HOMER: The Odyssey [Book XIX]

In Book XIX of Homer’s Odyssey, Telemachus and Odysseus remove all weapons from the armory and place them in a locked room on the second floor of the palace. They explain that they are removing the weapons because the smoke and ashes of the fire have tarnished them. In reality, Telemachus and Odysseus do not want the suitors to have access to weapons.

After transporting the weapons, Telemachus goes to bed and Odysseus goes to speak with Penelope. Penelope asks Odysseus about his past. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus fabricates a story that he is a rich man named, Aethon. He lived on the island of Crete and once hosted Odysseus at his home when Odysseus stopped at the island on his way to Troy. He also shares with Penelope that Odysseus is currently in the land of the Thresprotians and that he will return to Ithaca within a month’s time.

Penelope is hesitant to believe Odysseus’ tale, but she reveals that she had a dream in which an eagle swooped down and killed all 20 of her geese. Odysseus interprets her dream to mean that Odysseus will return and slay the suitors. Penelope is not convinced. She says that “dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfillment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfillment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them. But in my case it was not from thence, methinks, that my strange dream came.”

Dreams have always fascinated men. Many have believed that dreams are messages sent from the gods. In Book XIX, Homer asserts that dreams are indeed divine messages about the future, but that some dreams are false and some are true. Naturally this leads to the question – how can one determine whether a dream is true or false? Homer provides no answer. This leaves the Ancient Grecian in a perilous situation. If he has a dream that he will become king of a city by raising an army and killing the current king, then he must determine whether the dream is a true prophecy sent from the gods or a deceitful dream that will lead him to his ruin.

After the conversation between Penelope and Odysseus, Penelope orders her old handmaiden, Euryclea, to wash Odysseus’ feet before going to bed. As she washes his feet, Euryclea notices a unique scar on Odysseus’ leg that he received while hunting boar on Mt. Parnassus with his grandfather. She immediately recognizes him and breaks into tears of joy. Odysseus rebukes her and warns her not to reveal his identity to the rest of the house lest it foil his plan. Euryclea promises to keep his identity a secret, even from Penelope.

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