Who is Eumaeus in the Odyssey?
Homer's the Odyssey is an epic poem chronicling Odysseus' journey home to Ithaka after the Achaeans' victory in the Trojan War. Along the way, Odysseus' journey is thwarted by many monsters and temptresses. In the end, it takes Odysseus ten years, the same amount of time he fought in the Trojan War, to return home. Upon his arrival in Ithaka, Odysseus first sees his closest friend from childhood, Eumaeus, who was also named his swineherd, or the person who tends to Odysseus' pigs.
Description of Eumaeus
Though Eumaeus has an important role in Odysseus' life and story, he was originally destined for royalty himself. Eumaeus was born the son of King Ktesios, King of Syria. When Eumaeus was a child, his nurse kidnapped him from his royal home in Syria and brought him to Ithaka. Artemis killed Eumaeus' nurse during their voyage to Ithaka, so Laertes, father of Odysseus, who was king of Ithaka at the time, bought Eumaeus as an enslaved person. Eumaeus and Odysseus grew up together and quickly became close friends. In fact, Odysseus' mother, Anticleia, treated Eumaeus as one of her own. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War, Eumaeus took care of his wife and son. As time passed, Eumaeus' worry for Odysseus grew, but he remained loyal to the royal family.
Role of the Swineherd in the Odyssey
Eumaeus serves as Odysseus' swineherd, or tender to his pigs. However, Eumaeus' loyalty to Odysseus and his family goes far beyond that of a swineherd. Eumaeus protects Penelope, Odysseus' wife, from suitors eager to marry her while Odysseus is away. These men, assuming Odysseus is likely dead, disrespect the royal courts by overtaking the palace, eating the food, and killing the livestock. Eumaeus also has a close bond with Telemachus, Odysseus' son, since he grows up without a father for twenty years of his life. Ultimately, though Eumaeus is officially just the swineherd to the royal family, he functions emotionally and mentally as the protector of the royal family as well.
Throughout Book 14, Homer uses second-person pronouns, specifically ''you'', which is an uncommon authorial choice. However, in using the word ''you'' in tandem with Eumaeus, Homer reveals even his own deep love and respect for Eumaeus' integrity. For example, when translated from Greek, one line from Book 14 reads, ''And you replied, Eumaeus, loyal swineherd.'' Through Homer's direct acknowledgment of Eumaeus, he is able to remind listeners and readers that loyalty and friendship are long-lasting, despite wars, monsters, shipwrecks, and temptresses, making friendship the most powerful force in the world.
Odysseus and Eumaeus in the Odyssey
When Odysseus lands in Ithaka, Eumaeus is the first person to greet him. However, Eumaeus does not realize he is greeting Odysseus because Odysseus is disguised as a beggar. Nonetheless, Eumaeus treats Odysseus with kindness and invites him into his hut, claiming he follows the hospitality laws of the royal family and Zeus. When Odysseus first enters Eumaeus' hut, he is viciously greeted by Eumaeus' angry dogs. However, Odysseus can quickly calm the dogs, which raises Eumaeus' suspicions.
During their conversation, it becomes uncertain whether or not Eumaeus actually does recognize Odysseus. He does not admit to recognizing him, but as evidenced through his recounting of Odysseus' perils, it seems as though Eumaeus is attempting to remind Odysseus of his loyalty to him. Eumaeus laments his king, saying, ''As if the gods/had never given me blows and groans aplenty. . . /Here I sit, my heart aching, broken for him,/my master, my great king-fattening up/his own hogs for other men to eat, while he,/starving for food, I wager, wanders the earth,/a beggar adrift in strangers' cities, foreign-speaking lands. . .'' Through this lamentation, Odysseus is reminded of Eumaeus' love for and loyalty to him. In addition, readers will likely begin to speculate that Eumaeus does recognize Odysseus, as Eumaeus admits to being saddened by the thought of Odysseus roaming around as a beggar while Odysseus is sitting in front of him disguised as a beggar.
In the meantime, Athena appears to Telemachus, telling him to return to Ithaka, specifically to Eumaeus' hut. Upon his arrival, Odysseus reveals his true identity to his son. Together, with Eumaeus, they plan to rid the land of Penelope's power-hungry suitors. After Odysseus wins the contest for Penelope, he reveals that he is, indeed, Odysseus, King of Ithaka, who has finally returned home. Eumaeus' role in Odysseus' royal reclamation is not a small one; his loyalty directly paves the way for Odysseus to reclaim what is rightfully his even though Eumaeus was bought as an enslaved person when he was a child. In truth, Eumaeus is such an admirable character because readers recognize that he has nothing to gain in helping the royal family or Odysseus. Instead, he chooses to remain loyal out of love and respect for them, nothing more. Through Eumaeus, Homer emphasizes the importance of friendship, integrity, hospitality, and loyalty.
Towards the end of Homer's the Odyssey, Odysseus, the hero of the story, finally returns home to Ithaka after ten years of thwarted efforts. Upon his arrival, Odysseus is unsure of whom he can trust, so he disguises himself as a beggar. His swineherd and close friend from childhood, Eumaeus, is the first to greet Odysseus. Eumaeus has known Odysseus since they were both children since Eumaeus was kidnapped and sold to King Laertes as an enslaved person. Though Odysseus is seemingly just an old beggar, Eumaeus treats him with respect, kindness, and hospitality, inviting him into his hut. After Odysseus wins the contest against the suitors, Odysseus reveals his identity to everyone, including Eumaeus.
While many readers may overlook Eumaeus as a simple swineherd, his devotion and loyalty to the royal family are unparalleled. Eumaeus grows especially close to Telemachus, acting as a father figure to him. In fact, Odysseus would not have been able to reclaim the throne without Eumaeus' help. Truthfully, there may not have even been a throne to reclaim if Eumaeus had not looked out for Penelope and Telemachus while Penelope's suitors were invading the palace, killing the livestock, and disrespecting the royal family. Through Eumaeus, Homer emphasizes the importance of friendship, integrity, hospitality, and loyalty.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
What is Eumaeus's role in the ''Odyssey''?
Eumaeus is Odysseus' swineherd and close friend from childhood. He was bought as an enslaved person by Odysseus' father, Laertes, when Odysseus and Eumaeus were both children.
What is the significance of Eumaeus?
Eumaeus protects Telemachus and Penelope while Odysseus is gone for twenty years out of respect for Odysseus and the royal family. He also plays a crucial role in Odysseus defeating Penelope's suitors.
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack
Resources created by teachers for teachers
I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.