In Greek mythology, Eurycleia - Εὐρύκλεια, Eurýkleia, or Euryclea (also known as Antiphata - Ἀντιφάτη in other traditions), is the granddaughter of Peisenor, as well as the wet-nurse of Odysseus. As a girl she was bought by Laertes, Odysseus' father. He treated her as his wife, but she was never his consummated lover so as not to dishonor his real wife, Anticleia. She nursed Odysseus and Telemachus, Odysseus' son.
Eurycleia's name means "broad fame," while Anticleia means "anti-fame." The tension between the meanings of Eurycleia's name and Anticleia's name reflects the tension between the two pillars of Odysseus' life. He was born to Anticleia, a noble woman, but was nursed (and essentially raised) by Eurycleia, a lower class maid. Odysseus' fame comes from his role as a noble hero paralleled to his role as an anonymous beggar. His heroism is essential for capturing Troy; his skills as an orator and schemer as well as his strength and skills on the battle field are instrumental in the success of the Greeks. However, he takes on the role of a beggar not once, but twice. He first appears as a beggar to sneak into Troy and kill unsuspecting Trojan soldiers, and again when he returns home to Ithaca and plans to kill all of Penelope's suitors. In many ways, his role as a beggar, especially when he returns to Ithaca is far more meaningful. His re-entry into his own home after twenty years is arguably the most important moment of his life, perhaps suggesting that his role as a beggar - and his connection with Eurycleia - is what is most important to him.
Thus, it is fitting that in the Odyssey, Eurycleia is the first person to recognize him after he returns home from the Trojan War. After he enters his own house as a guest of Penelope disguised as a beggar, Eurycleia bathes him and recognizes him by a scar just above his knee, which he got from a boar while hunting with his grandfather Autolycus. Odysseus stops her from telling Penelope or anyone else in the house of his true identity.
Eurycleia also informs Odysseus which of his servant girls had been unfaithful to Penelope during his absence, conspiring with Penelope's suitors and becoming their lovers. Among them was Melantho. He hangs the twelve that Eurycleia identifies.
Later, Eurycleia informs Penelope that Odysseus has returned, but Penelope does not believe the maid. Penelope then tests Odysseus to prove that he is indeed her husband and asks him to move the bed Odysseus built in their marriage-chamber; Odysseus tells Penelope that this is not possible, as one of the legs of the bed is built into a live olive tree, a secret that only Penelope and Odysseus would know. She finally accepts that her husband has returned.
In addition, it was Eurycleia who gives provisions and supplies to Telemachus from the storehouse before he leaves for Pylos to seek news about Odysseus. She takes an oath not to tell Penelope he had left until 12 days had passed; Telemachus did not want his mother to worry any more than she already was.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Canada: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2000. Print.
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