The Odyssey: Book 1 lines 399-411

Fenelon Telemachus Curll 1715

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One now hears from only the second suitor to be introduced by name as Telemachus is answered by Eurymachus son of Polybus. Readers of this blog will be aware that I have referred to the suitors as rebels attempting to usurp the kingship of Ithaca from the rightful king Odysseus by forcing a marriage onto the queen Penelope. One sees this clearly in the speech given here by Eurymachus.

One should note here that marriage in the ancient Greek world was different than the modern Christian-influenced notion of a religious or quasi-religious institution formalized between a man and a woman requiring a formal divorce to end it in the same way that a formal marriage ceremony was needed to initiate it. While some analogs of this did exist in the ancient world (such as the Roman wafer ceremony) in general marriage was initiated by a man and a woman living together with the public intention of forming a family and it could be dissolved at will. Thus, had Penelope taken one of the suitors, she could have married him– again if she had so desired. Thus one should recall here that the word ἀνὴρ used has the basic meaning of man but also means husband. One should recall that Penelope has been the ruling queen of Ithaca for twenty years at this point, first for the ten years that Odysseus the king her husband was fighting with the others Greeks in the Trojan War and then during the ten additional years since. Therefore, the link between being king and being Penelope’s husband makes perfect sense.

Yet at the same time the superlative reference to Telemachus as most brave one φέριστε is decidedly mocking. This is not just belittling Telemachus brave intentions but highlights the fact that Telemachus has as yet done nothing to win κλέος (glory which entails political clout) for himself. This is why Telemachus must go do deeds recognized in the community of fellow rulers of his father in order to be an equal in terms of rank to his father.

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