In Book XIX of Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus, posing as a poor beggar, has a discussion with Penelope regarding Odysseus himself, and how the “two” met. Readers may question why Penelope does not recognize her own husband. Later on, one sees that at least Eurycleia distinguishes Odysseus. Penelope reveals a dream she has had to Odysseus, asking for an explanation. This Book of The Odyssey brings forth an envisage regarding the death of the suitors that is soon to come.
Book XIX starts with Telemachus and Odysseus removing the arms by the light of Athena and storing them for safety as the suitors retreat for the night. Odysseus sends Telemachus off to bed and prepares “to test the women, test [Telemachus’s] mother too” (391). 1 Penelope, and everyone else for that matter, is now under the impression that Odysseus is a beggar. Melantho starts the discussion by lashing out on Odysseus.
Penelope, in defense of the beggar, scolds Melantho, saying, “Make no mistake, you brazen, shameless bitch … y heart breaks for him” (393). Penelope, well aware of the relationship between the beggar and Odysseus, asks Eurynome to bring out a soft chair in order than the beggar can tell his story. She wishes to ask him careful details about his friendship with her missing husband. Odysseus begins by flattering Penelope, but she says her only concern is her husband whom she misses. She explains that a plan was devised by her, stating that when she finished a web she was weaving, she would marry a suitor. Each night she unraveled what she had done.
She goes on to ask of the beggar’s past. The beggar mentions Crete and then Cnossos, where he says he had met Odysseus. He tells of how he then brought Odysseus to his home and “treated him in style” (396). He explains that the wind kept Odysseus and his crew at the beggar’s home, and on the thirteenth day when the wind died down, the Achaeans could finally set sail for Troy. Penelope weeps as she listens to Odysseus’s tale. To test the beggar further, Penelope asks what kind of clothes Odysseus wore, what cut he was, and what sort of people followed him.
The beggar answers each question, and Penelope once again weeps. Odysseus’s wife continues, explaining how she has given up hope. She cannot even bring herself to say Troy. “Destroy, I call it – I hate to say its name! ” (399). The beggar assures her that Odysseus is alive and well, and that he is going to return. Penelope doubts him. She prolongs the conversation, offering him a bed with “bedding, blankets, and lustrous spreads to keep him warm” (400). The beggar objects, saying he is used to the floor by now.
He does, however, agree to allow Eurycleia to bathe him. As she does so, she notices a scar on Odysseus’s leg. It was from a boar’s white tusk, received one day many years ago when Odysseus was hunting with Autolycus, his grandfather. Eurycleia tries to gesture to Penelope that the beggar is her own husband, but Odysseus reaches out, grabs Eurycleia, and pulls her toward him. He states that she had not say a word to anyone in the house, or he “will not spare [her] … when [he] kills the other women in [his] house” (406).
She acquiesces. Penelope decides to ask the beggar his opinion of a dream she has had, in which a “great hook-beaked eagle” (407) lunges down and attacks her twenty geese, which she loves to watch. The eagle kills them all, swoops back down, lands on Penelope’s roof and says that he is her husband. The beggar explains that this dream means Odysseus will return. Penelope argues and plans to marry a new husband. She will marry the man who can shoot an arrow through the holes of twelve axes in a line.
She goes upstairs to sleep, and cries after her husband, Odysseus. Book XIX of The Odyssey definitely does a lot for this epic as a whole. Not only does Penelope have a long discussion with Odysseus, revealing a lot about her love and loyalty to her husband, but she also presents to readers a dream that really ties the epic together. Throughout all of The Odyssey, one can sense that the annihilation of the suitors is inexorable. The dream of Penelope fervently implies that this inescapable fate is coming soon.