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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 15: HOW THEY CAME TO ITHAKA

Athena comes to Telemakhos in Sparta (you have not seen him since Book 4). No slouch at making up stories herself, to spur him homeward she tells him Penelope is about to marry Eurymakhos. If she does, she will take all of Telemakhos' inheritance as her dowry, completely forgetting her first husband and the child of that husband. Because of the ambush, Telemakhos is to sail home at night east of the channel "between Ithaka and Same's rocky side," land alone, send the ship into port without him, and proceed on foot to the swineherd to spend the night.

The next day the swineherd should go to town and tell Penelope that Telemakhos is safely home. Telemakhos' gifts should be entrusted to a worthy person until such time as Telemakhos may marry. Watch for further references to Telemakhos and marriage. Marriage is for men and he is now being treated like a man. He is impatient to be off, and kicks Peisistratos awake. His friend wisely says they should wait until dawn, have a proper leave-taking, and receive gifts from Menelaos.



Telemakhos meets Menelaos in the hall and tells him that the "longing has come upon me to go home." Menelaos replies that he will not detain him unless, of course, Telemakhos might like to accompany Menelaos on a short tour. They would visit a few towns on his way back to his ship and could call on various noblemen and collect rich gifts. Just as Odysseus declined the offer of Nausikaa without ever coming out and saying no, Telemakhos declines this invitation by repeating his concern about affairs at home.

Peisistratos was right about the gifts. Menelaos gives Telemakhos a double-handled wine cup and a silver winebowl. Helen's gift is an embroidered robe "for his bride when that day comes." Imagine Telemakhos' feelings as "happily he took it." Helen is the most beautiful woman in the world. Do you think she would give Telemakhos such a gift if she, herself, did not find him attractive as a man? After breakfast the young men drive the chariot out of the gateway in the walled courtyard. Outside, Menelaos makes a libation, says farewell, and sends greetings to Nestor.

When Telemakhos wishes Odysseus were at Ithaka to see all the gifts Menelaos has bestowed on him, an omen appears: an eagle snags a white goose in its talons. Peisistratos asks Menelaos to interpret the omen. While the hero "of the great war cry," the "clarion in battle," gropes for words, Helen says Odysseus is the eagle and the suitors are the goose. You, of course, know Odysseus is in Ithaka right now, though nobody else does. Compare Telemakhos' good-bye to Helen with Odysseus' good-bye to Nausikaa. Are these standard polite phrases, or is Homer suggesting a real similarity between father and son?

The solidity of the friendship between Peisistratos and Telemakhos shows in Telemakhos' request to be taken straight to his ship, avoiding an overnight visit with Nestor. Peisistratos is loyal to his friend, rather than to his father. The arrival of Theoklymenos may remind you of the interrupted narrative in Book 2, when old Aigyptos spoke at the beginning of the assembly. Homer gives a lengthy pedigree for Theoklymenos and lets him tell his story. If you go back to your first glimpse of Telemakhos in Book 1, "sitting there, unhappy among the suitors, a boy, daydreaming," you will see how much Telemakhos has changed. He can even take on a hunted man now. In this interaction notice how he performs a number of small but decisive acts.

Back in Ithaka Odysseus tests Eumaios again by offering to leave, but his host invites him to remain. The narrative is interrupted again, and slowed down again, when Eumaios tells his life story. While Odysseus and the swineherd talk all night, Telemakhos lands in secret. Theoklymenos says another omen, a hawk's attack on a dove, means that the family of Telemakhos will rule in Ithaka forever. Telemakhos entrusts his gifts to his shipmate, Peiraios, and proceeds as instructed on foot to the swineherd's.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer
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