The Odyssey, Book XVIII

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Beggar vs. Beggar

Another beggar, Arnaeus, with the nickname Irus because he ran errands (named after Iris, the messenger of the gods), tried to drive Odysseus away from the palace. When Odysseus said there were sufficient handouts for them both Irus challenged Odysseus to a fight. Antinous promised the winner the pick of some roasted goats and dinner every evening. All the suitors swore an oath not to help Irus. As Odysseus tucked up his clothing to reveal his muscles Athena filled out his limbs, to the admiration of everyone and the alarm of Irus, especially as Antinous threatened, if he lost, to send him to King Echetus the Destroyer who would maim him. Odysseus easily won the fight, only wounding Irus slightly in the neck as he did not want to arouse the suitors’ suspicion. Odysseus dragged Irus to the courtyard gate, placing a stick in his hand and telling him to scare away pigs and dogs.

Odysseus Fighting with the Beggar
Odysseus fights the beggar Irus, painting by Lovis Corninth, 1903.

As Odysseus took his promised reward and Amphinomous handed him two loaves of bread and wished him well in the future, Odysseus warned him to return home before Odysseus returned and took his revenge. Amphinomous felt disaster coming but he would not be spared.

Penelope decided to speak to the suitors so Athena made her fall asleep and endowed her with divine beauty. The suitors desired her even more when they saw her and Eurymachus said if more Greeks could see her she would have even more suitors. Penelope remembered the day when Odysseus left and the promise she had made to him that, if he had not returned by the time Telemachus had grown a beard Penelope should remarry: that time had come, so she told the suitors that, instead of living on the riches of the palace, they should bring her gifts. Antinous said they would not leave the palace until she had married one of them but the suitors did all send a squire to bring a gift. After reprimanding Telemachus for allowing the suitors to treat the beggar (Odysseus) badly Penelope withdrew to her rooms with the gifts.

Suitors presenting gifts to a princess #19059459 Framed Prints
Suitors presenting gifts, print by Walter Crane.

Odysseus sent the servant girls, who were keeping the braziers alight, to Penelope to keep her company saying he would do their job. One of them, Melantho, who had become mistress to Eurymachus, challenged him but all the servant girls withdrew.

At Athena’s instigation, to make Odysseus more determined to kill them, the suitors taunted Odysseus: Eurymachus invited him to come and work for him and abandon his lazy ways of begging; to which Odysseus challenged him at farming and fighting, saying he was a boaster and a bully whom Odysseus would send packing if he were there. Eurymachus was angry at being insulted in front of everyone and threw a stool at Odysseus, which missed and hit the wine steward. Telemachus with authority told them to go to their beds and Amphinomous supported this suggestion. After making an offering of wine to the gods they dispersed for the night.

Book XVII Book XIX