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

Preparing for the Test - Book XVIII

Book XVIII begins with a description of Arnaeus, a foul-mouthed, hulking beggar who frequented the palace of Odysseus.  Arnaeus, also called Irus, was jealous of his position as beggar of scraps from the suitors, railed at Odysseus, saying: Get off the porch, you old goat, before I haul you off by the leg!  Can’t you see them give me the wink, all of them here, to drag you out-and so I would but I’ve got some pangs of conscience.  Up with you man, or before you know it, we’ll be trading blows! (XVIII 12-16) Odysseus, wishing to avoid a fight, reminded Arnaeus that they were both beggars and that there was plenty of food and wine at the palace.  He then indicated that if pressed, he would fight Arnaeus and acquit himself well in any contest, despite his age.  Arnaeus, responded harshly to Odysseus’ words and continued his banter, threatening to hurt Odysseus in a fight. Antinous, hearing the beggars go back and forth, proceeded to incite the beggars and the suitors, by saying: Friends, nothing like this has come our way before- what sport some god has brought the palace now! The stranger and Irus, look, they’d battle it out together, fists flying. Come, let’s pit them against each other - fast! (XVIII 43-47) The suitors took up Antinous’ taunts, exhorting the two beggars to begin the fight.  As an added inducement to the beggars, Antinous proposed that the winner could choose the best meats from the feast that day and promised that the victor would be the only beggar allowed in the palace from that day forward.  Odysseus at first attempted to deflect the enthusiasm of the suitors and then made them promise that they would not assist Arnaeus during the fight.  Preparing for the fight, Odysseus was assisted by Athena, who helped him regain some of his normal proportions.  Arnaeus, seeing Odysseus make ready for the fight, appeared to reconsider, when Antinous egged him on, saying: Marl my word-so help me I’ll make it good- if that old relic whips you and wins the day, I’ll toss you into a black ship and sail you off to Echetus, the mainland king who wrecks all men alive! He’ll lop off your nose and ears with his ruthless blade, he’ll rip your privates out by the roots, he will, and serve them up to his dogs to bolt down raw! (XVIII 95-101) Having been warned, Arnaeus stepped into the ring formed by the suitors and threw a punch at Odysseus, who landed a blow beneath Arnaeus, ear, drawing blood and sending the beggar to the ground.  Odysseus then dragged the beggar outside the palace, and propped him up against the fence and thrust a stick into his hand, saying:  “Now hold your post-play the scarecrow to all the pigs and dogs!/But no more lording it over strangers, no more playing/the beggar-king for you, you loathsome fool,/or you’ll bring down something worse around your neck” (XVIII 121-124). Arnaeus, vanquished sat with his back against the fence, while Odysseus, victorious, was met with welcoming shouts from the suitors.  Antinous presented the disguised hero with the winner’s portion of meats and Amphinomus gave him two loaves to go along with the meat.  The, Amphinomus offered a toast to the stranger, wishing him better luck in the days to come.