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

The Storm Arrives, Book XXI

Telemachus laughed as Antinous goaded him on, then urged the suitors to step up and attempt to win the hand of Penelope by deeds, not by words.  Telemachus then planted the battle axes in a row, then tried to string the bow.  Three times he stretched the bow, and was on the point of stringing it, when he caught his father’s eye and stopped.  he then called on the other suitors to test their strength and skill.  Leodes was the first suitor to attempt to string the bow, but could not even bend the instrument.  Frustrated, he cried out: Here is a bow to rob our best of life and breath, all our best contenders!  Still, better be dead than live on here, never winning the prize that tempts us all- forever in pursuit burning with expectation every day. . . (XXI 174 -178) As Antinous goaded on the suitors, Eumaeus, Philoetius the cow-herd and Odysseus slipped outside the palace.  Odysseus spoke to them, saying: Cowherd, swineherd, what, shall I blurt this out or keep it to myself? No, speak out.  The heart inside me says so. How far would you go to fight beside Odysseus? Say he dropped like that from a clear blue sky and a god brought him back- would you fight for the suitors or your king? Tell me how you feel inside your hearts.  (XXI 218-225) The two men spoke up immediately - they would follow their king.  Then Odysseus in yet another of the poem’s revelatory moments, spoke up: I’m right here, here in the flesh-myself-and home at last, after bearing twenty years of brutal hardship. . . Come, I’ll show you something-living proof- know me for certain, put your minds at rest. This scar, look, where a boar’s white tusk gored me, years ago, hunting on Parnassus, Autoclytus’ sons and I.  (XXI 233-235; 244-247) And they recognized their king, home at last.  Quickly, Odysseus revealed his plans to his friends, and instructed Eumaeus to bring his bow and arrow to him despite the suitor’s objections.  Once the bow was safely in Odysseus’ hands, Eumaeus was to tell the serving girls to lock the doors to their rooms.  In the meantime, Philoetius was to lock the outside gates of the palace to ensure that none of the suitors escaped their fate.  The4 plans being agreed upon, the three men went back into the palace, one by one. Meanwhile, in the palace, Eurymachus grasped the bow and attempted to bend it.  Unable to bend the bow, he complained:  “What breaks my heart is the fact that we all fall so short/of great Odysseus’ strength we cannot string his bow./ A disgrace to ring in the ears of men to come” (XXI 283-285).  Antinous, hearing Eurymachus’ words, replied that no one else will come to string the bow - why not resort to feasting on Apollo’s holiday?  The suitors then did what they were best at doing:  they sat and poured full cups of wine for each of them. Odysseus then rose up and told the suitors that they should rest, take it easy.  IN the meantime, if they didn’t mind, could he try his strength by stringing the bow?   Antinous immediately turned on him and accused him of being drunk and eavesdropping on the suitor’s plans.  Penelope then stepped in and upbraided Antinous for his harsh treatment of the stranger.  She urged the suitors to allow the beggar to attempt to string the bow, and admonished them saying that the stranger never made his journey to win her as his wife.