The Odyssey

by: Homer

What Does the Ending Mean?

Summary What Does the Ending Mean?

Having defeated the suitors, Odysseus reveals his identity to Penelope. The next day, he and Telemachus travel to the house where Odysseus’s grieving father, Laertes, lives. Together, the men prepare to fight the fathers of the murdered suitors, but Athena intervenes to make peace. The whole second half of The Odyssey is structured as a series of scenes in which Odysseus reveals his identity. Odysseus’s final two revelations—to Penelope and Laertes—are the most important. One of the first things we learn about Odysseus is that he has “his heart set on his wife.” He tells Nausicaa that there is “No finer, greater gift” than “when man and woman possess their home, two minds/two hearts that work as one.” Odysseus’s happy reunion with Penelope, at the climax of his story, seems to endorse this statement. Some scholars have even argued that the poem originally ended with Odysseus and Penelope’s reunion, and that the final book, Book 24, was added later.

Other readers, however, have pointed out that Book 24 ties up a crucial loose end: the grief of Odysseus’s father, Laertes. By saving Odysseus’s reunion with Laertes until last, The Odyssey suggests that no relationship—not even the relationship of husband and wife—is more important than the bond between father and son. The Odyssey takes place in a patriarchal world where the best thing a man can do is pass his fame as a warrior (and the wealth he has plundered) on to a male heir. This patriarchal warrior code originally drove Odysseus to leave Penelope’s side, in order to win fame and spoils at Troy.

At the same time, however, the ending undermines the patriarchal warrior code. Laertes’ joy at being reunited with his son is contrasted with the rage and grief of the suitors’ fathers, who have lost their own sons at Odysseus’s hands. Odysseus is powerless to prevent further bloodshed: only Athena’s divine intervention brings peace to Ithaca.