Book 18 continues the thirty-ninth and longest day of the Odyssey : Odysseus boxes with the beggar Irus (1–157), Penelope appears before the Suitors and Odysseus (158–303), and 'the beggar' is again harassed by servants and Suitors (304–428). After that the Suitors go home to sleep and the stage is free for 'the beggar' and the queen to meet. Thus the three scenes are primarily a retardation †, postponing the direct confrontation between Odysseus and Penelope; cf. 17.492–606n. At the same time, they contain an important development of the plot: Penelope's announcement that she will remarry, which will lead to her decision to organize the contest of the bow, which will offer Odysseus the–unexpected–means of carrying out his revenge; cf. 158–303n.
1–158 The 'Irus' scene belongs to a series of violent incidents between 'the beggar' and the Suitors or servants; cf. 17.360–506n. It also recalls 8.131–233, when Odysseus was challenged by Phaeacian youths to participate in their athletic contests and, despite his age and exhaustion, defeated them; the opposition 'young'–'old' plays an important role in this confrontation, too (cf. 10, 21, 27, 31, and 52–3). Irus, who is younger than 'the beggar', is typically the champion of the young Suitors.
The scene is one of the burlesque parts of the Odyssey, comparable to the song of Ares and Aphrodite (8.266–366):1 the Suitors enjoy the boxing contest as a form of entertainment, while the narratees may notice the parody of a typical battle-scene (the opponents exchange threatening speeches before their fight: 9–33; prepare themselves: 66–7; receive help from a god: 69–70; the defeated party 'bites the dust': 98a= Il. 16.469a; and____________________