“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XV – How They Came to Ithaka

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

In this episode, Athena travels to Sparta and instructs Telemachus to go back to Ithaca. She also warns him about the trap that the suitors have set to kill him before he gets home. She tells him how to avoid the trap and says that he should go to the house of the swineherd Eumaeus before returning to his home. As this is taking place, Odysseus is still at the home of Eumaeus where they continue to share stories.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this particular book. It seems like pieces are being set in motion and moved into place. There did seem to be an emphasis on omens, though, especially concerning birds. Telemachus is presented with two omens. The first one is interpreted by Helen.

I can tell you—tell what the omen means,
as light is given to me, and as I see it
point by point fulfilled. The beaked eagle
flew from the wild mountain of his fathers
to take for prey the tame house bird. Just so,
Odysseus, back from his hard trials and wandering,
will soon come down in fury on his house.
He may be there today, and a black hour
he brings upon the suitors.

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 273)

The second omen is interpreted by Theoklymenos.

A god spoke in this bird-sign on the right.
I knew it when I saw the hawk fly over us.
There is no kinglier house than yours, Telemakhos,
here in the realm of Ithaka. Your family
will be in power forever.

(ibid: p. 285)

I have personally had some life-changing events happen in my life following “unusual” encounters with birds. I’ve come to believe that when you have an encounter with a bird that is out of the ordinary, it is definitely a sign. I’m curious—have any of you had an encounter with a bird and had something significant happen afterwards? Feel free to share your stories.



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2 responses to ““Odyssey” by Homer: Book XV – How They Came to Ithaka

  1. The main thing being set up here seems to be the possibility that Telemachus could meet Odysseus at the swineherd’s house. I find interesting — again, and I guess always, from the POV of a writer — the use to which lack of recognition is used as a plot device. It’s common in Shakespeeare, too, and has been popular right down to our time. Will Telemachus recognize his own father? I’m not counting on it!

    As for bird symbolism, I think of a dream I had in which a crow delivered a chilling message to me in a voice that even now, years later, rings in my ears when I think about it. In real life, just a few days after my father died, I had a visit in my backyeard not from a bird, but from an opossum, the very animal that was the last thing I discussed with my father on his deathbed. The creature ambled out of the bushes along the creek that backs our property, stood in the middle of the open backyard and stared intently at me for some time before ambling back into the bushes and disappearing forever. I won’t go into what this communicated to me, but it was quite clear.

    • Wow! Great story. My best one was I was living in an apartment and was out on the balcony. A wild bird (couldn’t tell you the type), flew over and landed on the railing next to me. I held out my finger and it climbed on. I took it inside, gave it a little food, then let it out again and it flew off. Right afterwards my wife was pregnant. Kind of weird.