As we begin to read the Odyssey, one of the surprising facts is that we do not meet the famed hero until we are well into Book V, on Calypso's island of Ogygia. However, during these introductory four books, we learn of the situation in Ithaca, Odysseus' plight, some of the most important themes of the story and of course Odysseus' son Telemachus. Homer keeps us in suspense, building the reputation of Odysseus by the stories of Menelaus, Helen, Nestor and all Odysseus' friends in Ithaca. Also, by building up the character and heroism of Telemachus, we are impressed by him, and as Athene says "your father's manly vigour has descended upon you". We would expect Odysseus to actually be better than Telemachus, due to his kleos ('undying fame on the lips of men') and experience ("Few sons, indeed, are like their fathers. Generally they are worse" Athene). So we learn of our main hero through words and inference, but this section of the book is key for our understanding as to the rules and practices of the Greek world in this story, and how the rest of the Odyssey will be carried out. Homer does this by bringing in all the themes that we will encounter time and again as we read on.
Even in the first part of Book I, in Homer's appeal to the Muse and also the introductory meeting of the Olympian Gods, one of the most important themes is brought in. This is the theme that transgressions, especially non-pious ones, lead to punishment. Examples given here are Odysseus' men eating the Sun God's (Hyperion's) cattle, resulting in the destruction of their ship. Homer even comments on it - "their own transgression that brought them to their doom". As...
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...seashore", indicating his mood of despair. The link here is between the seashore and despair. When a hero feels an emotion it can be expressed in the book by their location. Thus when we meet Odysseus for the first time he is crying on the beach of Ogygia. When the crew leave the land of the Cicones, they come ashore for a short while away from there to weep on the beach or shore for their lost comrades. They do the same thing when they arrive at the island of Circe.
Now we can leave the Telemachy with these ideas, narrative tools and themes in our mind of how the story will continue and according to what rules. We also have a good idea as to what our hero will be like when we meet him, as we do in Book V.
Homer (Translated by Robert Fagles. Preface by Bernard Knox). 1996. The Odyssey. New York: Viking Penguin, div. of Penguin Books, Ltd.
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