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

Odysseus and Penelope Reunited, Book XXIII

Telemachus, seeing how his mother looked at Odysseus, reproached her, asking:  “Why do you spurn my father so-why don;t you/sit beside him, engage him, ask him questions?/ What other wife would have a spirit so unbending?” (XXIII 113-115).  Penelope replied to her son calmly: I’m stunned with wonder, powerless.  Cannot speak to him, ask him questions, look him in the eyes. . . But if he is truly Odysseus, home at last, make no mistake: we two will know each other, even better- we two have secret signs, known to us both but hidden from the world.  (XXIII 119-125) Odysseus smiled at his son, and encouraged Penelope to test him, replying that she might not recognize him in his filthy rags.  Then, the man of exploits asked his son to ponder how they might deal with the suitors’ relatives.  Telemachus, proud that his father would ask his advice, nevertheless deferred to the master-mind of war, saying that he was unequaled in making plans and strategies. And so Odysseus told his plans to his son: First go and wash, and pull fresh tunics on and tell the maids in th hall to dress well too. And let the inspired bard take up his ringing lyre and lead off for us all a dance so full of heart that whoever hears the strains outside the gates- a passerby on the road, a neighbor round about- will think it’s a wedding-feast that’s under way. No news of the suitors’ death must spread through town till we have slipped away to our own estates, our orchards green with trees.  There we’ll see what winning strategy Zeus will hand us then. (XXIII 146-157) The plans set in motion, all was done as Odysseus ordered.  Outside, the passerby heard the sounds of music and marveled that Penelope at last had found a husband from among the suitors.  Meanwhile, Odysseus was bathed by one of the maidens, and Athena showered him with beauty to make him taller, his build more massive, and “down from his brow the great goddess/ran his curls like thick hyacinth clusters/full of blooms” (XXIII 176-178).  Leaving his bath, he went back to his seat, facing his wife, and echoing the words of Telemachus, asked her how she could be so heard of heart, so unbending, never recognizing her husband, home at last. Penelope, answering back, said she was not proud nor scornful, and admitted that he looked like her husband, who left so long before, for the shores of Troy.  She then told Eurycleia, the old nurse, to move the bedstead, the one he built with his own hands, out of the bridal chamber, and spread it with deep fleece.  Odysseus, wrathful at her testing, replied that no one, unless a god, could move the bedstead from the chamber, saying: Not a man on earth, not even at peak strength, would find it easy to prise up and shift it, no, a great sign, a hallmark lies in its construction. I know, I built it myself-no one else. . . There was a branching olive-tree inside our court, grown to its full prime, the bole like a column, thickset. Around it I built my bedroom, finished off the walls with good tight stonework, roofed it over soundly and added doors, hung well and snugly wedged. Then I lopped off the leafy crown of the olive, clean-cutting the stump bare from the roots up, planing it round with a bronze smoothing adze- I had the skill-I shaped it plumb to the line to make my bedpost, bored the holes it needed with an auger.  (XXIII 210-223)