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Coming Of Age In Homer's The Odyssey

1027 words - 4 pages

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 their homes" and that he "go abroad for news of your lost father" (I.321-323, 326). In her divine wisdom, Athena conveys the largest flaws in Telemakhos' character: his fear of his enemies and his insecurities towards his father. Although Telemakhos is overwhelmed and, at times, complaining, there is no evidence to suggest that he doesn't have good intentions. In fact, Athena's helpful nudges seem to be just the catalyst that Telemakhos needs to get on the right track towards avenging his father's estate and name, as well as to becoming a courageous individual and in thus fulfilling his identity.

In the latter part of Book I and in Book II, we see a change in Telemakhos' character. Tellingly, Book II is entitled "A Hero's Son Awakens." Given the encouragement from Athena, Telemakhos' evolution from cowardice to courage begins. He calls the suitors to a meeting where he informs them that he will be departing, and commands: "go feasting elsewhere, consume your own stores...If you choose to slaughter one man's livestock and pay nothing, this is rapine; and by the eternal gods I beg Zeus you shall get what you deserve: a slaughter here, and nothing paid for it!" (I.424-430). Telemakhos is initially not known to be a man of...

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