The Odyssey: Book 1 lines 368-380

N.B.: I’ve been quite sick and so have been letting the blog lapse somewhat, but I hope to remedy this by trying out the January National Blog-Posting Month.

Odysseus is with Circe

Image via Wikipedia

With this speech begins Telemachus‘ own initial confrontation with the suitors. Heretofore, Telemachus has not played an active role in events, and so his actions now represent a distinct shift in the nature of the scene playing out in the household of Odysseus. His opening words leave little doubt the which way he views matters. By referring to μητρὸς ἐμῆς μνηστῆρες my mother’s suitors he emphasizes his place in the royal household and the suitor’s own peculiar place there, because he has after all just publicly stated that he intends to go out and seek his father, Odysseus, whom he believes alive. Once again the suitors are cast as rebels and usurpers. In particular, the suitors are attempting to ascend with Telemachus into the women’s quarters to which only Telemachus has been invited by Penelope, the queen and his mother. This presumption is the ὑπέρβιον ὕβριν referred to. Again, we see the explicit invocation of the tragic cycle of hubris, ate and nemesis. When one recalls the the most basic meaning of a genitive absolute at the start of a sentence is to imply since, the speech Telemachus is starting does not bode well for the suitors.

Yet from the Greek point of view, this speech by Telemachus is absolutely necessary. He needs to state his grievances against the suitors in order to justly pursue them by ancient Greek ethics. In principle, the suitors should react with shame to Telemachus’ description of their presumption and their conduct here. Thus his description culminates with an invocation of Zeus (adjudicator and protector in matters between host and guests) against the suitors.

By invoking Zeus here, Telemachus is symbolically setting events to come in motion, because he is invoking the justice of the world against the suitors. This speech and the scene it helps create are the climax of Book 1. In the minds of the ancient Greeks, justice was as much a matter of natural law and cause and effect as are gravity and the interaction of charges in the modern mind.

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