The Odyssey, Book XIV

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Odysseus seeks out Eumaeus

Odysseus found Eumaeus sitting outside his hut close to where he kept the pigs he looked after. He saved Odysseus from being attacked by his dogs, welcomed him into his hut and slaughtered and roasted two piglets for Odysseus to eat. He described the situation with the suitors eating the palace’s livestock and said he believed his kind master, Odysseus, whom he mourned, was dead.

Odysseus told Eumaeus that Odysseus would return soon and would punish the suitors. Eumaeus did not believe him, although he wished what he said was true, and expressed his fear for Telemachus who had gone to Pylos in search of news of his father and for whom the suitors had laid an ambush on his return.

Odysseus and Eumaeus
Odysseus and Eumaeus

When asked who he was and where he had come from, Odysseus made up a false story: that he was from Crete, the illegitimate son of a rich man, who, after his father died, was left with little by his legitimate half brothers; he married a rich wife, commanded a fleet, acquired a lot of plunder, fought in the Trojan War, reached home safely, went to Egypt where he was attacked when his men disobeyed orders and killed and plundered some Egyptians; he was spared by the Egyptian king and stayed there for several years, amassing a fortune, but after being persuaded by a Phoenician to join him on a voyage to his home, after a year he was made to board another ship bound for Libya; a storm wrecked this ship but Zeus saved him and, after drifting for nine days, he landed in Thesprotia where he was offered hospitality by the king who told him he had entertained Odysseus who was currently consulting the oracle of Zeus at Dodona as to whether he should return to Ithaca openly or in disguise; the king said he had a ship waiting to take Odysseus home; in the meantime he gave him a ship but its crew attacked him, dressed him in rags and, when they landed in Ithaca, tied him up before they went ashore; he had escaped and the ship had now left; he had then made his way to Eumaeus.

Eumaeus, pitied him; however, he did not believe the part of his story about Odysseus, especially as a previous stranger had lied, he believed, about seeing Odysseus in Crete with Idomeneus, saying Odysseus would return home that year. Odysseus said that if Odysseus did not return as he said he should be thrown over a precipice for lying. Eumaeus said he would not do that to someone to whom he had offered hospitality.

Sacrifice of a young boar in ancient Greece (tondo from an Attic red-figure cup, 510–500 BC, by the Epidromos Painter, collections of the Louvre)
Sacrifice of a young boar in ancient Greece. Tondo from an Attic red-figure cup, 510–500 BC, by the Epidromos Painter. Louvre.

When Eumaeus’ men returned they killed and roasted a hog to feast on, making offerings for Odysseus’ safe return.

Odysseus then tested Eumaeus to see whether he or one of his men would give him a cloak to keep off the cold. He made up a story that in Troy when he was in need of a cloak to keep off the cold Odysseus had sent one of his men to take a message to Agamemnon leaving his cloak behind for him. Eumaeus said he had no spare cloaks to give him but he covered him with one of his own for the night and went to guard the pigs. Odysseus was pleased to see Eumaeus’ care and concern for his absent master’s property.

Book XIII Book XV