HOMER: The Odyssey [Book XXIV]

In Book XXIV of Homer’s Odyssey, the God Mercury conducts the souls of the dead suitors to Hades. During their journey, the suitors pass by the Elysian fields where they see Agamemnon speaking to Achilles. Agamemnon relates the story of Achilles’ burial and of the funeral games held in his honor. “Thus even in death your fame, Achilles, has not been lost, and your name lives evermore among all mankind.”

Proper burial and a conspicuous grave were necessary funeral rites of the Ancient Greeks. Without a proper burial, the departed souls would not be able to gain access to the underworld and would be condemned to wander for eternity. This is why the threat of being fed to dogs and to vultures after death was so horrifying to the Ancient Greeks.

After discussing the happenings beneath Earth, Homer returns his attention to Odysseus, who has just arrived at his father Laertes’ house in the countryside. Like so many times before, Odysseus pretends to be someone who he is not. He tells his father that he met Odysseus during his travels and wishes to know whether Odysseus’ father Laertes still lives here. When Laertes breaks into tears upon hearing his son’s name, Odysseus reveals himself to him and the two men embrace one another.

After their reunion, the two men consult with Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius about the best way to handle the avengers of the suitors. Soon after their meeting is finished, the kinsmen of the suitors appear at the house. Odysseus and his allies successfully repel the attacking force, and then Athena establishes an everlasting peace between Odysseus and the people of Ithaca. Thus ends Homer’s Odyssey.

During the final battle of the epic, Odysseus urges his son Telemachus to fight bravely and thus honor the valiant heroes of his lineage. Overhearing these words of encouragement, Laertes remarks upon how happy he is that his son and grandson are courageous men. “What a day I am enjoying: I do indeed rejoice at it. My son and grandson are vying with one another in the matter of valour.” Despite facing overwhelming odds and despite the high likelihood of death, Laertes is happy because his son and grandson are courageous men. Besides fame, the things that render an Ancient Greek most happy are valiant sons and grandsons.

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