experiences the use of the second person in the poem.  Listen carefully to hear Homer’s love of the man echoed in his verse:  “And you replied, Eumaeus, loyal swineherd” (XIV 63).  You, Eumaeus will be repeated over and over in the poem:  an acknowledgement, an acceptance, an affirmation that friendship binds men together over seas, over hardship and over time. And Eumaeus, the loyal swineherd, acknowledges his duty to help a stranger in distress, and offers to provide food and lodging for the stranger, telling him that the workers can only provide poor fare fro strangers, while the suitors eat the prime hogs.  Eumaeus then tells the stranger about his master, and inquires about his guest, asking in the now familiar formula:  “Who are you?  where are you from?  your city?  your parents?/What sort of vessel brought you?  Why did the sailors/land you here in Ithaca?”  (XIV 215-218). Odysseus, master planner, spinner of tales, wisest of men, concocted a story to keep his identity secret.