The Odyssey Book 18: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

We will begin this lesson with a brief summary of Book 17 of ''The Odyssey.'' We will then go on to a summary of Book 18. Irus picks a fight with Odysseus, and the goddess Athena helps Odysseus and Penelope toward defeating the suitors.


In Book 17 of The Odyssey, Telemachus went to the palace to see his mother, Penelope. Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, also made his way to the palace, and was hit with a footstool. Penelope figured the beggar was well-traveled, and wanted to ask him about Odysseus's whereabouts.

Irus Picks A Fight

As we begin Book 18 of The Odyssey, we see ''a common beggar, who used to beg about the town of Ithaca,'' enter the palace as if he owns the place. He is ''noted for his greedy belly, eating and drinking without end,'' and is neither strong nor muscular.

Turns out this weirdo is Arnaeus, commonly known as Irus. He calls out Odysseus, who is still disguised as a beggar. ''Get up, old man, and leave the doorway, or you will soon be dragged off by the leg.''

No one knows where Irus gets his bravado, or boldness, but he has lots of it. He goes on to challenge Odysseus to a fight. ''Up then! Or soon our quarrel comes to blows.'' Iris sure talks the talk, perhaps hoping he would not have to walk the walk.

Odysseus tells Irus that there is plenty for both of them in the palace, and there is no need to fight over who stays and who goes. The gods will be kind to them both, and neither one needs to be jealous of the other.

Still, Odysseus is no chump, and gives Irus fair warning. ''Do not challenge me too far with shows of fists, or you may rouse my rage; and old as I am, I still might stain your breast and lips with blood.''

But does Irus listen? Of course not. He tells Odysseus he is going to knock his teeth out in front of everyone. The suitors, meanwhile, are just happy to have entertainment, so they egg them on.

The Goddess Helps

Odysseus pulls up his rags around his waist and body, revealing massive, strong muscles. And Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and military victory, gives him extra strength. Irus is now so afraid he is literally shaking. ''The muscles quivered on his limbs.''

A Very Short Fight

But it is too late, and running his mouth has gotten Irus into big trouble. Irus and Odysseus begin fighting, and Odysseus is torn between just knocking Irus out or killing him. Odysseus decides to knock Irus out, so the suitors will not find out he is disguised as a beggar.

Irus lands the first punch on Odysseus's shoulder. But Odysseus answers with a massive punch to Irus's neck and breaks his jaw. He then drags Irus, bleeding from the mouth and in agony, out by his leg. Odysseus then sits Irus against a pillar and gives him some advice: ''Do not try to be lord of strangers and of beggars, while pitiful yourself, or haply some worse fate may fall on you.''

Odysseus Shows Kindness

The suitors, happy to have seen a great fight and even bloodshed, all congratulate Odysseus. One of the suitors, Amphinomus, is especially kind to him, and toasts him. ''Hail, aged stranger! May happiness be yours in time to come, though you are tried by many troubles now!''

Odysseus is touched by this kind gesture. He sees Amphinomus as a halfway decent person, and tries to warn him of the slaughter to soon come. ''Earth breeds no creature frailer than a man, of all that breathe and move upon the earth!''

Odysseus tells Amphinomus that man is only prosperous and strong as long as the gods want him to be. He also tells Amphinomus that they are angering the gods by sitting around, wasting food and wine chasing after the wife of a king who will soon return to his palace.

However, Amphinomus just goes back to his seat. He sees no point in fleeing, because ''Athene bound him fast, beneath the hand and spear of Telemachus to be perforce laid low.'' Amphinomus already knows that Athena has fated him to be killed by Telemachus, so his escape would only delay that.

Athena Manipulates

Meanwhile, the goddess Athena wants to speed things along for Odysseus. She puts it in Penelope's head to show herself among the suitors, even though Penelope despises them all. Athena also gives her extra beauty and allure, or charm, to make sure Penelope gets a rise out of the suitors.

Penelope then walks out to the hall, among the suitors, with her maidservants, or female servants. She has some harsh words for Telemachus for not being a good ruler, allowing beggars to be abused in his palace. She then gives the suitors some surprising news.

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