At last the day has dawned. Odysseus and Telemachus must venture into the den of beasts itself, the lair of the suitors. We learn of the sort of abuses that are perpetrated within that household. We have heard Telemachus and Penelope lament the actions of the suitors; now we witness it for ourselves.

The suitors reveal themselves to be brutal and insensible to moral codes. Their demeanor is similar to that of the Cyclops. In fact much of the events of these chapters recalls that episode. Odysseus to deceive the suitors and divine the loyalties of the household again dons the disguise of the beggar. To Polyphemus he claimed himself to be ‘Nobody.’ Now Odysseus is considered by all to be a nameless stranger, a nobody.

Odysseus ever sensitive to blows against his pride must find it in himself to endure their taunts and abuse. Like the Cyclops, these suitors have a gross disdain for the laws of hospitality. They mock the idea of giving gifts and when pressured do not hesitate to launch projectiles at the disguised king. But Odysseus must not give in to his ego. His life depends on it. Revealing his true name to the Cyclops was the most unwise decision Odysseus ever made. Perhaps having learned something, the king reins in his temper. He must act as a beggar would.

The portrayal of Odysseus among the lower class is interesting in a culture more concerned with the elite. Each of Odysseus servants is depicted with a personality and history of their own. The betrayal of his own servants seems to cut him deeper than the abuse of the suitors. However, the poem does refer to Odysseus as the beggar king in an ironic way. 

Instead of a rich lord, a poor swineherd hosts Odysseus. The old nurse, Eurycleia, is the one to realize Odysseus’ true identity and not Odysseus’ own wife, Penelope. Homer may be pointing out the lives of the lower class have a lot more influence than the elite would suspect.

Speaking of Penelope, she has an unusual dynamic with Telemachus, Odysseus, and her suitors. Telemachus seems rather bitter towards her. He returned to Ithaca because he feared the decisions of his mother while he was abroad.  His comments are also laced with barbs and accusations of fondness for the mob that occupies the hall. Penelope appears surprised at Telemachus’ boldness but she will also take it upon herself to reprimand her son. We must remember that Telemachus has been raised by solely by his mother and is reacting as a rebellious, headstrong young man would.

Still, Telemachus does have a point. Penelope also has the dream of the eagle slaughtering the geese. Yet, she feels sorrow for the loss. Perhaps the queen is basking in all the flattery and attention while Odysseus is away. She remains loyal no doubt, but this adds complexity to her character. Then again, Penelope does have a mind to match her husband, and not infrequently does he marvel at her.

The stage is set. The players are here. We have seen what Odysseus is up against, though we also see his doubt for the first time. Chapter 20 ends on the dawn of a new day and on the eve of plans and battles.

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