Odyssey,  Book 2: 	A snapshot of Homeric society

King Odysseus has been gone 20 years. A band of young nobles has gathered in his house,
 demanding that his wife (or widow) Penelope choose one among them to marry.
 In the scene that follows, the son Telemachus comes to the assembly to make his complaint.  

What is the predicament of Telemachus: What is his problem and what can he do about it?

How does this 'Homeric' assembly work? Who convenes the assembly, by what right? 

What is the lot of the wife, Penelope:  Why is she so sought after?  
What rights, what options does she have? 

Soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, up from his bed rose Odysseus' own son and put on his clothes, slung his sword on his shoulder... and went out...to order the sharp-voiced heralds to summon to assembly the long-haired Achaeans. And the heralds made the summons, and the Achaeans soon gathered. ... Telemachus came holding in his hand a spear of bronze...and he sat down in his father's seat, and the elders made room.

[15] Then among them the lord Aegyptius was the first to speak, a man bowed with age and wise with wisdom untold. His own son had gone in the hollow ships to Troy...in the company of godlike Odysseus.. but the savage Cyclops had slain him and made a meal of him [20]... He had three other sons; one, Eurynomus, kept company with the suitors [who wooed Odysseus' wife, Penelope], and two kept their father's farm. Even yet he could not forget that other son, mourning and sorrowing; and weeping for him he addressed the assembly:

[25] "Hearken to me, men of Ithaca. Never have we held assembly or council since the day Odysseus departed. And now who has called us together? Who has such urgent need? One of the young men or of those who are older? [30] Has he heard some news of the army's return... that he has first learned of it himself? Or is there some other public matter on which he is to address us? ... May Zeus fulfil unto him himself some good, even whatsoever he desires in his heart."

[35] So he spoke, and the dear son of Odysseus rejoiced at the word of omen; nor did he thereafter remain seated, but was eager to speak. So he took his stand in the midst of the assembly, and the staff was placed in his hands by the herald Peisenor, wise in counsel. Then he spoke, addressing first the old man:

[40] "Elder, not far off... is that man who has called the host together--I am he. For to me above all others has sorrow come. I have neither heard tidings of the army's return... nor is there any other public matter on which I am to speak and address you. [45] Nay, it is myown need, for double evil has fallen upon my house. First, I have lost my noble father who was once king among you here...; and now there is come an evil far greater, which will soon destroy my house and ruin all my livelihood. [50] Suitors for the hand of my mother besiege her, against her will, the sons of the noblest men here. They avoid the house of her father, Icarius, who might exact the bride-gifts for his daughter, and give her to whom he will, [55] but crowd into our house day after day, butcher our oxen and sheep and fat goats, a constant party, recklessly drinking up the wine and wasting all our property. For there is no man here, such as Odysseus was, to ward off ruin from the house. [60] As for me, I am not all able as he was to defend it. If I try, I shall only prove a weakling, untrained in valor. Yet I would defend myself, if I had the power; for now unbearable insults have been done to us, and my house been ruined unforgiveably. You yourselves should be ashamed, [65] have regard for your neighbors who dwell roundabout, and fear the wrath of the gods, lest they turn against you in anger at your evil deeds. I pray you by Olympian Zeus, and by Themis who gathers and dispels the assemblies of men, [70] spare us, my friends, and leave me alone in bitter grief--unless there was some injury that my father, goodly Odysseus, did to the shin-armored Achaeans, and you are punishing me for it by urging these men on. For me it were better [75] that you elders yourselves should eat up my treasures and my flocks. If ye were to devour them, recompense would someday be paid. For we would go all over the city, making our complaint and demanding restitution, until all was given back. But now past cure are the woes ye put upon my heart."

[80] Thus he spoke in wrath, and hurled the staff down upon the ground, bursting into tears; and pity overcame the crowd. All the others kept silent, and no man had the heart to answer Telemachus with angry words. But Antinous alone answered him, and said:

[85] "Telemachus, you braggart, what audacity, putting us to shame, and trying to lay guilt on us! No, I tell you, it is not the Achaean suiters who are at fault, but your own mother, for she is the sneakiest woman alive. It is now the third year and the fourth will soon pass, [90] that she has been deceiving the hearts of the Achaeans. To all she offers encouragement..., but her mind contrary. So she devised a great hoax: she set up a loom in her halls and began weaving...; and then she told us: "Young men, my admirers, since goodly Odysseus is dead, be patient, though eager for me to marry, until I finish this robe--a shroud for the lord Laertes, against the time when [100] the fell fate of grievous death shall strike him down. I would not want to leave my work undone, lest any of the Achaean women find fault with me, for letting him, who had won great possessions, lie dead without a shroud." So she spoke, and our proud hearts consented. Then day by day she would weave at the great web, [105] but by night would unravel it by torchlight. Thus for three years she by her craft kept the Achaeans from knowing, and beguiled them; but when the fourth year came as the seasons rolled on, even then one of her women who knew all told us, and we caught her unravelling the splendid fabric. [110] Then she had to finish it against her will. So we wooers give you this answer, that you may know it your heart, and all the Achaeans may know: Send your mother on her way, and order her to wed whomsoever her father bids, and whoso is pleasing to her. [115] But as long as she continues to frustrate us, confident that Athena has endowed her above other women with crafty knowledge and a cunning heart, ... so long shall men eat up your property...Quite a reputation she gets for herself, but on you she brings great cost and regret. And we will neither go home nor go elsewhere, until she chooses a man to marry."

