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

Peace Restored, Book XXIV

Perhaps Amphimedon expected Agamemnon to commiserate with his fate; perhaps he expected a welcome; he received neither.  Agamemnon, king of men, reacted with joy on hearing the fate of Odysseus: Happy Odysseus! Son of old Laertes- mastermind-what a fine, faithful wife you won! What good sense resided in your Penelope- how well Icarius’ daughter remembered you, Odysseus, the man she married once! The fame of her great virtue will never die. The immortal gods will lift a song for all mankind, a glorious song in praise of self-possessed Penelope.  (XXIV 210-218) Agamemnon’s joy and praise should not be discounted, for a song was raised for the faithful Penelope.  The Odyssey is as much a paean to Penelope as to her matchless husband, Odysseus.  The poem leaves the souls of the dead men in Hades as they traded stories. The scene then shifts back to Ithaca, where Odysseus and his comrades reach the estate of Laertes.  The wily king ordered Telemachus and his companions to obtain a pig from the enclosure, while he went to see if Laertes would remember him:  “. . .I will put my father to the test,/see if the old man knows me now, on sight,/or fails to, after twenty years apart” (XXIV 238-240).  As he walked the fields, Odysseus searched for his father, and found him at last.  The old man was dressed in rags, looking careworn.  The tactician stopped, tears welling up inside, as he watched his father, worn down and desolate after living so many years without hope.  For a moment, the king was unsure of what to do:  embrace his father, or test him to snap him out of his misery.  At last, he decided that a test was the better course, a way to shake off his father’s lethargy. As he approached his father, Odysseus complimented Laertes on his gardening skills, but reproached him about his own appearance.  He then asked Laertes if he was a slave, since he was so unkempt.  Was this truly Ithaca?  Odysseus then spun a tale about how he once hosted a man who claimed to be the son of Laertes.  The old man answered slowly, weeping as he did so, saying that this was indeed, Ithaca, but that his son was not able to repay his kindness, since he was lost.  Laertes then asked the man how long it was since he’d seen Odysseus, “  my son. . ./ there was a son, or was he all a dream?”  (XXIV 321-322). Once again, the notion of dreaming is brought up; was Odysseus real, or was he just a dream?  It is the last time that this theme is discussed in the poem.  It is important to note that every member of Odysseus’ family that is still living, himself included, brought up the notion of dreaming, as well as the notion that Odysseus himself might be a dream.  As mentioned earlier, Homer does not comment about whether Odysseus was real or a dream, which adds to the beauty of the poem; the reader is allowed to draw his or her own conclusions. The old man continued, grieved that neither he, Anticlea, nor Penelope could bury his son, as custom required.  Recovering himself, the old man remembered the duty owed to a guest, and asked the questions required of a stranger:  who are you, where do you come from, what ship brought you here?  Odysseus, ever crafty, spun a tale, saying he was “the son of old King of Pain,” and that his name was the “Man of Strife,” (XXIV 341-342), both of which were true.  He then related how he saw Odysseus some five years before, setting sail for Ithaca. Once again, the old king was troubled by this latest piece of news, as he poured dirt over his head and shuddered as sobs wracked his body.  Odysseus, finally relenting, hugged his father and cried: Father-I am your son-myself, the man you’re seeking, home after twenty years, on native ground at last! Hold back your tears, your grief. Let me tell you the news, but we must hurry- I’ve cut the suitors down in our own house, I’ve paid them back their outrage, vicious crimes! (XXIV 359-364)