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

Father and Son Reunited - Book XVI

As Book XVI begins, Telemachus makes his way to the swineherd’s hut, and is greeted by the shepherd’s dogs.  Eumaeus’ greeting of Telemachus is significant in that he greets Telemachus as if he were his son.  So too, is Homer’s description of the greeting, which adds to the drama concerning the identity of the “stranger.” Straight to the prince he rushed and kissed his face and kissed his shining eyes, both hands, as the tears rolled down his cheeks. As a father, brimming with love, welcomes home his darling only son in a warm embrace- what pain he’s borne for him and him alone!- home now, in the tenth year from far abroad so the loyal swineherd hugged the beaming prince,. . . (XVI 16-23) Telemachus, after greeting Eumaeus, inquired about his mother and the suitors, and then recognized the stranger.  As Eumaeus prepared a meal for the prince and the stranger, Telemachus inquired about the man’s history, and Eumaeus relate dhow he journeyed from Crete and landed on Ithaca seeking shelter.  The prince, knowing that the stranger would not be safe in his house, warned that the suitors would taunt and abuse him.  Odysseus, hearing the words of Telemachus, replies as follows:  “’Friend’. . . ‘My heart, by god, is torn to pieces hearing this,/both of you telling how these reckless suitors,/there in your own house, against your will,/plot your ruin-a fine young prince like you” (XVI 100, 102-105).   Odysseus, perhaps in an attempt to find new information, perhaps to conceal his identity further, then asks Telemachus if he has brothers, intimating that brothers could help deal with the ruffians at home.  Odysseus then says that he would fight against the suitors, even if he had to fight by himself, rather than endure their taunts. Telemachus, in answer to Odysseus’ questions, provides him with the situation at home, noting that he has no brothers, and that he is the sole heir of Odysseus.  He then tells Odysseus about the damage done to his house by the suitors, using the same language he used when he related his tale to Athena in Book I: . . .down to the last man they court my mother, they lay waste my house!  And mother. . . she neither rejects a marriage she despises nor can she bear to bring the courting to an end- while they continue to bleed my household white. Soon-you wait-they’ll grind me down as well! But all lies in the lap of the great gods. (XVI 140-146) Having finished his address to the stranger, Telemachus asked Eumaeus to journey to the palace and inform Penelope that he was home.  He asked the swineherd to reveal his secret to no one else, lest the suitors again try to ambush him.  Eumaeus asked if he should also inform Laertes about his grandson’s return, but Telemachus advised against this, saying instead that Penelope should send her housekeeper to bring the news to Laertes.  Eumaeus, ever the loyal servant, went to accomplish his orders. Just as Eumaeus left, Athena appeared to Odysseus and motioned for him to meet her outside the swineherd’s hut.  Once outside, Athena told the man of twists and turns that it was time he revealed himself to his son, so that they could plot the overthrow of the suitors.  Athena then changed the hero’s appearance, dressing him in clean clothes, strengthening his frame, changing his hair back from gray to red.  Returning to the hut, Telemachus was amazed at the change in the man, saying:  “Friend, you’re a new man-not what I saw before!/Your clothes, they’ve changed, even your skin has changed-/surely you are some god who rules the vaulting skies!”  (XVI 204-206).  And Odysseus, the man of twists and turns, replied:  “Why confuse me with one who never dies?/No.  I am your father-/the Odysseus you wept for all your days,/you bore a world of pain, the cruel abuse of men./And with these words Odysseus kissed his son/and the tears streamed down his cheeks and wet the ground” (XVI 211-216).