In Odyssey 21 Penelope famously proposes an archery contest to her suitors, a test of masculine skill with herself as the prize. The disguised Odysseus wins the contest and then proceeds to reveal himself and execute the suitors with the same bow.

I think it is fair to assume that Odysseus was an exceptional archer. Having spent a decade in combat and then another one fighting all sorts of monsters, I wonder if there is an earlier instance in which he puts his archery skills to use. Either in battle or to hunt. Or are Rhapsodies 21 and 22 the only times we actually see him shoot a bow and arrow?

Or, to put it another way, how prepared would Homer's audience be for the fate of the contest - and of the suitors? Would they recognize that the story comes to an end once Penelope comes up with the contest?

1 Answer 1


In Odyssey 8.215 Odysseus briefly brags about his archery skills to the Phaeacians:

For in all things I am no weakling, even in all the contests that are practised among men. Well do I know how to handle the polished bow, and ever would I be the first to shoot and smite my man in the throng of the foe, even though many comrades stood by me and were shooting at the men. Only Philoctetes excelled me with the bow in the land of the Trojans, when we Achaeans shot.

Homer. The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.

I could not find any instance in either the Homeric epics where Odysseus actually uses a bow in combat. However, given his statements to the Phaeacians, I think it's safe to say that the more observant of Homer's audience would recognize the story was reaching closure once the bard started singing of Penelope's plan for an archery contest.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.