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

The Coming Storm, Book XX

Odysseus, making his bed on the ground, lay seething, thinking about the insults he endured at the hands of the suitors, and their treatment of his wife and son.  He calmed himself by degrees, thinking about the past twenty years, and the exploits he endured.  Still tossing and turning, he was interrupted by the goddess Athena, who appeared to him in the shape of a mortal woman:  “Why still awake?  The unluckiest man alive!/ Here is your house, your wife at home, your son,/ as fine a boy as one could hope to have” (XX 36-38). Odysseus, always thinking and plotting his next move, replied to the goddess as follows: True, . . . how right you are, goddess, but still this worry haunts me, heart and soul- how can I get these shameless suitors in my clutches? Single-handed, braving an army always camped inside. There’s another worry, that haunts me even more. What if I kill them-thanks to you and Zeus- how do I run from under their avengers? Show me the way, I ask you. (XX 39-46) At last, the hero was able to express his greatest fear-not the suitors-but those remaining members of their families- who would likely take revenge, creating a never-ending series of retributions and counter-retributions.  Athena answered the hero quickly, exclaiming: Impossible man! Others are quick to trust a weaker comrade, some poor mortal, far less cunning than I. But I am a goddess, look, the very one who guards you in all your trials to the last. I tell you this straight out: even if fifty bands of mortal fighters closed around us, hot to kill us off in battle, still you could drive away their herds and sleek flocks!  (XX 46-56) Although Athena seemed to express displeasure at Odysseus’ words, there is grudging admiration in her tone, for Odysseus, like the goddess, was no mere automaton in battle.  That role was reserved for Ares.  Both the goddess Athena and Odysseus were proficient in battle, but each relied more on cunning than on brute force.  As Athena left the hero, she poured sleep over him to ease his troubles. At the same moment that Odysseus drifted to sleep, Penelope awoke and prayed to Artemis, hunter-goddess, to ease her burden by taking her life.  Penelope dreamed of Odysseus and was more determined than ever not to be betrothed to one of the weak suitors.  In her supplication to Artemis, Penelope noted that: Again-just this night-someone lay beside me. . . like Odysseus to the life, when he embarked with his men-at-arms.  My heart raced with joy. No dream, I thought, the waking truth at last! (XX 98-101)