The Odyssey: Book 1 lines 314-318


Athena/Mentesresponse to Telemachus‘ offer of the amenities due to a guest-friend is short and to the point. She/He urges Telemachus not to hold her/him back anymore now since she/he desires to be on the road. This insistence satisfies Telemachus’ obligations as host because he has duly offered the amenities; his guest-friend has chosen to forgo them. In lieu of the normal amenities, Athena/Mentes asks Telemachus to give her instead his compliance with the plan she/he has advocated. Now, given all that is involved with that plan, Telemachus as host could by rights refuse the request as unreasonable, but the request of a guest-friend is not to be put aside lightly. By tradition, a guest-friend is given virtually anything the person asks as a sacred obligation in ancient Greek society. Accordingly Athena’s request bears considerable weight morally. She adds to this by the reference to Telemachus’ duty to his father in the last two lines when she mentions wanting Telemachus to bring his father Odysseus home.At this point though, Athena/Mentes is merely giving encouragement because Telemachus has already agreed to the plan implicitly.

Athena on her way to Telemachus

Athena on her way to Telemachus

The key question here in understanding these events is realizing how an ancient Greek audience would have understood the exchange. As previously mentioned, Athena is the goddess of stratagems and so urging by her or the suggestion by her of a plan is by the ancient Greeks‘ conception of the goddess Athena identical to Telemachus coming up with and acting on the idea entirely on his own. Thus what we see here is not Telemachus just agreeing to go along with someone else’s plan effectively saying passively, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” Rather, in purely human terms, Telemachus would be seen as coming up with the plan himself. That Mentes is a physical human being does not change this understanding of events because not only is Athena speaking through him but the conversation is not meant to be taken literally word for word.

Nevertheless one might still have understood the conversation as Telemachus acting passively as a stranger hands him a plan. Therefore the fact that Athena/Mentes gives Telemachus a choice here, a choice he could within his rights as host justifiably refuse, takes Telemachus’ role from a purely passive one to an active one beyond question. Even if he is seen as acting on someone else’s advice, nonetheless he is active in the process.

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