Homer's The Odyssey
By Book 17 of The Odyssey, Odysseus has finally returned to Ithaca after ten years at war and ten more years in slow return due to Poseidon's wrath. He has appeared in disguise as an aged beggar (through the aid of Athena) and has been welcomed by his loyal swinherd, Emaeus. This aspect of the plot may seem strange as Odysseus appears somewhat cold and calculating. Why doesn't he embrace his son and wife, overcome by emotion, after not seeing them for so many years? Odysseus has been shown to be wily and crafty many times in the epic, and his indirect approach is in keeping with this aspect of his character. Also, the text makes reference several times to Agamemnon and his troubles. As Homer's audience would have known, Agamemnon comes home to a wife who has taken up a lover and stealthily kills him. Things change as time passes, and after 20 years, Odysseus can't be too careful.
One morning as he is out walking with Emaeus the following touching scene occurs:
"Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there
lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears . . .
It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus' dog,
he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got
since all too soon he shipped to sacred Troy.
In the old days young hunters loved to set him
coursing after the wild goats and deer and hares.
But now with his master gone he lay there, castaway,
on piles of dung from mules and cattle, heaps collecting
out before the gates till Odysseus' serving-men
could cart it off to manure th eking's estates.
Infested with ticks, half-dead from neglect,
here lay the hound, old Argos.
But the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by
he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped,
though he had no strength to drag himself an inch
toward his master. Odysseus glanced to the side
and flicked away a tear. Hiding it from Eumaeus,
diverting his friend in a hasty, offhand way:
'Strange, Eumaeus, look, a dog like this,
lying here on a ding-hill . . .
what handsome lines!'"
[as the conversation continues they leave]
"With that he entered the well-constructed palace,
strode through the halls and joined the proud suitors.
But the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos' eyes
the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away."
The Odyssey of Homer, trans. by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1996. pp 363-64, lines 317-360.