The Odyssey

The Reunion

Near the beginning of Book 23 in The Odyssey, the reader is struck with a scene so subtle in its beauty that it seems unreal, especially following the brutal slaughter of the suitors and serving women. In the complex and tender passage describing the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope, the couple finally puts away the masks that they have relied upon for so long, though only after slyly testing each other for deceit. While Odysseus assures himself that she will not relent to a stranger through exterior qualities alone, Penelope waits for logical proof that her husband has returned. Through this exchange the reader understands far more clearly the nature of Penelope's character and the dynamic of her relationship with Odysseus. It is the secret of this bed, this shared deception, that finally brings the two cunning souls together.

The subject of this scene in some sense is Penelope's heart and its reaction to Odysseus' return. Her servant Eurikleia chides her for having a "mistrustful" (72) heart, her son accuses her of being "harsh" (97), with a "stubborn" (100) spirit and "a heart that is harder than stone" (103), and then even her husband echoes Telemachos' words and calls...

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