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Eumaeus in the Odyssey by Homer

Callison Hopkins, Liz Breazeale
  • Author
    Callison Hopkins

    Callison Hopkins, a certified English/Drama teacher, graduated from Arkansas State University with her Masters in English Education. For eight years, she has taught English and Drama in all grades 7-12 and dual enrollment English in public schools, private schools, and virtual schools.

  • Instructor
    Liz Breazeale

    Liz Breazeale received a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Breazeale has experience as a graduate teaching associate at Bowling Green State University for a Craft of Fiction and Academic Writing courses.

Review Eumaeus in the Odyssey by Homer. Learn how Eumaeus is sold to the father of Odysseus, and analyze the significance of the swineherd in the Odyssey. Updated: 07/28/2022

Table of Contents


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.

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  • 0:03 Intro to ''The Odyssey''
  • 1:05 Who Is Eumaeus?
  • 2:13 Eumaeus Waits for Odysseus
  • 3:20 BFFs Reunited
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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