The rise of Odysseus's son and prince of Ithaca, Telemachus remains a much maligned yet vital event in the nostos,' that is, the re-establishment of Odysseus's home and polity as described in Homer's Odyssey. It is a general observation that he undeservedly receives less of the limelight compared to the homecoming of Odysseus. Speaking about Telemachus’ character traits,in the first three books of the text, Homer portrays Telemachus as an emotionally immature, irresolute and soft weakling, who cannot make concrete decisions for himself but rather depends on a disguised Athena the daughter of Zeus who is also the goddess of purposeful battles, wisdom, and womanly arts. She appears in Ithaca, disguised as Mentes, Odysseus's long-term friend, and associate. The young prince is not able to create the type of command and necessary composure that should compel fear and respect into his mother Penelope's suitors. Probably, he cannot just withstand the defiance of the suitors and vents his frustration on other issues like rebuking his mother in her grave mood and the disappearance of his father. (Homer & Lattimore, 1967).
The Story of Telemachus
Telemachus' journey begins when he receives comfort about his father's bereavement from Athena's assertion that Odysseus is not dead and will not return. Athena in her disguised Mendes form recommends a long trip to Pylos and Sparta, a journey that is Telemachus’ symbol of maturity to take up the father's role, a position that has been vacant for almost over two decades. This trip proves to be more important to Telemachus in the third and fourth books, as he matures up enough to deal with several challenges upon his return to the palace. With this in mind, it becomes clear that the Odysseus's nostos is not the only journey in the book. Telemachus' character development and his rise into the level of maturity is a more exciting and vital part of the mythology described in Odyssey by Homer.
What about the theme of Telemachus and Athena, as outlined earlier Zeus's daughter, Athena plays a huge role in the maturity of Telemachus, especially on the trip to Pylos and the other to Sparta. In Pylos, she reappears, this time as Telemachus’ Mentor, a longtime associate, and friend to Odysseus. She exposes him to various ceremonies including the one involving offering bull sacrifices to the god of the sea. Mentor uses this opportunity to set up a timid Telemachus for a meeting with the king of the city, Nestor to inquire into the whereabouts of his father. Although the meeting bears no apparent fruits about the prince's concerns, it is evident that the experience and exposure he gains imparts lots of boldness and maturity into him. The king of Pylos also plays a great role in the prince's maturity. It is Nestor's wish as well that the young prince hastens in his transition to reclaim that which was his father's. After setting Telemachus the example of the courage manifested by Orestes in a similar situation, he offers him his son Pisistratus to accompany him to Sparta. Meanwhile, a divine Athena-turned eagle remains behind in Pylos to protect the crew and ship that accompanied Telemachus.
After receiving a rather grand reception in Sparta by the king and queen, Telemachus receives more encouraging news of the capture of his living but imprisoned father by Calypso. He is further encouraged by his accomplishments to that effect and sets to journey back to Ithaca via Pylos. Athena further helps Telemachus by providing him with an insight of the situation ahead in Ithaca concerning the suitors. At this point, Telemachus is slowly molding into a mature individual. This maturity is evident through his hospitality to the prophet Theoclymenus on his ship. Upon arrival in Ithaca Telemachus and Odysseus encounter each other through the intervention of Athena. They are involved in a final plan to confront the suitors once and for all. Through the development of a story within the poem, the author takes the reader through a transitional trip with Telemachus that is carefully integrated into the homecoming of his father.
The reappearance of Odysseus in the plot further strengthens the will and resolve of Telemachus making him take up courage in the bid to his transition to maturity as a prince. With his father present, he strives to take up after his traits and is further exposed to Odysseus's craft and cunning characters in war. With his father still disguised as a beggar in the palace, Telemachus stands up to the noble task and put things under control despite an ongoing plot to murder him. This growth is manifested when he successively dissolves a brewing fight after one Eurymachos causes tumult by charging a stool toward Odysseus. His maturity is further revealed when he sets up the suitors' contest for Penelope that involves passing the arrows through the axes and impulsively orders Eumaios to hand the arrow to his father who is to prove the lovers wrong in the contest. He participates actively in the successful conquering of the suitors, revealing a complete prince in him.
As Euryklia observes, the young prince is not as astute as his father, Odysseus. This is due to his limitations like his inferior physical strength evidenced by his inability to shoot the arrow at the arches appropriately. However, much hope can be read on the situation for the line of the generation of Laertes and the main man Odysseus. When he finally stands up to the task and accepts his weakness and mistakes; he imposes himself as the fully matured prince, who is ready to deliver. This intent is quoted by himself to his father: “That as far as my will goes, I will not shame the blood that comes from you” (Homer & Lattimore, 1967).
Homer has made the events of maturation of the Telemachus in the Odyssey and the homecoming coincide to show the degree of transition of the immature young man to a whole man worth the name of a prince of Ithaca. These events portray him as a worthy heir of the entire polity. His odyssey can be cited as the main transitional journey that is eclipsed by the king's nostos.'
Homer., & Lattimore, R. (1967). The Odyssey of Homer. New York: Harper & Row.
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