In this lesson we explore the character Telemachus, whose father, Odysseus, is the main character in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey.’ Separated from his father since infancy, he journeys into southern Greece to find him.
A 10-year Commute
How long does it take you to get home from work every day? An hour? Two? Perhaps you’re one of the lucky few who live close enough that they can walk or ride a bike to work, although if you live in the greater Los Angeles area, a few miles might take you a few hours.For Odysseus, the main character in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, it takes him ten years to return home from the Trojan War.
Combined with the ten years that the Trojan War lasted, and Odysseus was away from his home in Ithaca, Greece, for 20 years! In that time, the infant son he had left behind, Telemachus, came of age under the care of his wife, Penelope. Homer’s The Odyssey begins with a grown Telemachus searching not just for his father, but for knowledge of the kind of man his father was.
The Odyssey is an incredibly long epic poem, and the first four books are devoted to following Telemachus on his quest. At first, Telemachus traveled to see Nestor, an older man who fought alongside Odysseus in the Trojan War. Nestor told Telemachus what happened after the Trojan War, and of the great storm that separated many of the Greek ships, blowing some – including Odysseus’ – far off course.
Although Nestor did not know his father’s fate after the storm, Nestor told Telemachus that he assumed Odysseus was alive.After this meeting, Telemachus travels with Nestor’s son, Pisistratus, to the house of Menelaus and Helen in Sparta. There they are feted with food and drink, and told more stories of Telemachus’ father. Menelaus credits Odysseus for the idea of the giant, wooden Trojan horse, which hid Greek troops within and was given to the Trojans as a gift to secretly gain access to Troy.
The ploy was critical to the Greeks’ victory. Helen, as well, tells Telemachus how Odysseus dressed as a beggar in order to gain entry to Troy undetected, so he could open the Trojan horse overnight and release the Greek troops held within.After the fourth book, The Odyssey leaves Telemachus, and he does not reappear until Book XV, when Telemachus and Odysseus are reunited. After their reunion, they return to Penelope’s house in Ithaca, and murder the suitors which have been attempting to gain Penelope’s hand in marriage, and thereby appropriate Odysseus’ throne and estate – and Telemachus’ inheritance.
Purpose of Telemachus’s Journey
In The Odyssey, Telemachus’s journey has obvious practical implications.
With a house full of suitors for his mother who are hostile toward Odysseus’ remaining son and heir, Telemachus’ journey to find his father – or at the very least learn once and for all of his father’s fate – is integral to Telemachus’ plans for the future.The importance symbolically of Telemachus’s journey in The Odyssey is it shows Telemachus has the courage and strength to be a legitimate ruler, according to ancient Greek cultural customs. While Odysseus has the legitimacy to rule through his heroism in battle during the Trojan War, Telemachus gained his through his journey and later, in his slaying of his mother’s suitors, who were attempting to wrest future control of the throne from Telemachus.
The intention of this lesson is to teach you to:
- Discuss the background of the character Telemachus
- Summarize the journey Telemachus took in The Odyssey
- Describe the purpose of Telemachus’s journey