“Odyssey” by Homer: Book II – A Hero’s Son Awakens

Source: artic.edu

Source: artic.edu

In this book, Telemachus attends the assembly, representing his father. He entreats the suitors to abandon his family’s estate, but they mock him. Afterwards, he enlists the aid of Athena to assist him in securing a ship to sail to Pylos and Sparta. When all is prepared, he sneaks away in the night and only the old nurse Eurykleia is made aware of his departure.

There are two passages in this section that stood out for me. The first one takes place during Telemachus’ response to Antinoos during the assembly.

But if your hearts are capable of shame,
leave my great hall, and take your dinner elsewhere,
consume your own stores. Turn and turn about,
use one another’s houses. 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!

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 23)

What I found interesting about this passage is that the act of being ungracious and abusing a host is seen as a horrific act worthy of death. One gets the impression that the suitors are raping the household, that there is violent violation in their actions. And I personally see an environmental message here. We as a species are but guests and visitors on this earth. As such, we should be respectful of what the earth has to offer. To use and consume all that the earth has to offer without regard is equivalent to what the suitors are doing in Odysseus’ home.

The next section I want to explore takes place when Mentor is addressing the assembly.

“Hear me, Ithakans! Hear what I have to say.
Let no man holding scepter as a king
be thoughtful, mild, kindly, or virtuous;
let him be cruel, and practice evil ways;
it is so clear that no one here remembers
how like a gentle father Odysseus ruled you.
I find it less revolting that the suitors
carry their malice into violent acts;
at least they stake their lives
when they go pillaging the house of Odysseus—
their lives upon it, he will not come again.
What sickens me is to see the whole community
sitting still, and never a voice or a hand raised
against them—a mere handful compared with you.”

(ibid: pp 25 – 26)

This may have been my favorite passage in this book. Mentor condemns, not the suitors, but those citizens who stand by in complacency and do nothing while these atrocities occur. I was reminded of the holocaust. The citizens of Ithaca who refuse to condemn the actions of the suitors are no different than the people who stood by and silently watched as millions of Jews were massacred. Who is worse—the Nazi soldier who is carrying out his orders, or the person who stands by silently and refuses to do anything? It is a challenging question and one that is worth contemplating. Would you stand by if you saw someone being abused, or would you speak out? It is something we should all ask ourselves.

If you are reading along, I would love to hear your thoughts on these or other passages in this book. Please feel free to comment below. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. Cheers!

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8 Comments

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8 responses to ““Odyssey” by Homer: Book II – A Hero’s Son Awakens

  1. Neat observation about the suitors, Jeff. For me they also signify the ultimate traps of materialism as a contrast to Odysseus, whose journey is a spiritual quest of course. I also agree with you with regards to indifference. There is a fine line between indifference and complicity – in some cases there is no line. I think this chapter is also important for Telemachus and his manhood. He did a great job accusing the suitors.

    • Hey Monika. Great observation! You are totally right. Telemachus taking his father’s place and addressing the assembly is a symbolic rite of passage. Don’t know how that escaped me 🙂

      Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom here. I benefit from it, as I’m sure others do also.

      Cheers!

  2. Good thoughts! Taking what you said (first book) about the sea as subconscious, Jeff, I read this book with an eye toward the gods, Athena in particular. I noted that the gods will take on the identity of other characters, and I was interested in how their actions fit in with what the character would or would not do themselves. In other words, would Mentor act in the way Athena did when she (as Mentor) advised Telemachus when he took a walk along the shore after the big meeting? I’m guessing that the answer is yes, and it would mean that the gods (whatever the god in question happened to represent) would be affecting his behavior. I might be completely wrong here, or this might be already obvious to those who’ve read the Greeks. Whatever, I’ll be keeping an eye out for gods pretending to be people. And what happens if, for example, Telemachus says to the real Mentor, later, “But didn’t you just tell me…” etc. and Mentor has no recollection of it? Probably not making myself clear, but I’ll revisit the idea later when I see whether this becomes an issue.

    • Hi Jerry. Great question. Here’s something to consider. Since most people do not recognize the god/goddess in human form, I suspect that the person does act similarly. But certain people, like Telemachus, recognize the divine spirit manifest in the human form. I interpret this as some enlightened beings are able to intuit the divine essence within a human form. Definitely something to think about.

      Great comment! Glad you are reading along.

      Jeff

  3. Excellent delivery Jeff! ~Best wishes! Aquileana 😀

  4. Alex Hurst

    Interesting departure in the translations here, as my book title for this one is “Telemachus Sets Sail.” In my translation, it was also Athena encouraging Telemachus forward — telling him to speak and the will will come to him to challenge with courage even exceeding his own father, perhaps harkening back to what we discussed about the divine in the last post.

    I, too, loved the passaged you mentioned. I think it is a great thing to see in such an old tale… that those passive are as guilty as those that do, when evil is taking place. Just look to any group that stands by idly while their comrades abuse, kill, or sexually harm another person in their midsts. It is an interesting herd mentality that “a hero will come”, and the observer needs to do more than that. Yet, that same person will spring to action if they are the only one around to assist.

    There was an incident several years ago, now, where Bill Nye collapsed during a speech. He was having a seizure, yet it took everyone in the auditorium almost three minutes to react (more than to Tweet that some guy had collapsed on the stage). It’s a scary phenomenon.

    • Great comment, Alex!

      First, I think we have a symbolic connection between “awakening” and “setting sail.” If the sea represents consciousness, then setting sail would be an apt metaphor for an awakening of the psyche.

      Regarding the “herd” mentality, I am optimistic that this is something that is changing. Since I have two kids, I see how the younger generation for the most part is not afraid to stand up and speak out when they see wrongs committed against others. That said, there is also a trend toward participation through technology, so in the scene you described with Bill Nye (one of my heroes), I suspect that the people Tweeting actually believe they are participating and “helping.” Have you seen the film “Kick-Ass”? There is a very similar scene in that film where the hero is fighting to defend someone and everyone is standing around with their devices, capturing the images. I can only hope that one day people will realize that recording is not taking action.

      Thanks as always for your thoughtful response. Wishing you all the best.

      Jeff

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