The Odyssey: Book 1 lines 230-251

I’ve been going over the speeches of Telemachus and Athena/Mentes in the last several posts, but one ought bear in mind that we’re still in the same scene. The suitors are still settling down to their banquet as the court herald plays for them. While we as the audience hear or read the conversation, this background must be borne in mind for complete comprehension. Here we see Telemachus flabbergasted as he answers Athena/Mentes.

Telemachus with Athena

Naturally Telemachus is incredulous and wonders how Odysseus could possibly still be alive without that fact being known. So he asks how Athena/Mentes knows and how certain she/he is. Surely he implies someone would have known and would have brought the news home to Odysseus’ family. The reference to Tros alludes to the case of the first king of Troy who thought his son Ganymede dead; Zeus was so sympathetic to his grief that he sent Hermes to tell Tros that Ganymede was still alive and indeed was fated to be immortal. In understanding the relevance of the myth, one should recall Greek attitudes toward their gods. In other words, the natural workings and forces of the world should surely have brought both him and his mother Penelope word that Odysseus was alive after all these years. Telemachus even names a number of islands next to Ithaca and again expresses the idea that surely someone there must have known if Odysseus is alive. Telemachus’ case against the gods is an expression of dismay at the years of pointless grief.

One may picture Telemachus’ reaction in light of the model of the five stages of grief. He had accepted that his father Odysseus was dead. Now he encounters someone whom he has reason to believe, since he does in fact recognize Athena/Mentes, who makes him confront the possibility that his father is still alive. In his first reaction, we see denial and anger.

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