The Odyssey, Book XIII

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Odysseus arrives at Ithaca

On the next day after the sacrifice of an ox to Zeus and feasting on its carcass and after drink offerings were made to Zeus, Odysseus’ ship was loaded with Alcinous’ gifts. The ship set sail in the evening with the Phaeacian crew rowing and Odysseus soon fell asleep. They made good progress and approached Ithaca at dawn, landing at a cave on the headland. The Phaeacians unloaded the gifts along with Odysseus, without waking him, and returned home.

Port Scene with the Departure of Odysseus from the Land of the Phaeacians, painting by Claude Lorrain, 1646.

Poseidon, angry at Odysseus’ homecoming, complained to Zeus, wanting to destroy the Phaeacian ship on its voyage home and punish their city for helping Odysseus by surrounding it with high mountains. Zeus allowed him to turn the ship into stone. Alcinous remembered a prophecy that this would happen and sacrificed twelve bulls to Poseidon in the hope he would refrain from hemming in the city; he did refrain.

When Odysseus awoke he did not recognise he was in Ithaca as Athena had covered the island in a mist to make it unrecognisable. Athena appeared to him disguised as a young shepherd and, in answer to his questions as to his location, told him he was on Ithaca. He told the shepherd a false story of how he came to be there with so many gifts, claiming he was an exile from Crete for having killed Orsilochus.

Athena disguises Odysseus as a beggar, painting by Giuseppe Bottani, 1775.

Athena, now in the disguise of a beautiful woman, told Odysseus, ever the master of subterfuge, that she knew he was lying. She disclosed herself as Athena and removed the mist so that Odysseus could recognise he was back in Ithaca. They hid the gifts in the cave and then plotted how to outwit the suitors who had been living in his palace for three years; she told him his wife, Penelope, was still pining and waiting for him; he should tell no-one who he was and must bear all the indignities that he would initially receive; she would change his appearance into that of an old beggar; he must go to Eumaeus, the swineherd who remained loyal to Odysseus and his family; she meanwhile would go to Sparta to tell Telemachus to return home. As Athena left she transformed Odysseus into an old beggar so he would not be recognised, thus giving him time to investigate the situation and hatch a plan to kill the suitors.

Book XII Book XIV