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

Interview with the Queen - Book XIX

The man of sorrows, pleased with the test Penelope had given him, indicated that it could only mean one thing:  Odysseus was indeed returning home to take vengeance against the suitors.  The Queen, continuing her strategy of questioning and weaving responses to Odysseus’ answers, replied as follows, continuing the practice of give and take: Ah my friend. . . dream are hard to unravel, wayward, drifting things- not all we glimpse in them will come to pass. . . Two gates there are for our evanescent dreams one is made of ivory, the other made of horn. Those that pass through the ivory cleanly carved are will-’o-the-wisps, their message bears no fruit. The dreams that pass through the gates of polished horn are fraught with truth, for the dreamer who can see them. But I can’t believe my strange dream has come that way, much as my son and I would love to have it so. (XIX 630-638) This passage is one of the most famous in the poem, and is used later by Virgil n the Aeneid.  It is appropriate that Penelope mentions the two types of dreams at this stage of the poem.  Homer continues to tantalize his readers with the possibility that Odysseus’ journeys could be a dream, yet he remains ambiguous, allowing the reader to play the game along with Odysseus and Penelope.  King and Queen come perilously close to revealing the true  identity of the stranger, but postpone the inevitable revelation.  Finally, as if to solve the mystery once and for all, Penelope announces that she will declare a contest for her hand.  Each of the suitors will take turns drawing the bow of Odysseus, which no man has before now done, and shoot an arrow through twelve axe handles, an almost impossible task.  Of course, if the stranger is truly Odysseus, he will be able to perform the task. Odysseus, glad that the chance to finally prove his identity, urged Penelope to not delay, but hold the competition as quickly as possible.  Before she retires to her chambers for the night, she indicates that she will “lie down on my bed,/ that bed of pain,” (XIX 669 - 670), which of course, is a play on the name of Odysseus and another hint that the Queen knows the true identity of the stranger.
Odysseus stringing his bow