Eurycleia: The Odyssey's Best Supporting Character
Homer’s Odyssey provides enough detail for us, as interpreters, to piece together a coherent character under the proper name “Eurycleia”. To establish who she is in the poem and what roles she fills, I first examine all her appearances in the poem and all her interactions with the main characters of the family that rules Ithaca (Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus) and with the other servants (“small people”) in the poem: Eumaeus the swineherd, Eurynome Penelope’s chambermaid, and Melantho the traitorous handmaid. Eurycleia is especially loyal to three generations of males in the family and is dedicated to ensuring the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus — in part as a foundation for her security. In the homecoming drama, she plays the critical role of matchmaker who helps (re)unite the couple. Her first two attempts as matchmaker fail, but in her final appearance, the silent Eurycleia is Penelope’s unwitting accomplice in tricking Odysseus into revealing his knowledge of the marriage bed he built and thus his true identity. In my Epilogue, I offer seven potential stagings that spotlight Eurycleia, including her final silent role, in which I imagine her starting to obey Penelope’s command to move the unmovable bed to the hall.
Keywords: the Odyssey; Eurycleia; wet nurse; loyal slave; confidante; match-maker; arbiter of justice
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