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The incident or episode that I found the most enjoyable comes at the end of Book 23 and involves the final reconciliation between Ulysses and Penelope. The scene is so enjoyable and intriguing becomes it comes towards the end of a poem that deals very much with public deeds and public actions, which are then re-told and retold again and approach mythic status; these actions involve various types of heroism, or physical challenge, or clever subterfuge, or out-of -the-ordinary creatures and the end of Book 23 is such a contrast to all this, because it demonstrates the sheer range of Homer's writing - that he can write convincingly and effectively about an intimate private scene between man and wife. The end of the Book is well positioned too, since its eventual domestic harmony and the sheer compatibility of Ulysses and Penelope have, it would seem, kept them faithful to each other during nearly two decades of separation.
Throughout the whole poem the reader has anticipated the reunion of Ulysses and Penelope, but, tantalizingly, it is delayed still further by Penelope's own doubts and hesitations - which Homer uses deliberately to build up tension still further. This is in keeping with Homer's technique throughout the poem - we have to wait until Book 5 to meet the hero of the poem in person. The Odyssey celebrates Penelope's character all the way through the poem. She is contrasted favorably with Clytemnestra in Book 11 by Agamemnon. Penelope's loyalty and fidelity are unwavering. As Agamemnon's spirit says in Book 24 "the glory of her virtue will not fade with the years, but the deathless gods themselves will make a beautiful song for mortal ears in honor of the constant Penelope." (book 24, lines 196-8), The Greek word home ruses echephron - meaning having understanding, prudence, self-possession - is repeatedly used to describe Penelope throughout the poem, and it is especially appropriate because she displays many of the qualities that Ulysses displays. Like him, in fending off the suitors, she has often had to us her wits and now towards the end of the poem faced with a stranger calling himself Odysseus she is wary and cautious.
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At the start of Book 23 Eurycleia wakes Penelope with the news of the suitors' deaths and the return of her husband. Penelope is unconvinced - and this is psychologically realistic. Penelope has survived nineteen years of separation by being very careful and cautious. She enters the hall and stares at Odysseus but says nothing; Telemachus rebukes her, but Odysseus knows his appearance is shabby and goes to bathe and dress more appropriately. On his return Penelope still rebuffs him and Odysseus begins to be angry:
My dear, heaven has endowed you with a heart more unwielding than woman ever yet had. No other woman could bear to keep away from her husband when he had come back to her after twenty years of absence, and after having gone through so much. But come, nurse, get a bed ready for me; I will sleep alone, for this woman has a heart as hard as iron.
Now comes the turning point, for Penelope suggests that Odysseus's own bed be moved. Only she and Odysseus know the secret of his bed - which it is based on the stump of an old olive tree and cannot be moved, without destroying its structure. Odysseus's angry reaction to Penelope's suggestion is all the proof that she needs and the reconciliation begins in earnest. Here Penelope shows herself the equal of her husband the bed-trick is exactly the sort of wily ruse that he would have used to discover the truth. The fact that she makes him angry also shows her power over him: she is the first person in the entire poem to provoke such an unguarded reaction from the hero.
We are told Penelope "flew weeping to his side, flung her arms around his neck and kissed him." As she tells him, "We have suffered, both of us. Heaven has denied us the happiness of spending our youth, and growing old, together; do not then be aggrieved or take it amiss that I did not embrace you thus as soon as I saw you. I have been shuddering all the time through fear that someone might come here and deceive me with a lying story; for there are many very wicked people going about." Odysseus responds with a similar urgent passion: "Then Odysseus in his turn melted, and wept as he clasped his dear and faithful wife to his bosom."
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What happens next is entirely natural and intimate, and very convincing for a married couple who have been separated so long - they talk and talk to bring each other up to date for a very long time.. Then in the tenderest moment of a largely violent poem they consummate their reunion: " When Odysseus and Penelope had had their fill of love they fell talking with one another." They talk for so long before finally falling asleep that Minerva delays the dawn until they have had enough sleep.
This passage is the longed-for reunion of husband and wife and it does not disappoint. Penelope shows why she has survived without her husband for so long and their final reconciliation reaches a level of touching intimacy found nowhere else in the poem.
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