Is his kingdom so short on soldiers that the family can't deal with a few suitors?

  • Hi, and welcome to Mythology & Folklore. Your question is somewhat unfocused. Can you clarify what you're asking? Are you trying to ask why Odysseus killed the men who were trying to court and marry his wife so they could have his lands and house and belongings? Are you asking how Odysseus could kill all the suitors by himself? What does "is the kingdom so short on soldiers" have to do with "greedy men trying to steal Odysseus's wife and lands"? If we don't know what you're asking, we won't be able to help you. Sep 1, 2018 at 12:46
  • @LaurenIpsum I actually couldn't believe that the city didn't have like a few guards or militamen or maybe one of their servants could help idk kill them in their sleep poison their wine... whatever Spencer that does clear things up a bit
    – Hao S
    Sep 2, 2018 at 0:30
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    Worst peanut? Are you feeling quite ok?
    – bmargulies
    Nov 13, 2018 at 1:15

2 Answers 2


Who was in charge? No-one was in charge.

Remember that Odysseus took all of Ithaca's soldiers away with him to Troy and none of them made it back. The only soldiers left were the kids too young to go off to the Trojan War. And these had grown up and saw Penelope as a prize to be claimed.

So really the suitors were the soldiers, or at any rate the ones to whom lower-born solders held fealty. As Telemachus tells a disguised Athena:

...the chiefs from all our islands, Dulichium, Same, and the woodland island of Zacynthus, as also all the principal men of Ithaca itself, are eating up my house under the pretext of paying their court to my mother, who will neither point blank say that she will not marry, nor yet bring matters to an end; so they are making havoc of my estate, and before long will do so also with myself."

(MIT Internet Classics Archive, The Odyssey, Book I).

Telemachus couldn't make the suitors go away. A newborn when Odysseus left, a child when the suitors started plaguing Penelope, Telemachus was an untested youth at the time Odysseus returned. He is nominally in charge of his father's household, but the suitors had no fear of him.

They had no fear of anyone. When Telemachus goes before the council, and Halitherses prophesies doom for the suitors, one of them, Eurymachus, says this:

As for Telemachus, I warn him in the presence of you all to send his mother back to her father, who will find her a husband and provide her with all the marriage gifts so dear a daughter may expect. Till we shall go on harassing him with our suit; for we fear no man, and care neither for him, with all his fine speeches, nor for any fortune-telling of yours. You may preach as much as you please, but we shall only hate you the more."

(Ibid, book II).

Odysseus's father Laertes was once the king. But he was an old man, having retired after passing the crown to his son. And he was pining away for his missing son. When Odysseus sees him for the first time after returning, he remarks on the old man's poor condition, obssessively taking care of his farm, but not himself. So it was unlikely that he would undertake the clearance of his son's household.

It couldn't be Penelope. When it comes to misogyny, ancient Greek society was right up there with the worst of them. There was no question of a woman commanding soldiers (the Amazons being a notable exception, but they fought on the side of Troy).

The only way a woman held status was through her husband. If Odysseus was actually dead, everyone expected Penelope to marry someone.

But Penelope did not believe Odysseus was dead, thus her dithering and delaying tactics with weaving the shroud. And for this, she was held up as an example of constancy and virtue.

So with Odysseus actually still alive, the suitors could be gotten rid of only if Odysseus himself did it.

And Odysseus had no intention of giving quarter to any of the ruffians who had disrespected his household and mooched off him for so long:

[Odysseus] glared at them and said:

"Dogs, did you think that I should not come back from Troy? You have wasted my substance, have forced my women servants to lie with you, and have wooed my wife while I was still living. You have feared neither [God] nor man, and now you shall die.

And later:

"Though you should give me all that you have in the world both now and all that you ever shall have, I will not stay my hand till I have paid all of you in full. You must fight, or fly for your lives; and fly, not a man of you shall."

(Book XXII)

  • thanks I guess I couldn't believe that a city wouldn't have like a few guards or militia/ conscripts around even if the main army was at war and of course Odysseus is just legendary here One question are the new generation of soldiers loyal only to Odysseus the suitors, or to the suitors but only while they are alive? as there is no speak of revenge on Odysseus by aforementioned loyal soldiers Would the soldier have changed their loyalty to Odysseus if they new who he was?
    – Hao S
    Sep 2, 2018 at 0:20
  • @HaoSun I think you've misinterpreted what I wrote. Everyone but Penelope believed Odysseus was dead. He had no help except Telemachus.
    – Spencer
    Sep 2, 2018 at 2:43
  • but if their loyalty was to Odysseus (but not to his heirs for some reason? ) then shouldn't revealing himself to be Odysseus be enough? why must he fight the suitors rather than just reveal himself?
    – Hao S
    Sep 2, 2018 at 22:57
  • @HaoSun What makes you think they had loyalty for Odysseus? Not that he cared. After all they had done in his house, nothing but their deaths was enough. I added another quotation for that.
    – Spencer
    Sep 2, 2018 at 23:27
  • the way you wrote it made it seem that it was only Odysseus's death that gave the suitors brashness to act in such a manner Is Odysseus that legendary? or the suitors just kinda weak? In addition to Odysseus still being alive they didn't count on some of Odysseus's men making it back or the Spartan king sending some men to tell of death and killing them...
    – Hao S
    Sep 3, 2018 at 2:10

According to the legend about this preserved or invented by the ancient poet Homer, recorded in his epic poem 'the Odyssey', these events occurred at a time when the Greeks were illiterate and by our standards somewhere in between civilization and barbarism. There was no regular army, written law, police force or independent judiciary to enforce it. Every able bodied man had to be personally ready to fight to defend that which was his from anyone else who might want to take it.

Basically, might was right, although the mighty might be somewhat constrained by customary ideas of what was right and fear of consequences if their conduct offended gods or men.

The word 'soldiers' in the question details I normally take to imply members of an organised professional or semi-professional standing army owing allegiance to the ruler. There was nothing like that in Homer's Greece.

Hence unless Odysseus had sufficient powerful friends and relatives left behind in Ithaca willing to risk their own lives to take on the numerous wooers, it was down to him to come back and do it himself.

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