8. Odysseus and Penelope

In his third and final story featuring Odysseus, Hermes relates what happens when Odysseus comes home to his wife, Penelope.

Athena, goddess of wisdom, has been slow to help Odysseus on his journey home - but Hermes pursuades her to get involved. Hermes finds Odysseus alone, washed up on the shoreline of an island he does not recognise and wondering what fresh perils are in store. Athena reveals that the island is actually Ithaca - Odysseus is home - but there's a problem: everyone other than his wife, Penelope, believes Odysseus to be dead and consequently local princes are in his palace vying for Penelope's hand in marriage. Telemachus, Odysseus's son, has been away searching for his father and the suitors are also planning to kill him when he returns. Athena directs Odysseus to return to his palace - but in disguise as a penniless tramp.

In the palace Odysseus is abused by the suitors who first kick him to the ground And then use him as a bargaining tool with Penelope. They tell her she must decide tonight who she will marry or the suitors will kill the beggar. Penelope is persuaded and determines that her decision will be made on the basis of a competition.

Penelope and Telemachus tend to Odysseus's bruises in her private chamber - still unaware of his identity until Athena and Hermes join the scene. Together they hatch a plan - the competition for the suitors will be to string Odysseus's own bow and fire it through a hole bored in the head of twelve axes, while Telemachus secretly removes all the suitors' weapons.

They return to the hall and Penelope offers the bow to the suitors - but, try as they might, none is capable of even stringing the bow, let alone firing it. When they claim that the competition is impossible Penelope invites Odysseus, still in disguise, to have a go. He first strings the bow then fires an arrow through the axe heads. Then Odysseus turns his attention to the suitors: they have sought to marry his wife against her will and have planned to kill his son...their fate is sealed.

Odysseus and Penelope - transcript to print/download (pdf)
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