HOMER: The Odyssey [Book XXII]

In Book XXII of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus shoots an arrow through Antinous’ throat, killing him. The other suitors are shocked and angrily threaten to kill Odysseus and feed him to the vultures. However, after Odysseus reveals his true identity, the suitor Eurymachus tries to dissuade Odysseus from killing the rest of them. He says that Antinous was the leader of the suitors and was responsible for the squandering of Odysseus’ wealth. Eurymachus also promises that every suitor will recompense Odysseus. “We will make everything good among ourselves, and pay you in full for all that we have eaten and drunk. Each one of us shall pay you a fine worth twenty oxen, and we will keep on giving you gold and bronze till your heart is softened.”

Eurymachus’ speech does not shake Odysseus’ resolve. Odysseus – with assistance from Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius – shows no mercy as he shoots down most of the suitors and then spears and hacks to death the survivors.

After the slaughter, he orders the handmaidens who misbehaved in his absence to drag the bodies into the courtyard and clean the bloody mess within the house. When they finish, Odysseus orders Telemachus to kill them. Telemachus does not wish to give them a clean death by the sword, so he hangs them. Additionally, Eumaeus and Philoetius killed the disloyal goatherd Melanthius, who provided arms to the suitors during the fight. “They cut off his nose and his ears; they drew out his vitals and gave them to the dogs raw, and then in their fury they cut off his hands and his feet.”

Such grisly scenes pervade Book XXII and resemble the many battle scenes in the Iliad. Homer’s descriptions of warfare and slaughter are so vivid and precise that he likely witnessed such events firsthand. Unlike many of the modern West who recoil upon just hearing these scenes described, Homer seems to celebrate and relish them. “As eagle-beaked, crook-taloned vultures from the mountains swoop down on the smaller birds that cower in flocks upon the ground, and kill them, for they cannot either fight or fly, and lookers on enjoy the sport – even so did Ulysses and his men fall upon the suitors and smite them on every side.”

Yet Homer, like the consummate Greek, is careful to avoid the ruinous vice of arrogance. “Rejoice in silence; restrain yourself, and do not make any noise about it; it is an unholy thing to vaunt over dead men. Heaven’s doom and their own evil deeds have brought these men to destruction, for they respected no man in the whole world, neither rich nor poor, who came near them, and they have come to a bad end as a punishment for their wickedness and folly.”

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