The Odyssey Book 1: line 113 and following

I’m realizing that blogging about a book really is a far longer effort than just reading it. That’s okay and I’m enjoying it, but it does mean with all the other things I also need do that the pace will be far more slow-going than I had anticipated. So, instead of discussing today the entire remainder of Book 1, I’m actually going to concentrate on two or three lines— specifically where we see Telemachus for the first time in line 113 and the lines immediately following.

Fragmentary torso of Athena, dating from 420/4...

Image via Wikipedia

The first description of Telemachus is extremely important in that it tells us (the audience) a good deal about Telemachus’ character. First we are told that he sees Athena coming from far off, and Telemachus is described as “godlike”, a point I’ll get to in a moment. What Telemachus is doing at that point is sitting deep in thought wondering what to do about the suitors who also are mentioned for the first time. Linked with this contemplation of the situation is the thought of his father Odysseus. An important thing to bear in mind is that Telemachus is described as being greatly troubled at heart about the situation with the suitors. Yet in antiquity, the heart was not the symbolic seat of emotion (which was the liver) but rather the symbolic seat of reason. Telemachus isn’t moping about a situation beyond his control; he’s contemplating what to do about that situation.

The epithet “godlike” (θεοειδήϛ) tells us that Telemachus is one of the great people in the world whose actions can change the world— like a god, in the ancient Greek conception. One may compare the concept of being “among the great” in Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings. The point is that Telemachus has inherently the capacity to do something.We’re seeing here that is very much his father’s son in character and capabilities, however immature he might yet be.

That he sees Athena coming tells us that he knows he has a plan forming because Athena is the goddess of stratagems, of wisdom but in the sense of cunning. With the coming of Athena, he will have a full-blown plan of action. Yet one should not imagine Telemachus is passively waiting until the goddess comes and hands him a plan; he’s actively figuring things out and planning what to do. The coming of Athena is, as we are about to see, the culmination of his efforts.

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