K ing Nestor
The Wine Red Sea: Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 -2020 by Peter J Ponzio

Interview with the Queen - Book XIX

As book XIX begins, Odysseus and Telemachus are alone in the common room after the departure of the suitors. Odysseus reminded his son of their plans to hide the weapons and armor so that the suitors would be unable to fight when Odysseus launched his attack. If the suitors asked where the arms were, Telemachus was to say that he stowed the arms to prevent a quarrel breaking out when the men were in their cups. Telemachus called to Eurycleia and told her to have the women remain in their quarters while he stowed the weapons in the storeroom. As Odysseus and Telemachus proceeded to stow the weapons, Athena appeared there, lighting up the common room with a torch she held out. Telemachus was amazed at the sudden light, but Odysseus calmed him saying that the light was a function of the Olympian gods. Odysseus than told Telemachus to go to bed, while he tested the women and the queen. Just then Penelope, along with her women, came down to the common room to sit by the fire. As they sat near the fire, Melantho spied Odysseus and railed against him: You still here?- you pest, slinking around the house all night, leering up at the women? Get out, you tramp-be glad of the food you got- or we’ll sling a torch at you, rout you out at once! (XIX 71-75) Odysseus replied in kind, asking: “What’s possessed you, woman? Why lay into me? Such abuse!” (XIX 77). He continued, saying that beggars are protected by the gods, and telling her that fate toppled him, who was once rich and powerful, and warned Melantho that she too, could have her fortunes reversed. Penelope, listening to the wordplay between the two, upbraided Melantho saying: Make no mistake, you brazen, shameless bitch, none of your ugly work escapes me either- you will pay for it with your life, you will! How well you knew-you heard from my own lips- that I meant to probe this stranger in our house and ask about my husband. . . my heart breaks for him. (XIX 99-104) And so Penelope offered Odysseus a seat and began questioning him with the formula reserved for inquiring about strangers: “Stranger, let me start our questioning myself. . ./Who are you? where are your from? your city? your parents?” (XIX 114-115). Odysseus, in his answer to Penelope, does not begin with a description of his own origin; instead he praises her in words normally reserved for a king: . . . no man on the face of the earth could find fault with you. Your fame, believe me, has reached the vaulting skies. Fame like a flawless king’s who dreads the gods, who governs a kingdom vast, proud and strong- who upholds justice, true, and the black earth bears wheat and barley, trees bow down with fruit and the sheep drop lambs and never fail and the sea teems with fish-thanks to his decent, upright rule, and under his sovereign sway the people flourish. so then, here in your house, ask me anything else but don’t, please, search out my birth, my land, or you’ll fill my heart to overflowing even more as I bring back the past. . . I am a man who’s had his share of sorrows. (XIX 117-130)