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

Interview with the Queen - Book XIX

Penelope responds to the stranger’s tale by saying:  If only, my friend. . . everything you say would come to pass!. . . But my heart can sense the way it will all go, Odysseus, I tell you, is never coming back, nor will you ever gain your passage home, for we have no masters in our house like him at welcoming in or sending off an honored guest. Odysseus.  There was a man, or was he all a dream?  (XIX 354 -355, 359-363) In this passage, the game continues, but with an added twist.  Penelope brings up the idea of Odysseus as a dream.  This continues the references to sleeping and dreaming that weave through the poem.  Was Odysseus dreaming?  Was Penelope dreaming?  Was Odysseus real while he lived in the land of the gods?  Did he dream about living in the land of the gods?  Of course, these questions can’t be definitively answered, but their presence gives the work its uniquely textured feel, much like a weaving. Penelope then ordered her maidens to prepare a bed for the stranger, and encouraged him to take his meal the following morning beside Telemachus.  She also ordered that one of the maidens wash the strangers feet, as was customary for honored guests.  The king, wishing to be discreet, asked that rather than have one of the younger maidens wash him, an old, trusted servant could wash his feet.  Penelope, happy with Odysseus’ reply asked Eurycleia, Odysseus’ former nurse,  to help the stranger: Up with you now, my good old Eurycleia, come and wash your master’s. . . equal in years. Odysseus must have feet and hands like his by now- hardship can age a person overnight. (XIX 406-409) If there is any doubt that Penelope knew the true nature of the stranger, these lines should render that doubt doubtful.  Eurycleia, being instructed by her mistress to tend to the stranger, was reminded of her master’s good deeds and bearing, saying:  “Many a wayworn guest has landed here/but never, I swear, has one so struck my eyes-/ your build, your voice, your feet- you’re like Odysseus. . ./ to the life!” (XIX 430-33). Bending down to wash the feet of the stranger, she noticed a scar on his leg, made years ago when Odysseus was just a boy, hunting a boar as a young man: Bending closer she started to bathe her master. . . then, in a flash, she knew the scar- that old wound made years ago by a boar’s white tusk when Odysseus went to Parnassus, out to see Autoclytus and his sons.  (XIX 443-447) Euryclea Discovers Ulysses