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

The Prince Departs, Book II

The irony here is that Odysseus is both alive and coming back to Ithaca. But there is another irony at play: Odysseus is also no longer among the living:  he is in the land of the gods, and has passed into the land of Hades. So, in a sense, both of Telemachus' points are valid:  Odysseus is coming back, but he is also no longer among the living.  Odysseus’ entire journey appears to be a contradiction in terms.  After confronting the suitors, Telemachus walks alone and prays for assistance from Athena. The goddess, always close at hand, appears to him in the shape of Mentor and assures him that “. . . you'll lack neither courage nor sense from this day on.,/not if your father's spirit courses through your veins-/now there was a man, I'd say, in words and action both”(II, 304-5). Although the goddess appears to Telemachus, she is still testing his mettle. Her words “not if your father's spirit courses through your veins” echo Telemachus' own doubts about his parentage; doubts that will persist in the next two books.
Inspired by Athena, Telemachus appears before the suitors and addresses their leader, Antinous: Antinous, now how could I dine with you in peace and take my pleasure?  You ruffians carousing here! Isn't it quite enough that you, my mother's suitors, have ravaged it all, my very best, these many years, while i was still a boy? But now that I'm full-grown and can hear the truth from others, absorb it too- now, yes, that the anger seethes in me. . . I'll stop at nothing to hurl destruction at your heads. . .(II, 344-351) The suitors, to their later dismay, do not take Telemachus seriously. Telemachus, meanwhile, enlists the aid of his father's nurse, Eurycleia, to help him prepare for his journey to Pylos and Sparta. He entrusts the nurse to mention his plans to no one, including his mother, and tells her that “there's a god who made this plan” (II, 412).  Apparently, Telemachus understands that Mentor is not as he appears. Athena, disguised now as Telemachus, goes down to the docks to provision the ship and order the crew. Then, as a final touch, she journeys to Odysseus' palace to put the suitors to sleep.  Then, changing to Mentor, she and Telemachus go to the docks and sail away on their journey to Pylos. The crew, as they depart, offer prayers to Athena for a safe journey.