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

Preparing for the Test - Book XVIII

Meanwhile, Odysseus was glad to hear Penelope’s speech, knowing that she was weaving plots within plots against the suitors.  Antinous, unaware of Penelope’s designs, reacted to her speech by saying that the suitors should, indeed, bring her choice gifts, and that she should choose a husband from among the best of the suitors.  Quickly, each of the suitors instructed their servants to bring gifts to Penelope, and presented them to the queen.  The gifts being brought before her, she retired upstairs to her private chambers. The suitors then retired to the feasting halls to revel through the night.  As Penelope’s maids prepared the hearth fires and trimmed the torches, Odysseus instructed them to attend to their mistress, Penelope.  Melantho, one of Penelope’s maidens, answered him brusquely, saying: Cock of the walk, did someone beat your brains out? Why not go to bed down at the blacksmith’s cozy forge? Or a public place where tramps collect?  Why here- blithering on, nonstop, bold as brass in the face of all these lords? No fear in your heart?  Wine’s got to your wits? or do you always play the fool and babble nonsense? (XVIII 370-376) The maidens were unaware of Odysseus’ plans to test them:  to see which of them was loyal to Penelope and which loyal to the suitors.  He answered Melantho as follows:  “You wait,/you bitch. . . /I’ll go straight to the prince with your foul talk./The prince will chop you to pieces here and now!( XVIII 380-383).  And so, the serving women scattered, ashamed at Odysseus’ answer to Melantho. But the suitors, fulfilling the plans of Athena, heaped insults on the head of Odysseus.  Eurymachus was the first to take the stranger to task, asking him to become a common laborer on his farm.  As if this insult were not enough, Eurymachus accused Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, of being lazy and afraid of hard work.  Odysseus, up for the challenge, indicated that he would go against Eurymachus in the field to see which of them could plow the longest.  Or if such a test were impossible, if Zeus could grant him an opportunity to prove his mettle on the field of battle, he would acquit himself well.  Finally, he answered that if Odysseus returned home, Eurymachus and the other suitors would find it difficult to escape through the palace doors quickly enough to escape Odysseus’ wrath. Eurymachus, overcome with wrath, hurled  a stool at Odysseus, but stuck the wine-steward instead, causing the man to drop his wine and go sprawling on the ground.  Finally, the suitors as one complained that the stranger, a beggar, had upset the order of things at the palace.  Telemachus, hearing their complaint, upbraided them saying that he would not send a beggar out of the palace. Finally, Amphinomus stood up and declared that the suitors should leave the stranger alone.  He then ordered the wine steward to pour wine for all, and made a libation to the gods.  The drinking and libation ended, the suitors left the palace for home.   Penelope and the Suitors