The Odyssey, Book XXIV

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Hermes escorted the souls of the suitors to the Underworld where they met the souls of Achilles, Antilochus, Ajax and Agamemnon. Agamemnon described the mourning and funeral honours after Achilles’ death and the mound built over his bones and those of Patroclus for having died bravely in battle, while he had died a piteous death, murdered by his wife and her lover when he returned home. Agamemnon recognised one of the suitors, Amphimedon, and when asked how he and the other suitors had died, Amphimedon related why they had been in Odysseus’ palace and how they had died. Agamemnon praised Penelope for her loyalty to Odysseus over the years which would never be forgotten, in contrast to the betrayal of his own wife, Clytemnaestra.

Souls on the Banks of the Acheron, painting depicting Hermes in the Underworld by Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1898.

Odysseus meanwhile found Laertes in his vineyard, looking old and tired, shabbily dressed and clearly in mourning. He decided to test whether his father would recognise him. Odysseus praised Laertes for looking after his farm so well but not himself; he said his name was Eperitus and in his own country, Alybas, five years ago he had entertained a man claiming to be Odysseus and given him gifts; he hoped to meet him again. Laertes poured dust over his head in mourning and Odysseus, no longer able to maintain the subterfuge, embraced and kissed his father, revealing who he really was. When Laertes asked for proof, Odysseus showed him his scar and named the trees Laertes had given him in this orchard as a boy. Laertes was convinced and was overjoyed but worried that the Ithacans would turn against them for killing the suitors. After a meal and a bath, Athena enhanced Laertes’ appearance whilst his servant, Dolius, and his sons returned from work and welcomed Odysseus.

Rumour meanwhile carried news of the suitors’ deaths and their families gathered outside the palace to retrieve their bodies, mourn them and seek revenge. They were stopped by Medon and the minstrel, whom Odysseus had spared, who told them Odysseus had a god on his side when he killed the suitors. Halitherses said they should take no action and that they should have stopped the suitors from their wrongdoing long ago. Some listened to him but others, led by Eupeithes, father of Antinous, took up weapons and went to confront Odysseus.

Odysseus and Laertes, Museo Barracco, Rome
Odysseus embraces his father. (c) KSpartiatis

When Athena asked Zeus’ advice about whether to allow more violence to take place, he advised her to make peace between the two sides.

Odysseus, Teleamchus, Eumaeus, Philoteus, Laertes, Dolius and his six sons armed themselves together with Athena, disguised once again as Mentor, and went to meet those gathered against them. At the instigation of Athena, Laertes threw his spear at Eupeithes, killing him, and Odysseus and his helpers attacked the front rank. Athena, however, uttered a war cry which stopped the Ithacans from fighting and they fled to the city, pursued by Odysseus. Zeus threw a thunderbolt in front of Athena and she ordered Odysseus to stop fighting his countrymen or risk incurring the anger of Zeus. Odysseus obeyed and peace followed.

Book XXIII Overview