A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey

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

This book contains the night of the long thirty-ninth day (1–90) and the first part of the equally long (1,581 lines) fortieth day, which will not end until 23.343; cf. Appendix A.

The night brings the preoccupations of Odysseus and Penelope (1–121), and the early day replays of earlier scenes: Odysseus meeting good and bad servants (162–239), the Suitors planning Telemachus' death (240–7), and the Suitors abusing 'the beggar' (284–394). The functions of these scenes are: (i) to increase the tension by deferring the bow-contest which was announced in 19.570–81 (an instance of retardation †), while at the same time repeatedly anticipating the death of the Suitors (cf. 13.372–439n.), most notably in the form of the eerie omen seen only by Theoclymenus; and (ii) to make clear one more time the ethical and emotional position of the parties involved (the longing of Odysseus and Penelope for each other, and the gods' support for Odysseus versus the wickedness of the Suitors).

Infected by the mounting tension of his story, the narrator steps forward more often than is his wont (cf. 1.1–10n.), showing his own feelings through the use of character-language; cf. 287–90, 291, 300–2, and 392–4nn.1

1–121 This scene shows us husband and wife during the last night of their twenty-year separation, the narrator repeatedly switching between the two ('interlace' technique †):

19.603–4 Athena sheds sleep over Penelope.

20.1–57 Odysseus lies awake and converses with Athena, who finally sheds sleep over him.

____________________
1
Griffin (1986: 47).

-483-

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