Homer - The Odyssey of Homer: A New Verse Translation

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A comparison of Odysseus and Telemachus

May 10, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Homer reveals timeless truths with his great story

Cons:none

In Homer's epic The Odyssey, Telemachus, son of the Greek warrior Odysseus, has been fatherless for all of his life. Telemachus' ordeal teaches that having a complete family makes a positive impact on a son's life. The American Heritage College Dictionary defines family as, "two or more people who share goals and values and have commitments to one another." The absence of this quality in Telemachus' life makes him a less well-rounded person. Although hardship makes a man stronger in The Odyssey, Telemachus is forced to undergo many more hardships than a child should, and he is forced to go them alone. Looking at Odysseus one can see that the father surpasses the son in many qualities. The absence of Odysseus in Telemachus' life has eliminated the chance of the son to benefit from his father's life experience.

In The Odyssey, undergoing hardships is a vital part of being a human being, and it is the only thing Telemachus has in common with his father. However, because he has no complete family, Telemachus must endure more hardships than any young child should, and he must go them alone. So, while Odysseus can benefit from his hardships, Telemachus can only suffer. Odysseus was forced to abandon his family and go to war. His journey home was fraught with terrors and he did not reach home to see his family until his only son, a newborn when the warrior left, was fourteen. Homer describes Odysseus as an, "exile" (153), "a most unlucky man" (155), and a, "man of misery" (167). Telemachus' ordeal is just as painful. Since his father left, Telemachus' house has been plagued by suitors who devour all his earthly possessions and relentlessly court his still-married mother (81). He is forced to protect his mother, although he is a mere fourteen-year-old (97). In an assembly with the suitors he must stand up to them and say, "See to your feasting elsewhere,/ devour your own possessions…(you are) destroying one man's goods and going scot-free" (97). This speech shows Telemachus fighting to protect his family from these vile beasts who plague his house. It is also an illustration of what the suitors have put him through, devouring his goods and not holding any responsibility. These trials show the extreme hardships each man deals with in his life. Had Odysseus been home there never would have been an opportunity for suitors to court Penelope. Therefore, had Odysseus been home, Telemachus' life would have been free of the trouble caused by the suitors. This fact proves that Telemachus would have had a much more reasonable amount of hardships had his father been there to raise him.

Because of his lack of a family, Telemachus is disrespectful to women. Odysseus does not display these poor manners. Unfortunately he could not teach his son to be proper, because he was not present during Telemachus' development. Odysseus shows a huge amount of respect to Arete when he is in her palace (184). He even treats her as an equal, which is unusual for the time period. Upon meeting her Odysseus falls to his knees and begs her for help. As Homer said, Odysseus "flung his arms around Arete's knees/…as Odysseus pleaded 'Queen,/ Arete,…I come to beg for mercy'" (184). This action shows the amount of respect that Odysseus gives to women. Telemachus, on the other hand, is downright disrespectful to his own mother, Penelope (89). He orders her about and frequently disregards her opinion. At one point after his mother has made a request for a bard to stop singing, Telemachus responds by saying to her:
Mother, go back to your quarters. Tend to your own tasks,/
the distaff and the loom and keep the women/ working
hard as well. As for giving orders, men will see to that,
but I most of all:/ I hold the reins of power in this house. (89)

This quotation shows Telemachus at the height of disrespecting his mother. He acts in this manner because he was forced into his role as head of his household before he was ready and did not have the time to learn how to handle his responsibility. Odysseus could have been a role model of how to treat women for Telemachus, had the father been with the boy when Telemachus was growing up.

Telemachus' lack of family takes its biggest toll on his faith. The difference in his and Odysseus' faith is staggering, but one could not expect a boy with such a cruel childhood to maintain this vital characteristic of human beings. The disparity in their faith is most apparent when they are planning for their battle with the suitors. Telemachus thinks that they have no chance in the battle because they are outnumbered. He says, "How on earth could two men fight so many and so strong?" (346). Telemachus believes that they will lose even with the gods on their side. Odysseus' faith leaves him confident of their victory because he knows the gods will fight for them. He says to Telemachus, "Think: will Athena flanked by father Zeus/ do for the two of us?"(346). His faith alone is enough to convince Telemachus to fight the battle, which they win thanks to Athena's help (447). Odysseus' stronger faith shows convincingly that Telemachus would have been a more confident, god-fearing person if Odysseus had been present to role model these traits for Telemachus.

Telemachus' case proves that having a complete family plays a vital role in a child's development, if he or she is to become a morally healthy person. Telemachus had no faith in the gods and, as a direct result, less confidence because he has grown up without being able to rely on having a loved one's shoulder to lean on when he is troubled. However, after one conversation with his father, Telemachus' faith and confidence are boosted so much that he does battle merely on the chance that the gods will help him through. This miraculous change is not a miracle but a vivid demonstration of the effect that having a complete family has on a child. All children are affected in the same way by lacking a complete family. Having a mother and father there to raise them is a part of childhood that no child is complete without.



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