The Odyssey: Book 1 lines 252-305 (Part 1)

Now the same conversation as that described in the last several lines continues. Telemachus has in his dismay accused the gods of injustice, and now Athena/Mentes (very much as Athena the goddess) makes her indignant reply.


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The first statement Athena/Mentes makes in this speech to Telemachus emphasizes that he needs Odysseus. Specifically Telemachus needs to let his father put his hand to dealing with the despicable suitors. One sees here the poet‘s insight into human nature. Whether Telemachus feels anger or grief– indeed whatever he may feel– Athena/Mentes tells Telemachus that he needsto get his father there to take care of the suitors. Issues that may exists between father and son are thereby subsumed into the needs of the family. So Athena/Mentes urges Telemachus strongly to go and look for Odysseus’ ship.

A key question here becomes how much Telemachus is acting on his own in taking this advice. One should always remember that Athena is the goddess of stratagems. Moreover, the details of the scene should not be taken too literally. The Greek audience would not necessarily have understood this scene as actually taking place as described, as implied by the fact that the suitors are still in the midst of sitting down to their banquet as Telemachus and Athena/Mentes exchange these long speeches. As Athena, the goddess of stratagems, Athena/Mentes puts into Telemachus’ head the notion of looking for his father; from a modern perspective, one would likely understand this as Telemachus on his own conceiving the idea of looking for his father because Telemachus had learned he was still alive. This is not to say that this would automatically be the interpretation that a Greek audience would put to the scene, which rather remains ambiguous. The point is that Telemachus would not be seen by a Greek audience as passively going when he is sent either.

One may also notice the verb νεμεσίζετο in line 264. We are being reminded that here is the suitors’ hubris which will inevitably lead to ate and finally nemesis, the root of this verb.

NB: I’ll continue this section in my next post.

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