In the Odyssey Homer describes Odysseus' journey home from Troy. Prior to the Trojan War, Odysseus was King of Ithaca, a Greek island known for its isolation and rugged terrain. When he departs from Ithaca to fight for the Greeks in the war, he leaves behind a newborn child, Telemachus, and his wife, Penelope. Although most surviving Greek soldiers return shortly after the end of the fighting, Odysseus does not return to Ithaca until ten years after the end of the Trojan War.
During Odysseus' long absence, unmarried young men start to suspect that Odysseus died in Troy or on the journey home. Under the pretense of courting Penelope, these youths, called "the suitors", take up residence in Odysseus' home and vie for her hand in marriage. Rather than simply rejecting the suitors, Penelope devises a plan to delay their courtship. She claims she will choose a husband after she has finished weaving a funeral shroud to present to Odysseus' father, Laertes. For three years, Penelope weaves the shroud during the day and unravels it at night, awaiting her husband's return. The suitors learn of Penelope's delaying tactic when one of her maidservants, Melantho, reveals it to her lover Eurymachus. Upon finding out, the suitors demand that she choose a husband from among them.
The suitors behave badly in Odysseus' home, drinking his wine and eating his food. Odysseus' son, Telemachus, now a young man, is frustrated with the suitors. Telemachus laments to Athena (disguised as Mentes, one of Odysseus' guest-friends) about the suitors' behavior. In return, Athena urges Telemachus to stand up to the suitors and set out in search of his father.
Once Odysseus returns home (whom Athena initially disguises as a beggar so he can plot his revenge in secret), his son Telemachus tells him that there are 108 suitors: 52 from Dulichium, 24 from Same, 20 Achaeans from Zacynthus, and 12 from Ithaca. Together, Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoetius kill the suitors and the disloyal maidservants. For reasons of oral presentation (i.e., a memory aid), the suitors are usually listed in the same order throughout the Odyssey.
Although there are many suitors, three are particularly important to the narrative of the epic.
Antinous, son of Eupheithes, is the first of the suitors to speak in the epic and the first to die upon Odysseus' return. Antinous is the most disrespectful of the suitors and is the one who devises a plan to murder Telemachus upon his return to Ithaca. Although his plan is vetoed by Amphinomus, Antinous continues to behave arrogantly. When Odysseus finally returns home, disguised as a beggar, Antinous does not show him hospitality and throws a stool at him.
Eurymachus, son of Polybus, is the second of the suitors to appear in the epic. Eurymachus acts as a leader among the suitors because of his charisma. He is noted to be the most likely to win Penelope's hand because her father and brothers support the union and because he outdoes the other suitors in gift-giving. Although he is charismatic, Eurymachus is deceitful. He discovers Penelope's plot because he is having an affair with one of Penelope's maidservants, Melantho. Further, when Odysseus reveals himself to the suitors, Eurymachus attempts to avoid punishment for the suitors' misdeeds by blaming them all on Antinous.
Amphinomus, son of King Nisos, is the most sympathetic of the suitors. Amphinomus attempts twice to dissuade the suitors from murdering Telemachus. Odysseus recognizes this and attempts to warn Amphinomus to leave the home before the final battle. Despite this, Amphinomus stays and dies along with the other suitors.
While most of the suitors are not dealt with individually by Homer, some are mentioned by name and play more or less significant roles in the poem. Among them are:
An extensive list of Penelope's suitors is given in the Bibliotheca. This source does not appear to fully respect the Homeric tradition, as the numbers are different and not all of those named in the Odyssey appear in the Bibliotheca. Due to the text being damaged, some of the names are repeated several times and the lists for Dulichium and Zacynthus actually contain fewer names than the given figures suggest.
57 suitors from Dulichium
23 from Same
44 from Zacynthus
12 from Ithaca
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