Sheila Murnaghan


ODYSSEUS AND
THE SUITORS

The episode, spanning Books 21 and 22 of the Odyssey, in which Odysseus makes himself publicly known as he strings the bow, shoots through the axes, and turns on the suitors is at once the central recognition scene of the poem and the most anomalous. It lacks the essential characteristics of the scenes analyzed in the previous chapter, for it contains no element of reciprocity or mutuality. While its central action is the removal of disguise, it is devoid of recognition. Odysseus neither seeks the suitors' recognition nor receives it, and he offers the suitors no acknowledgment in return. Although Odysseus' self-revelation in this episode has many of the features of a divine epiphany, it lacks the ringing announcement of his name that occurs in most of the other recognition scenes of the Odyssey. He does not enter into negotiations with the suitors but begins to attack them at once; it is only after he has killed Antinous that he tells the suitors who he is, and even then he does so indirectly in a speech of relentless hostility. "ὦ κύν∊ς, οὔ μ' ἔτ' ἐϕάσκ∊θ' ὑπότροπον οἴκαδ' ἱκέσθαι/δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὃτι μοι κατακ∊ίρ∊τ∊ οἴκον," "You dogs, you didn't believe I would still come back/home again from Troy, and so you lay waste my household...." (Od. 22.35-36). He makes no attempt to distinguish among them but addresses them collectively as "kunes, ""dogs," less than humans.

Nor do the suitors acknowledge the claim to be Odysseus that is implicit in his speech and actions. Eurymachus, even in a speech designed to placate Odysseus and to deny that any of them but Antinous has really ignored Odysseus' rights, betrays his insincerity by refusing to concede absolutely that this is Odysseus. "∊ἰ μὲν δὴ Ὀδυσ∊ὺς Ἰθακήσιος ∊ἰλήλουθας,/τῦτα μὲν αἴσιμα ∊ἶπως, ὅσα ῥέζ∊σκον Ἀχαιοί," "If you really are Odysseus of Ithaca, having returned,/then what you have said is fair about what the Achaeans have done to you...." (Od. 22.45-46). 1 When this speech is unsuccessful, and the hostility between them has

____________________
From Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp. 56-68, 74-77, 82-90.

-273-

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Odysseus/Ulysses
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Odysseus/ Ulysses *
  • Contents *
  • The Analysis of Character ix
  • Editor's Note xv
  • Introduction i
  • Critical Extracts 7
  • The Odyssey and the Western World 89
  • The Name of Odysseus 103
  • Homer and Hamlet 118
  • Kazantzakis: Odysseus and the "Cage of Freedom" 133
  • Shakespeare's Ulysses and the Problem of Value 144
  • The Fugitive from the Ancestral Hearth: Tennyson's "Ulysses" 161
  • Seeds for the Planting of Bloom 176
  • Dante's Ulysses: from Epic to Novel 189
  • Odysseus in Sophocles' Philoctetes 203
  • Joyce and Homer 214
  • The Platonic and Christian Ulysses 228
  • The Philosophy of Th E Odyssey 249
  • Odysseus and the Suitors 273
  • Chronology 289
  • Contributors 291
  • Bibliography 293
  • Acknowledgments 299
  • Index 303
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