HOMER: The Odyssey [Book XVIII]

In Book XVIII of Homer’s Odyssey, a beggar named Irus arrives at the palace. He immediately picks a quarrel with Odysseus. The suitors encourage the fight, promising to provide the choicest lamb meat to the winner of the fight. Odysseus knocks out Irus with one blow and then places him outside the palace.

After the fight, Penelope appears before the suitors and chides them for not lavishing her with gifts, as is the custom of the country. The suitors readily give her their best jewels and garments. Meanwhile, Odysseus looks on with delight at the cunning of his wife.

After the suitors bestow gifts on Penelope, the suitors renew their revels. During the festivities, the suitor named Eurymachus ridicules Odysseus for being a worthless beggar. Odysseus, in turn, scolds Eurymachus for his arrogance and impertinence. “You are insolent and cruel, and think yourself a great man because you live in a little world, and that a bad one. If Odysseus comes to his own again, the doors of his house are wide, but you will find them narrow when you try to fly through them.”

According to the Ancient Greeks, arrogance, such as that displayed by Eurymachus, is one of the worst faults a man can possess. Although the Ancient Greeks celebrated personal achievements and sought to ascend above others, they also warned against the dangers of arrogance. Their tragedies revolved around actions of hubris – which is excessive pride towards the gods. Such pride is always struck down by the gods. Homer emphasizes this sentiment through the mouthpiece of Odysseus:

“Man is the vainest of all creatures upon earth. As long as heaven vouchsafes him health and strength, he thinks that he shall come to no harm. I know all about it, for I was a rich man once, and did much wrong in the stubbornness of my pride; therefore, let a man fear God in all things always, and take the good that heaven may see fit to send him without vainglory.”

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