The Odyssey Book 23: 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.

In this lesson, we will begin with a brief recap of Book 22 of The Odyssey. We will then move on to a summary of Book 23. Odysseus lays low for a while, and then finally gets reacquainted with Penelope.


In Book 22 of The Odyssey, Odysseus finally revealed his true identity to everyone back at his home in Ithaca, and with the goddess Athena's help, slaughtered all of his wife's suitors. Telemachus then hanged the twelve women servants who were disloyal to Odysseus during his absence. Odysseus then fumigated the palace.

Penelope Does Not Believe

Book 23 of The Odyssey begins after Odysseus has cleaned the palace of the foulness of battle and fumigated it. Eurycleia the nurse happily runs to Penelope's room and wakes her up. She tells Penelope that her husband, Odysseus, is back and has killed all the suitors.

But Penelope does not believe Eurycleia and is angry at her for waking her up from the soundest sleep she has had in years. Eurycleia insists she is telling the truth, and the beggar whom the suitors ridiculed is in truth Odysseus.

This argument goes on for a while, until Penelope finally come out to the palace hall and sees Odysseus, who is not dressed like a king. Still doubtful, she does not engage Odysseus in any way. Telemachus rebukes, or criticizes, her for not giving Odysseus the proper greeting after so many years.

Odysseus's Problem

Odysseus laughs and stops Telemachus, saying Penelope will believe him soon enough. Meanwhile, he brings Telemachus's attention to a much bigger problem. ''We have destroyed the pillars of the state, the very noblest youths of Ithaca, Form, then, a plan, I pray.''

Having killed all of Ithaca's young noblemen in a single day, Odysseus and Telemachus now have to come up with an explanation for the youths' parents, who will surely ask about their sons. Telemachus tells Odysseus that since he is the wisest, he should come up with a plan, and everyone else will follow it without question.

Odysseus then says the best thing to do for now is to keep up appearances. He tells everyone to dress up and act and sound happy, as if they are in a wedding, so passers by will think Penelope has remarried. Odysseus wants everyone to keep this up until he can come up with a proper plan.

Penelope Believes

As promised, everyone obeys Odysseus. The housekeeper Eurynome bathes Odysseus, and the goddess Athena enhances his features until he looks like a proper king. Odysseus then goes to Penelope's room, which is also his room, as her husband.

He tells her ''There is no other woman of such stubborn spirit to stand off from a husband who, after many grievous toils, comes in the twentieth year home to his native land.'' Odysseus is saddened that Penelope's heart refuses to know her husband, especially after his twenty years of hardship and adventure.

Odysseus then asks the nurse to ''make my bed, that I may lie alone.'' But Penelope is not going to let a stranger sleep in her room, in her bed. She tells Eurycleia to take the giant bed outside and make it up for Odysseus to sleep in.

But Odysseus has had enough. He angrily tells Penelope that it is impossible for anyone, except maybe a god, to move his bed. Odysseus then tells her that he himself built the room around a giant olive tree, and carved the bed out of that tree. So unless someone has cut down the tree, the bed will not move.

Hearing details about the bed which no one else knew, Penelope's knees go weak. She finally knows for sure that the man standing in front of her is her husband, King Odysseus. She hugs and kisses him, and apologizes for not believing him sooner.

Penelope says she had doubts, ''But now, when you have clearly told the tokens of our bed, which no one else has seen, but only you and I and the single servant, Actoris, whom my father gave me on my coming here to keep the door of our closed chamber,-you make even my ungentle heart believe.''

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