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

Peace Restored, Book XXIV

Hermes conducting the souls of the dead suitors Book XXIV opens, somewhat surprisingly, with Hermes conducting the souls of the dead suitors to Hades.  Waving his wand of pure gold that wakes or enchants men’s eyes, Hermes leads the men on to the place where the “burnt-out wraiths of mortals, make their home” (XXIV 15).  Upon reaching their destination, the ghosts of the suitors found Achilles, Patroclus and Ajax the Great.  Then the great warlord, matchless Agamemnon, surrounded by his comrades who died at the hands of the foul traitor Aegisthus, marched up to the suitors. Achilles then addressed the great commander with words of praise: Agamemnon, you were the one, we thought, of all our fighting princes Zeus who loves the lightning favored most, all your days, because you commanded such a powerful host of men on the fields of Troy where we Achaeans suffered. But you were doomed to encounter fate so early, you too, yet no one born escapes its deadly force.  (XXIV 25-31) And Agamemnon answered the son of Peleus, godlike warrior, praising him as well.  Gone was the animosity that separated the two men in life; finally able in death to overlook their differences:  “Son of Peleus, great godlike Achilles!  Happy man,/you died on the fields of Troy, a world away from home,/and the best of the Trojan and Argive champions died around you. . . “ (XXIV 38-40).  Then Agamemnon related how the Argives panicked at the death of Achilles, and would have been routed had not Nestor called out to them:  “Hold fast Argives! Sons of Achaea, don’t run now!” (XXIV 57).  He then related how the nine muses themselves, composed the funeral dirge of that great hero, most puissant of the Greeks in battle. Seventeen days the Greek host mourned the lost of Achilles, every eye streaming with hot tears, and on the eighteenth day droves of sheep were sacrificed, countless cattle, oils and honey laid on the funeral pyre as wave after wave of Argive heroes passed the funeral bier.  Such funeral games, traditional among the Greeks, were never seen in such glory, nor ever would be.  Agamemnon concluded by saying:  “You were dear to the gods,/so even in death your name will never die. . . /Great glory is yours, Achilles,/for all time, in the eyes of mankind” (XXIV 99-102).  And indeed, the glory of Achilles shines as brightly now, as it did then. After they finished talking, the heroes noticed the souls that Hermes brought to the land of the dead.  Agamemnon, recognizing one of the suitors, Amphimedon, asked what fate brought him and his comrades to the land of the dead.  Could it be a shipwreck that caused their destruction, or perhaps some raid that had gone wrong?  Then, Amphimedon told the lord of men the story of how the suitors wooed Penelope and were spurned by her, ticked by her guile and cunning.  He related how Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, and Telemachus plotted the doom of the suitors, weaving their plans, and withstood the insults and rebukes of the suitors.  Amphimedon told how Penelope laid a trap for the suitors, convincing them to try their hand at stringing the bow of Odysseus, and failing.  Finally, after all the suitors failed to string the bow, it was Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, who managed to string the bow and pass the test of the axes.  After successfully navigating the axes, the great man turned his arrows against the suitors, and he, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoetius slaughtered them all in the palace.