Coming of Age in Homer's the Odyssey

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Identity is a theme that runs strongly throughout The Odyssey. While much of Homer's work is devoted to Odysseus' journey, an examination of his son Telemakhos provides an excellent example of character development. From the anxious and unconfident young man to which Book I opens to the courageous exactor of his father's estate, Telemakhos undergoes notable emotional maturation. The spiritual journey illustrated by Telemakhos, through his own personal odyssey, provides strong evidence that the epic is, indeed, about identity.

When Odysseus left Ithica, Telemakhos was only an infant. Now twenty years later, Telemakhos is faced with the hoggish suitors and shows little sign of hope for the future. In fact, when Athena approaches him as Mentor, he gives this grim description of his situation: "they eat their way through all that we have, and when they will, they can demolish me" (I.297-298). Telemakhos is rightfully anxious about the problems at hand. He doesn't remember his father, whom he refers to as "a man whose bones are rotting somewhere now" (I.199), and holds out little faith "in someone's hoping he still may come" (I.206-207). This shows Telemakhos' realization of the scope of his problems at hand. He is not naive to the suitors intentions, and seemingly too him, he is left alone to contend with them. It is here that Telemakhos displays emotional immaturity and a lack of confidence. Though he may realize the necessary strength of one who could overtake his enemies, he cannot identify these capacities within himself. Fortunately, Athena's encouragement comes just at the right time. She encourages that he "call the islanders to assembly, and speak your will, and call the gods to witness: the suitors must go scattering to t...

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...cked the poise necessary to take back his home. With his courage intact, and his father by his side, Telemakhos and Odysseus formulate a plan to avenge their household; both men display outstanding fortitude. In commanding the servants (Eurikleia, to be specific), Telemakhos "spoke so soldierly that her own speech halted on her tongue" (XIX.38-39). At this point it is clear that Telemakhos has reached fulfillment and strength in his identity.

Throughout the Odyssey, Telemakhos journeys to come to terms with the character that his lot in life necesitates. While he realizes who this identity is at an early stage, it is not until he gains the confidence largely through the support of Athena, and ultimately from his father, that Telemakhos is able to achieve self-discovery. The strength of his coming of age story heavily emphasizes the Odyssey as tale of identity.
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