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

The Storm Arrives, Book XXI

Odysseus stringing his bow Book XXI opens dramatically: The time had come.  The goddess Athena with her blazing eyes Inspired Penelope, Icarius’ daughter, wary, poised, to set the bow and the gleaming iron axes out before her suitors waiting in Odysseus’ hall- to test their skill and bring their slaughter on. (XXI 1-5) Penelope made her way to the storeroom where the bow and arrows lay, a gift from his friend Iphitus.  After retrieving the bow and arrows, she addressed the gathered suitors as follows: Listen to me, my overbearing friends! You who plague this palace night and day, drinking, eating us out of house and home, with the lord and master absent, gone so long- the only excuse that you can offer is your zest to win me as your bride.  So, to arms, my gallants! Here is the prize at issue, right before you, look- I set before you the great bow of King Odysseus now! The hand that can string this bow with greatest ease, that shoots an arrow clean through all twelve axes- he is the man I will follow, yes, forsaking this house where I was once a bride, this gracious house so filled with the best that life can offer- I shall always remember it, that I know. . . even in my dreams.  (XXI 78-92) In this one speech, delivered before the suitors, Penelope brings together many of the themes running through the poem.  First, she highlights the selfishness and vanity of the suitors, acting against the laws of hospitality and the host/guest relationship.  Next, she offers herself up as the prize to be won; but the winning involves a test of courage, strength, and skill - no prize to be taken up lightly.  Then, she recounts the love she bears for the house, and the man she has not seen for twenty years; twenty years of faithful longing for her husband.  She is indeed, a heroine worthy of so great a husband. Eumaeus, the loyal swineherd, took the bow from Penelope and set it among the suitors.  And then, Antinous, braggart that he was, mocked the tears shed by Eumaeus and Penelope.