Odysseus' Relationship with Telemachus in Homer's Odyssey


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Odysseus' Relationship with Telemachus in Homer's Odyssey


Throughout the last books of The Odyssey Homer tells us how Odysseus restores his relationships with his friends and relatives at Ithaca. Perhaps one of the most revealing of these restoration episodes is Odysseus' re-encounter with his son, Telemachus. This re-encounter serves three main purposes. First, it serves to portray Telemachus' likeness to his father in the virtues of prudence, humility, patience, and planning. Secondly, it is Odysseus' chance to teach his son to be as great a ruler as Odysseus himself is. Lastly, Homer uses this re-encounter to emphasize the importance of a family structure to a society. To be able to understand the impact that this meeting had on Odysseus it is necessary to see that Telemachus has grown since his first appearances in the poem and obviously since his last contact with his father; Odysseus left Telemachus as an infant now their relationship is a man to man relationship rather than a man to child relationship.

Of the many proofs of Telemachus' maturation three are sufficient to render an accurate account of what virtues he gained. The gained virtues shown are courage, wisdom, and prudence. Courage is shown when Telemachus decides to go around Nestor's house rather than passing through it, for Telemachus goes out to sea knowing that an ambush awaits him. This wisdom is manifested in his knowledge that if he stops Nestor's hospitality will delay him even more. And prudence is shown in Telemachus' ability to control his desires for comfort in Nestor's house and his decision to endure hardship at sea. Next Telemachus' confidence and hospitality are shown when he takes in Theochlamenos the seer. In the beginning of the poem Telemachus is not confident enough in his ability to provide hospitality to Athena disguised as Mentor, but now Telemachus is happy to provide the seer with refuge. Another proof of Telemachus' virtues is his confidence in ordering his mother and her maids to comply with his will; their obedience shows us that he is worthy of respect. Thus Telemachus possesses the virtues necessary to be a ruler: courage, wisdom, prudence, confidence, and hospitality.

Now we come to the re-encounter of father and son.

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They had spent twenty years away from each other enduring trials and tribulations that prepared them for their eventual encounter. Odysseus and Telemachus both arrived on the island of Ithaca within roughly the same time period. And they both, out of patience and wisdom, seek refuge in the swineherd's shelter; in this they are alike. Odysseus' patience is demonstrated when he refrains from revealing himself to his son until Eumaius has left. When father and son first see each other, and before Telemachus knows that he is speaking to his father, an interesting event occurs in which both father and son demonstrate their humility and likeness to each other. The event involves Odysseus offering his seat to Telemachus and Telemachus refusing the offer. The importance of this event is that Odysseus, who is disguised as a beggar, is a greater man than Telemachus and humble enough to offer his seat. Telemachus in turn knows that he is a greater man than a beggar but refuses to take the beggar's seat. The next morning Odysseus finally reveals himself to his son. When Telemachus realizes that he is in fact standing before his father, they embrace. At this point Homer uses a simile to explain the high emotional tenseness of the situation, Homer says that father and son embraced each other and cried out in the same way baby hawks cry when they are separated form their kin. Likewise war had separated Odysseus from his son.

Odysseus and Telemachus now concentrate on the task at hand: killing the suitors. Even though Telemachus has been told of his father's great deeds all his life; he still doesn't believe that it is possible to overtake so many suitors. But Odysseus comforts him by saying that the gods are in their favor. We see here how Odysseus has become a pious man and trusts the gods, and trusting the gods is a demonstration of maturity. Odysseus lays out the plans and proposes going around and testing all his field hands and house servants for loyalty before taking back their house, but Telemachus shows prudence in proposing an amendment to the plan: to kill the suitors first since they are quickly using up all of Odysseus' resources. This amendment is accepted by Odysseus showing that Telemachus is as wise in planning as Odysseus. Thus Odysseus' relationship with his son is restored and Odysseus is able to watch over Telemachus' further education ensuring that he will one day be a good successor.

Finally we come to the last purpose of the re-encounter. Homer realizes that an enduring family is of great importance to a society since it is through family that values and education are best handed down from generation to generation. Odysseus' family is depicted as a family that can endure anything, after having been separated from the patriarch of the family both Penelope and Telemachus stay loyal to their family. This strong family gives Odysseus confidence that he will always have people on his side in good times and in bad times, all the members of the family and the household in general are likewise assured this confidence.

And so the scene of Odysseus' reunion with his father serves the three purposes of demonstrating Telemachus' likeness to his father, providing Odysseus with a chance to be a father, and demonstrating the importance of family.


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