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

Father and Son Reunited - Book XVI

Telemachus was not convinced by Odysseus’ words, and replied:  “No, you’re not Odysseus!  Not my father!/Just some spirit spellbinding me now-/to make me ache with sorrow all the more” (XVI 220-222).  The reunion scene is made more poignant by the denial by Telemachus.  This pattern of revelation and denial will be repeated in each reunion; time and loneliness have made easy acceptance impossible.  Odysseus replies to his son, trying to convince him of his identity by saying:  “That man and I are one, the man you see. . ./her after many hardships,/endless wanderings, after twenty years/I have come home to native ground at last” (XVI 233- 236).  Telemachus, finally realizing the truth of the man’s words, threw his arms around his father and sobbed uncontrollably.  Odysseus then told Telemachus how he returned home with the help of the Phaeacians.  He asked the prince to provide a count of the number of suitors that were allied against them, telling the prince that he would use his guile and generalship to develop a plan to oust the suitors.  Telemachus replied to his father as follows: . . . all my life I’ve heard of your great fame- a brave man in war and a deep mind in counsel- but what you say dumbfounds me, staggers the imagination! How on earth could two men fight so many and so strong? These suitors are not just ten or twenty, they’re far more- you count them up for your self now, take a moment. . . (XVI 272-277) Telemachus was justified in his concern; his tally of the suitors yielded one hundred seventeen opponents, with just he and Odysseus to stand against them.  Odysseus, old campaigner was not perturbed; after all, he had Zeus and Athena on his side.  But Telemachus remind him that these gods, while powerful, dwelt on Olympus, not with mortals.  Odysseus, nothing loath, replied:  “’Trust me’. . .’they won’t hold off long from the cries and clash of battle,/not when we and the suitors put our fighting strength/to proof in my own halls!” (XIV 298; 299, 300).  Odysseus then advised Telemachus to return home and mix with the suitors.  In the meantime, Odysseus and Eumaeus would go into town, and Odysseus would resume his disguise as a beggar.  The man of cunning advised the prince not to react if the suitors abused him, but to bide his time and await a sign.  Then, once the sign was given, the prince should round up all the weapons which were in the hall and lock them in a storeroom.  If the suitors inquired about the armor, Telemachus was to say that he stowed the arms to prevent a quarrel breaking out when the men were in their cups.  Most importantly, Odysseus warned Telemachus to say nothing about his return; not even Laertes, Eumaeus or Penelope were to know. Telemachus once again urged his father to reconsider the plans he made; he did, however, ask his father to make a test of the women of the household to see which of them was faithful to Penelope and which favored the suitors. As father and son were forming their plans, Telemachus’ ship reached port.  The crew sent a herald to Penelope to advise her that they returned home safely, and to let her know that the prince went to visit the swineherd.  As fate would have it, the messenger sent by the crew and Eumaeus met at the entrance to the palace.  The herald delivered his news, and then Eumaeus gave Penelope the prince’s message. The suitors, however, were troubled by this piece of news; their plans to waylay Telemachus were foiled.  The suitors, roiled up by Amphinomus and Antinous, cursed their luck and Antinous declaimed against the prince:  Strike first, I say, and kill him!- clear of town, in the fields or on the road. Then we’ll seize his estates and worldly goods, carve them up between us, share and share alike. But as for his palace, let his mother keep it, she and the man she weds.  (XVI 423-428)