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The Odyssey Reading Club -- Entry 6 -- Gloss on Book II

Okay, with all caveats about line numbers, possible errors on my part (I am the very Form of humility), how reading this blog post doesn't substitute for actually reading the text itself, etc., etc., let's dive in with our gloss on Book II.

Lines 1-13: Telemachus calls an assembly.

Lines 15-35: Old Aegypitus opens the assembly by essentially asking "What's the hub-bub, bub?"

Lines 36-90: Telemachus makes a passionate plea for the suitors to leave his house, accusing them of transgressing the bounds of propriety because they believe him unable to defeat them in arms. At the end, he breaks the speaking staff and bursts into tears.

Lines 91-142: Antinous, one of the lead suitors, refutes Telemachus' claim, laying the blame instead at Penelope's feet. He claims that Penelope has been stringing them all along for years. He claims she has been delaying the process by, among other devices, weaving a burial shawl for Laertes and then unweaving it again every night. This ruse alone lasted over 3 years. He counters that they will gladly leave Telemachus' household if Penelope is sent back to be wed from her father's house and choose a suitor to marry.

Lines 143-163: Telemachus responds that he dare not send his own mother home, fearing the wrath of both her father, Icarius (not Icarus, btw) and the Furies. He concludes by saying that if the suitors do not leave, he'll call out to Zeus for vengeance.

Lines 164-179: Zeus sends a sign to the gathered assembly in the form of two eagles, apparently in an attack on the men.

Lines 180-196: Halitherses, the soothsayer and bird-reader,1 tells the men that the eagles are a sign that Odysseus is still alive, that he is returning home shortly, and that he will slaughter the suitors upon his return. He also restates a prophecy he made when Odysseus set off for Troy saying that after 20 years, he would return home safely, though he would be unrecognized.

Lines 197-230: Eurymachus, another lead suitor, mocks Halitherses' prophecy as being merely the rantings of an old man hoping to get a gift from Telemachus. He warns Telemachus that, should he make a move against them, the suitors will fight him and make both him and Halitherses suffer. He then again urges Telemachus to remove Penelope to her father's house where her family will marry her off and then vows that the suitors will continue to eat Telemachus out of house and home until he does so.

Lines 231-249: Telemachus puts an end to the discussion of the suitors and asks for a boat and twenty men to go in search of news of his father. He vows that if he receives confirmation that Odysseus is dead, he will return home, make a grave for his father, and give his mother to a new husband.

Lines 250-270: Mentor (source of our word, well, "mentor"), left in charge of Odysseus' household in his absence, rises to scold the other men in the assembly for not coming to Telemachus' aid against the suitors. He claims that it would have been better if Odysseus had been a cruel king rather than a kindly one, for then they may have done something out of fear that they will not out of love. (NB: this is pretty close to the theory that Machiavelli expounds 2000 years later in The Prince.)

Lines 271-292: Leocritus, another suitor, mocks Mentor and states that, even were Odysseus to return and attempt to rout them, he would be so outnumbered that he would be easily killed. He then calls for the assembly to end. The suitors go back to the palace, while the other men go back to their own homes.

Lines 293-329: Telemachus goes to the shore and prays to Athena for guidance. Athena comes to him in the form of Mentor and gives him a pep talk. She then tells him to start making plans to set sail in secret while she picks out the best boat for his journey.

Lines 330-355: Telemachus returns home and has a heated exchange with Antinous during which Antinous attempts to make peace and offers Telemachus the ship he'd asked for, an offer Telemachus rejects in anger.

Lines 356-373: The suitors mock Telemachus, claiming that he's setting off not to find his dead father, but to hire soldiers to come and kill them.2

Lines 374-421: Telemachus asks his nurse Eurycleia to begin the secret preparations for his journey to Pylos according to Athena's instructions. She begs him not to go, to instead stay and guard what he has. Telemachus assures her that he goes with a god's blessing, however, and makes her promise an oath not to tell anyone of his departure, even his mother. She then begins the preparations and he returns to the suitors.

Lines 422-end: Athena, disguised as Telemachus himself, goes throughout the town and gathers men for the voyage and borrows a boat. She then assumes the form of Mentor and collects Telemachus and they together gather their crew and set sail in the dead of night, Athena herself sitting in the pilot's seat with Telemachus alongside.

1. Many forms of augury and divination were practiced by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, many of them involving either the behaviors or entrails of birds.

2. They even accuse Telemachus of planning to poison them. Using poison was considered very unmanly, and poisoning guests was a very heinous offense.


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