A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey

By Irene J. F. De Jong | Go to book overview
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BOOK SEVENTEEN

This book starts day thirty-nine, which will end in 20.90, and thus takes up 1,728 lines; cf. Appendix A. Whereas in the Iliad the rhythm of narration decreases in the middle of the story, with the two long battle-days featuring the death of Patroclus and Hector, the Odyssey slows down towards the end, with the long day of Odysseus' return to the palace and incognito meetings with the Suitors and Penelope (17.1–20.90) and that of his revenge on the Suitors and reunion with Penelope (20.90–23.341). This first day is punctuated not only by the regular sunrise (17.1) and nightfall (18.306) but also by indications of the progression of time: 'the beggar' fears the early morning chill (25), Eumaeus warns that the greater part of the day has passed and hence the cold will return (190–1), and the narrator notes that the third part of the day, just before sunset, has arrived (606); cf. Il. 8.66–9 and 11.84–91.1

Odysseus' incognito stay at his palace is a highly expanded, and hence at times barely discernible, instance of the *'visit' type-scene, with the Suitors repeatedly perverting the hospitality ritual:2 (i) setting off (182–203); (ii+ iii) arrival+situation found (260–73); (iv) reception: Odysseus is first of all seen and recognized by the watchdog Argus (291–327); instead of waiting on the threshold, 'the beggar' seats himself on it (339–41); instead of offering him a seat, the Suitors throw footstools at him (462–3; 18.394–7); (v) instead of being given a meal, Odysseus begs for scraps of food (Book 17 passim); (vii) 'the beggar' has his feet washed (19.317–507); (viii) the preparation of a bed involves several stages: the 'bad' female servant Melantho suggests that the beggar go away and sleep at a smithy's or public gathering place (18.327–9), Penelope offers him a bed on the portico, with proper

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1
Hellwig (1964: 41–5).
2
Reece (1993: 165–87).

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