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Homer's "Odyssey", Books 19 and 23: Early Recognition; A Solution to the Enigmas of Ivory and Horns, and the Test of the Bed

John B. Vlahos
College Literature
Vol. 34, No. 2, Reading Homer in the 21st Century (Spring, 2007), pp. 107-131
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25115423
Page Count: 25
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Homer's "Odyssey", Books 19 and 23: Early Recognition; A Solution to the Enigmas of Ivory and Horns, and the Test of the Bed
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Abstract

Interpreting certain aspects of Homer's "Odyssey" has created problems for scholars for centuries. For example, in Book 19, why does Penelope ask the strager to interpret a dream she supposedly had when the dream is self-interpreting? What does she mean when she speaks of gates of ivory and horns? Why does she decide to hold a contest with the bow, with her as the prize, at a time when she has been told that Odysseus is near? And finally, what is the true purpose of the so-called test of the bed in Book 23? This essay suggests that a plausible answer to these questions can be found only if we acknowledge that beginning in Book 19 Penelope knows that she is speaking not to a stranger but to her husband, disguised as a beggar, and that their conversations therein are cryptic and discreet in order to avoid alerting the unfaithful serving-maids.

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