Then savvy Telemachus answered him, and said: [130] "Antinous, I cannot throw her out against her will, the mother that bore me and reared me. As for my father, he is in some other land, alive or dead. It would be grievous for me to pay back the bride price to [grandfather] Icarius, as I must, if of my own choosing I send my mother away. From her father's hand I shall suffer evil, and heaven [135] will send other ills besides; for my mother would invoke the dread Avengers; and men would blame me for the misfortune. So I can never tell her to get out. But you, if you are angry [with the arrangements], get out of my halls, take your banquet [to your own houses], [140] and eat up your own goods. But if you find it preferable and more profitable to waste my property without payment, waste all you want. I will call upon the immortal gods, for Zeus to grant retribution. [145] So, without payment, within my halls may ye perish."

So spoke Telemachus, and in answer Zeus... sent forth two eagles, flying from on high, from a mountain peak. For a time they flew swift as the blasts of the wind side by side with wings outspread; [150] but when they reached the middle of the many-voiced assembly, then they wheeled about, flapping their wings rapidly, and down on the heads of all they looked, and death was in their glare. Then they tore with their talons each other's cheeks and necks on either side, and darted away to the right across the housetops.[155] And the men were seized with wonder at the birds' sign they saw, and pondered in their hearts what would happen.... Then among them spoke old Halitherses, ...who surpassed all men of his day in knowledge of augury. [160] He with good intent addressed their assembly, and spoke among them: "Hearken to me, men of Ithaca, to the word that I shall say; and to the wooers especially do I declare and announce these things, since on them a great woe is rolling. For Odysseus shall not long be away from his friends, but even now, methinks, [165] he is near, and is sowing death and fate for these men, one and all. Aye, and to many others of us also who dwell in clear-seen Ithaca will he be a bane. But long ere that let us take thought how we may make an end of this--or rather let them of themselves make an end, for this is straightway the better course for them. [170] Not as one untried do I prophesy, but with sure knowledge. For unto Odysseus I declare that all things are fulfilled even as I told him, when the Argives embarked for Ilios and with them went Odysseus of many wiles. I declared that after suffering many ills and losing all his comrades he would come home in the twentieth year [175] unknown to all; and lo, all this is now being brought to pass." Then Eurymachus, son of Polybus, answered him, and said: "Old man, up now, get thee home and prophesy to thy children, lest haply in days to come they suffer ill. [180] In this matter I am better far than thou to prophesy. Many birds there are that fare to and fro under the rays of the sun, and not all are fateful. As for Odysseus, he has perished far away, as I would that thou hadst likewise perished with him. Then wouldst thou not prate so much in thy reading of signs, [185] or be urging Telemachus on in his wrath, hoping for some gift for thy house, if haply he shall give it. But I will speak out to thee, and this word shall verily be brought to pass. If thou, wise in the wisdom of old, shalt beguile with thy talk a younger man, and set him on to be wroth, [190] for him in the first place it shall be the more grievous, and he will in no case be able to do aught because of these men here, and on thee, old man, will we lay a fine which it will grieve thy soul to pay, and bitter shall be thy sorrow. And to Telemachus I myself, here among all, will offer this counsel. [195] His mother let him bid to go back to the house of her father, and they will prepare a wedding feast and make ready the gifts full many,--aye, all that should follow after a well-loved daughter. For ere that, methinks, the sons of the Achaeans will not cease from their grievous wooing, since in any case we fear no man,-- [200] no, not Telemachus for all his many words,--nor do we reck of any soothsaying which thou, old man, mayest declare; it will fail of fulfillment, and thou shalt be hated the more. Aye, and his possessions shall be devoured in evil wise, nor shall requital ever be made, so long as she shall put off the Achaeans [205] in the matter of her marriage. And we on our part waiting here day after day are rivals by reason of her excellence, and go not after other women, whom each one might fitly wed."

Then wise Telemachus answered him: "Eurymachus and all ye other lordly wooers, [210] in this matter I entreat you no longer nor speak thereof, for now the gods know it, and all the Achaeans. But come, give me a swift ship and twenty comrades who will accomplish my journey for me to and fro. For I shall go to Sparta and to sandy Pylos [215] to seek tidings of the return of my father that has long been gone, if haply any mortal man may tell me, or I may hear a voice from Zeus, which oftenest brings tidings to men. [220] If so be I shall hear that my father is alive and coming home, then verily, though I am sore afflicted, I could endure for yet a year. But if I shall hear that he is dead and gone, then I will return to my dear native land and heap up a mound for him, and over it pay funeral rites, full many, as is due, and give my mother to a husband."