The Odyssey: Book 2 lines 40-79

I have for various reasons been away from blogging for a while. Yet after a long hiatus, I am continuing.

NowTelemachus addresses the assembly. He initially addresses himself to Aegyptius, the old warrior who called the assembly together. One should note that the word γέρων, meaning literally old man, as a form of address (since it is in the vocative case) is not disrespectful as it would be in English; on the contrary it was seen as very respectful.

Immediately Telemachus launches into the heart of the matter. Namely he proclaims that he intends to bring back his father Odysseus and specifically to bring him back to rule over Ithaca (and thus the assembled people) as king. One must always bear in mind that the suitors‘ bid for Penelope is first and foremost a political rebellion by the suitors and an attempt by those suitors to usurp the kingship while cloaking it with a level of legitimacy. After all, anyone married to Penelope would thereby become part of the royal family.

The more cynically inclined may point out that Telemachus, by championing his father’s cause, was also in effect championing his own. After all, any suitor who became king would inevitably oust the former heir apparent. Yet in the minds of the Greek audience, Telemachus was advocating a policy of legitimacy in government. That he would also personally benefit was beside the point because no one would promote a policy which did not in some way serve his own interests. The assembly serves to reaffirm the legitimacy of Odysseus’ kingship because already in the minds of the Greek audience at this stage of their history legitimate power derives from the collective will of the polis— who are after all assembled as a body.

We the audience also see here Telemachus exercising one one the qualities of a leader, according to ancient Greek expectations; he is using rhetoric to sway the people in his favor. Thus, Telemachus by championing legitimate royal authority and using accepted and recognized proper means to do so is also building his credentials as a hero and a leader– a man worthy to be heir to the throne of Ithaca.

With use of words like ἄριστοι, which means literally the best, from which our word aristocracy derives, Telemachus is pointing up the lack of legitimacy of the suitors. This speech is tantamount to an open declaration of war against the suitors and it is taken as such.

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