The Odyssey, Book XVI

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A Plan is Hatched

As Telemachus approached Eumaeus’ hut the dogs did not bark but wagged their tails as they recognised who it was. Eumaeus emotionally welcomed Telemachus who enquired whether his mother had married one of the suitors in his absence.

Telemachus did not recognise his father in disguise and asked Eumaeus who he was. Eumaeus said he originated from Crete and had recently escaped from a ship. Telemachus said he would arrange for the stranger to be given clothing and a sword but should not go to the palace to be at the mercy of the suitors. Odysseus asked Telemachus how he could bear the treatment of the suitors and said that, if he were younger, he would go and kill them. Telemachus asked Eumaeus to go and tell his mother and no-one else that he had returned from Pylos.

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Odysseus and Telemachus reunite, by George Truffaut, 1880.

While he was gone, Athena told Odysseus to tell Telemachus who he really was so that they could plan together how to kill the suitors and she changed him to his former appearance. Telemachus thought he must be a god but Odysseus revealed who he really was and they emotionally embraced each other. Odysseus explained how he had returned to Ithaca on a Phaeacian ship with treasure which he had hidden.

Telemachus told his father he did not think the two of them could overpower the large number of suitors but Odysseus reassured him by saying he had the help of Athena and Zeus; Telemachus should return to the palace and with Eumaeus he would follow disguised as an old beggar; when Telemachus saw Odysseus nod he should remove all weapons from the hall and store them in an upstairs room, leaving only two swords, spears and shields for themselves; Telemachus should tell no-one that Odysseus had returned and should not react if he was insulted by the suitors.

When the ship in which Telemachus had sailed from Pylos docked they met it and sent a messenger to Penelope to say Telemachus was in the countryside. Penelope therefore heard of Telemachus’ return from both Eumaeus and the messenger.

Penelope and the Suitors, painting by John William Waterhouse, 1912.

The suitors were shocked that Telemachus had returned and escaped their ambush and discussed how they could kill him before he reached the city; otherwise, if he lived, they should individually court Penelope with their wealth. One of the leaders of the suitors, Amphinomus, proposed they should consult Zeus as to whether to kill Telemachus or not and the others agreed. Meanwhile Penelope confronted the suitors and Antinous in particular, saying she knew they had plotted to kill her son even though his father had received mercy from Odysseus when the Thesprotians had wanted to kill him. Eurymachus, lying, said Telemachus had nothing to fear from the suitors and Penelope withdrew to her chamber.

When Eumaeus returned to his home, Athena once again disguised Odysseus as an old beggar so that Eumaeus would not recognise him and be tempted to tell Penelope. Eumaeus told them that the ship of suitors waiting to ambush Telemachus had returned.

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