Through modern culture, most people are familiar with the whole storyline of The Odyssey. Odysseus leaves Troy and embarks on an epic journey filled with adventure and fantasy. However, most readers are unaware that there are actually two journeys that are unfolding simultaneously throughout Homer’s epic. Telemachus’ journey greatly differs from his father, Odysseus. While it might not be filled with as much excitement and adventure as his father’s journey, Telemachus’ quest is crucial to the overall storyline. It is the story of his coming-of-age. He is the dynamic character who, as we will see, changes greatly as the story proceed.
When the reader first encounters Telemachus in book one, he is portrayed as a young adult, about the age of 21. Odysseus had left him and his mother Penelope for Troy while he was still a toddler. In any culture and time, growing up without a fatherly figure can be tough. Without a model for him to imitate, he is left with struggling to learn traits that only a father could teach. The suitors often put him down because of his timorous personality. They exist only with the hopes of courting his mother in his father’s absence. Because of this, he miserably yearns for his father’s return. “I wish at least I had some happy man / as father, growing old in his own house / but unknown death and silence are the fate / of him that, since you ask, they call my father” (1. 261-264). With the suitors taking over his father’s palace, a inexperienced Telemachus is left to deal with them.
Although he may lack confidence, he is very familiar with the idea of hospitality or as the Greeks called it, Xenia. He graciously welcomes Athena into his home while impressing her with his politeness. As she had already taken a liking to Odysseus, she generously assists Telemachus with his journey to find his father, and, even more importantly, find himself. Athena warns him of the tale of Orestes who killed the man that married his mother and betrayed his father, Agamemnon. This story is a direct parallel to Telemachus’ own story. It recounts the horrifying story of a father’s homecoming and warns Telemachus what he must do to prevent that from occurring with his own family. By giving him instructions and confidence, Athena gradually brings Telemachus more determination and self-worth.
Being the rightful heir to Ithaca, Telemachus is supposed to take his father’s throne as king. However, being too young and inexperienced, he is not yet able to do so. Penelope tries to do her best in the absence of her husband. With the status of woman back then, it was nearly impossible for her to earn any measure of respect from the suitors. Woman were to always be married unless they were still living with their parents. This is one of the many reasons that the suitors are attempting to court her. With that, they would be able to seize control of the throne of Ithaca. Only in book two is when we begin to see Telemachus begin to stand up...