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

The Storm Arrives, Book XXI

Eurymachus, however, replied to Penelope that if the beggar managed to string the bow, the suitors would be shamed.  Penelope, quickly answered: How can you hope for any public fame at all? You who disgrace, devour a great man’s house and home! Why hang your heads in shame over next to nothing? Our friend here is a strapping, well-built man and claims to be the son of a noble father, Come, hand him the bow now, let’s just see. . . (XXI 370-375) Telemachus then stepped forward and said that he, more than anyone had a right to let any man he chose try his hand at Odysseus’ bow.  He then ordered Penelope to go to her rooms and await the results of the contest.  Penelope, amazed, nevertheless listened to her son and retired to her rooms.  Just then, Eumaeus, according to plan, took up the bow and proceeded to carry it to Odysseus, still disguised as a stranger.  But as he carried the bow, the suitors mocked the swine-herder, causing him to become distracted.  Then Telemachus told Eumaeus to continue, and the loyal swineherd recovered, and gave the bow to Odysseus.  Once the bow was in Odysseus’ hands, the swineherd approached Eurycleia, the old nurse, and gave her instructions to keep to her rooms, and advised her to tell the rest of the women servants to do the same.  Just then, Philoetius, the cowherd, left the palace and locked the gates outside the palace. Odysseus, handling the bow, turned it over, inspecting it to see if it was still in good form.  He looked the bow up and down, like “an expert singer skilled at lyre and song-/ who strains a string to a new peg with ease,/making the pliant sheep-gut fast at either end” (XXI 453-455).  And then, to the horror of the suitors, he strung the bow with ease and plucked the bowstring with his right hand.  Just then, Zeus sent out a warning-a lightning bolt hurled from the sky. The man of cunning then set an arrow on the bowstring and let it fly!  “and never missing an ax from the first ax-handle/clean on through to the last and out/the shaft with its weighted brazen head shot free!” (XXI 469-471).  Odysseus then gave a sign to his son, Telemachus, who “girding his sharp sword on, clamping his hand to spear,/took his stand by a chair that flanked his father-/his bronze spearpoint glinting now like fire. . . “ (XXI 482-484). Ulysses killing the suitors