The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 - 2018 by Peter J Ponzio

The Goddess and the Prince, Book I

Telemachus' answer to Athena is surprising: “Mother has always told me I'm his son, it's true,/But I am not so certain” (1, 249-250).  By this time, Telemachus is nineteen or twenty years old, and has been brought up by his mother. He does not remember his father, although Odysseus left for Troy after the boy was born, and does not feel confident enough to stand up to the suitors. Athena's journey to Ithaca serves many purposes: to assist Telemachus in his journey to manhood; to confront the suitors; to provide comfort to Penelope; to prepare the household for the return of Odysseus; and most importantly, to accomplish the will of Zeus, who has decreed that it is time for Odysseus to end his wandering. Telemachus' first concern is for his parentage, his next for the suitors: All the nobles who rule the islands round about, Dulichion, and Same, and wooded Zacynthus too, and all who lord it in rocky Ithaca as well- down to the last man they court my mother, they lay waste my house! (1, 285-290) After listening to Telemachus' complaints, Athena suggests that he go seek his father, first traveling to Pylos to see old Nestor, wisest of counselors. Next, she suggests he go to Sparta to visit with Menelaus, he of the loud war-cry. When Telemachus expresses reservation, Athena reminds him of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who avenged the death of his father. The comparisons between Orestes/Agamemnon and Telemachus/Odysseus are made frequently in the Odyssey, and with good reason. Athena wishes Odysseus to avoid the homecoming that greeted Agamemnon and ended with his death at the hands of an unworthy suitor. Haven't you heard What glory Prince Orestes won throughout the world when he killed that cunning murderous Aegisthus, who killed his famous father? And you my friend- how tall and handsome I see you now-be brave, you too, so men to come will sing your praises down the years. (1, 342-347) Athena hits on the one thing that will shake Telemachus out of his seeming lethargy: an appeal to fame and glory. To the Greeks of Homer's time, there was no afterlife to speak of, as is evident when Odysseus travels to Hades; with no afterlife, men could only hope to achieve fame and glory during their lifetime. The quest for glory is at the heart of Achilles' tale in the Iliad.
Achilles