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The Maturation Of Telemachus

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The Maturation of Telemachus In the first book of Homer’s The Odyssey, we are introduced to Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. It is here we learn of Odysseus’ troubles and the situation regarding his estate and those who are presently inhabiting it. What the reader is allowed to witness right from the start, is the beginnings of Telemachus’ transformation, from a child to an adult.

This maturation, from boyhood to manhood, is first sparked by an encounter with Athena. To Telemachus, Athena is Mentes, the lord of Taphian men who love their oars. Athena, or Mentes as Telemachus knows her, is looking for Odysseus and asks of his whereabouts. When struck with the news that he is nowhere to be found she instills hope in young Telemachus. “He won’t be gone long from the native land that he loves, not even if iron shackles bind your father down. He’s plotting a way to journey home at last; he’s never at a loss.” (Fagles, Book 1, 235). After sharing this news with Telemachus, Athena urges him to round up the suitors the following morning and heed a warning. Athena proceeds to tell Telemachus of his adventure that lies ahead. Calling the gods to witness, Telemachus is instructed to tell the suitors to scatter and go to their own homes. It is a plan that Telemachus must follow through with in order to find out the truth regarding his father’s whereabouts and condition. In another attempt to instill motivation in Telemachus Athena questions him regarding his present stage in life; “You must not cling to your boyhood any longer-it’s time you were a man.” (Fagles, Book 1, 341).

In response to the stranger’s advice, Telemachus confronts the suitors the following morning and advises them to leave. This is Telemachus’ first step towards manhood. Although the reader knows that he has the support of Athena, Telemachus himself does not. His ability to stand up for and defend his beliefs is a small step towards manhood, but, only the beginning. After confronting the suitors, many, particularly Antinous, talk back to Telemachus and try to blame Penelope for their delayed inhabitance of his home. Refusing to listen to the ideas of the suitors, Telemachus, again encouraged by a family friend, named Mentor (Athena in disguise), decides to set sail to Troy, to ultimately visit some of his father’s friends. It is this decision to set sail that is Telemachus’ second step in his maturing process.

For a boy (because that’s essentially what he is) to take it upon himself to set sail for Pylos would be like myself taking the family car and driving cross country. In my case it might be ludicrous but in Telemachus’ case, it is a sign of bravery. It is his willingness to endure the hardships of sailing in order to gain knowledge regarding Odysseus, that shows the audience he is growing into adulthood, he is taking matters into his own hands. Instead of waiting for his father to come home and watch as the suitors eat him out of house and home, Telemachus decides to take the initiative and find things out for himself.

Upon landing in Pylos, king Nestor shares many stories with the ever maturing Telemachus. At one point the king points out similar traits that Telemachus and Odysseus share. “I look at you and a sense of wonder takes me. Your way with words-it’s just like his-I’d swear no youngster could ever speak like you, so apt, so telling.” (Fagles, book 3, 138). Here king Nestor vocalizes the similarities between the vocabulary of both Odysseus and Telemachus. The king swears that no youngster could ever speak like Telemachus. True Telemachus might not have acquired his vocabulary during his sail but this is one more bit of evidence that Telemachus is indeed almost a grown man. Nevertheless, he at least has the vocabulary of one. Although king Nestor offers many stories of both his and Odysseus’ battles at Troy, he can offer no information as to the whereabouts of Odyesseus. Not since his ship had been blown off course.

With no pertinent information regarding his father found in Pylos, Telemachus decides to set sail for Sparta. Here is where Telemachus meets Menelaus and Helen. Helen recognizes Telemachus due to his physical resemblance of Odysseus. It is here that Telemachus finds the answer he is looking for. While under the influence of wine (and drug, enhanced by Helen), Menelaus repeats a story told to him by the Old Man of the Sea. It is from this story that Telemachus learns of his father’s current location. He is currently being held as a sex-slave to the nymph Calypso on an island with no way of escape without a ship. Heeding to the advice given to him by king Nestor; “Don’t stray too long from home, nor leave your wealth unguarded with such a set of scoundrels in the place”¦” (Fagles, Book 3, 314), and with the newly acquired knowledge of his fathers existence, Telemachus sets sail back to Ithaca.

While sailing back towards his homeland, Telemachus is confronted by Athena yet again. Here she warns him of the suitors planned ambush awaiting him. “Picked men of the suitors lie in ambush, grim-set in the straits between Ithaca and rocky Same, poised to kill you before you can reach home, but I have my doubts they will.” (Fagles, Book 15, 32). Athena continues to give Telemachus advice regarding where to sail and where he is to go upon landing. It is the swineherd in which Telemachus is told to visit, and this ultimately leads to the reunion with his father, Odysseus.

It is during this reunion in which Odysseus and Telemachus plan the slaughtering of the suitors. The only problem being that there are 108 suitors and only the two of them to fight against. Recognizing this obstacle, Odysseus decides he needs more time to execute his plans and remains unknown to all except Eumeaus and Telemachus. At last a contest is announced by queen Penelope. “Here is the prize at issue, right before you, look-I set before you the great bow of King Odysseus now! The hand that can string this bow with greatest ease, that shoots an arrow clean through all twelve axes-he is the man I follow”¦” (Fagles, Book 21, 84).

It is in this contest that Telemachus proves he is a man. “He stood at the threshold, poised to try the bow”¦Three times he made it shudder, straining to bend it, three times his power flagged-but his hopes ran high he’d string his fathers bow and shoot through every iron and now, struggling with all his might for the fourth time, he would have strung the bow, but Odysseus shook his head and stopped him short despite his tensing zeal.” (Fagles, Book 21, 142) This is proof that Telemachus is strong enough to string his father’s bow, a bow in which only his father could string before him. Telemachus, at this stage in his life, is a man, proving his strength tof all.

The last sign of Telemachus’ completed journey from childhood to manhood is seen on the battlefield. During the confrontation between the suitor’s fathers, and Laertes, Odysseus and Telemachus. “What a day for me, dear gods! What joy-my son and grandson vying over courage!” [Spoken by Laertes] (Fagles, Book 24, 566). This is the last sign and final chapter in Telemachus’ maturation. He is seen on the battlefield with his father and grandfather, and gives to him the image of being on the same level as they are, affirming that he is no longer a child but yet a man.

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