The Odyssey: context for Book 1 lines 388-398 (to follow)



One should again remember the context of this scene. Telemachus has just announced that he is going to go in search of his father Odysseus. The suitors were dumbfounded and his mother Penelope has invited Telemachus upstairs into the women’s quarters to talk about matters. At first the suitors demanded to come with Telemachus to speak with his mother, i.e., in the women’s quarters, but now Telemachus has shamed the suitors. Only Antinous, most out-spoken of the suitors, is continuing to contend with Telemachus.

To understand Antinous and how Telemachus relates to him, one should understand how he is perceived by an ancient Greek audience. Yes, he is a rebel and a would-be usurper but the character has more to him than just that. In the speech Antinous just gave and to which Telemachus is now responding, Antinous simply asked why Telemachus need invoke the gods. Yet the ancient Greeks‘ conception of the gods are basic forces in world. So what does it mean to invoke or not invoke them?

An invocation brings the forces to bear, so to speak, in the conception of ancient Greek religion. Thus the Odyssey itself starts with an invocation to bring the goddess of poetry to inspire the poet. In essence, by involving the gods, one brings into play forces greater than one’s self. Antinous therefore can be seen as contending that the situation should be dealt with among men. One aspect of Antinous’ attitude will likely resonate with a modern audience more than an ancient one. Namely, Odysseus and Telemachus are regarded by the ancient Greek audience as heroes or literally demigods and so Antinous is not seen as their equal, but his stance presumes an equality among men. The basis for this inequality in the ancient Greek audience’s mind lies in the fact that Odysseus and Telemachus are royalty in Ithaca and thus rightful rulers. Yet a modern reader should not completely ignore the appeal of Antinous’ attitude either. While his attitude may be presumptuous in social context, that attitude is and was entirely understandable to ancient and modern audience alike.

Telemachus then is speaking to an outspoken rebel in his father’s kingdom when he says not to be indignant that he (Telemachus) invokes the gods.

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