“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XVI – Father and Son

"Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus" by Henri-Lucien Doucet

“Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus” by Henri-Lucien Doucet

In this episode, Odysseus and Telemachus are reunited. After Eumaeus leaves his hut to go inform Penelope that Telemachus has returned safely, Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachus and together they plot the overthrow of the suitors.

What stood out for me the most in this episode was all the irony. For example, when Odysseus reveals himself to his son, Telemachus thinks it’s a trick.

You cannot
be my father Odysseus! Meddling spirits
conceived this trick to twist the knife in me!
No man of woman born could work these wonders
by his own craft, unless a god came into it
with ease to turn him young or old at will.
I swear you were in rags and old,
and here you stand like one of the immortals!

(Fitzgerald Translation: pp. 295 – 296)

Here Odysseus is revealing his true self, without disguise, but his own son does not believe it is him. It’s almost like he has been pretending to be someone else for so long that now he cannot be himself. Shortly afterwards, Odysseus says to Telemachus that he is going to tell him the “plain truth” about how he got to Ithaca.

Only plain truth shall I tell you, child.
Great seafarers, the Phaiakians, gave me passage
as they give other wanderers. By night
over the open ocean, while I slept,
they brought me in their cutter, set me down
on Ithaka, with gifts of bronze and gold
and stores of woven things. By the gods’ will
these lie hidden in a cave. I came
to this wild place, directed by Athena,
so that we might lay plans to kill our enemies.

(ibid: pp. 296 – 297)

As far as I can tell, this is the first time that Odysseus has been completely honest in this tale. But the most ironic passage in this section occurs toward the end of the episode, when Eurymakhos lies to Penelope and tells her that there was no plot against Telemachus.

Blasphemous lies
in earnest tones he told—the one who planned
the lad’s destruction!

(ibid: p. 304)

So we have Odysseus, the trickster, who has been lying his way through the entire odyssey so far, who is deemed a hero, and yet the suitor who lies is blasphemous. Not that I am siding with the suitors; I most certainly am not. I just find the comparison to be quite ironic.

That’s all for now. Check back for my thoughts on Book XVII.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to ““Odyssey” by Homer: Book XVI – Father and Son

  1. Interesting observation about double standards. I think this just shows that Odysseus has become almost like a god and they are not touched by conventional morality. The lie is blasphemous because it encroaches on the rights of the gods – here, the right to lie.

    • Hi Monika. Interesting. So the right to lie is something divine. If humans lie, it is wrong. I’ll have to give that some thought. I’ve always associated the divine with truth, but that may not be the case.

      Thanks for the comment, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

      Jeff

      • The truth, I think, especially divine truth, is something above and beyond lies. Mercurius or Loki are total liars, still they do embody some archetypal truths.

      • Hmm. You always provide me with much to think about. And as far as Loki goes, he is my favorite of the Norse pantheon. Maybe that says something about me 😉

        Cheers!

  2. I dunno, I don’t have the impression that EVERYTHING O had said up to this passage was a lie. Eurymakhos’ lie is despicable, but nothing O has said has seemed comparably egregious, or really what I would call bad. It may be a mistake to try and equate one lie or set of lies to another, even for the sake of logic. To me, Odysseus is quite the good guy. The challenge, if you would call it that, has been to accept the ancient Greek ideals of “good” — things like “raider of cities” being high praise. But of course it’s necessary to do that (right?) if you want to read ancient Greek stories for what they are.

    • Hi Jerry. I also like Odysseus. And with most complex characters, they can be difficult to categorize. To quote Hamlet: “There is no good and evil, but thinking makes it so.” Are there different types of lies? Sure. Does intent play a part in evaluating a lie? Absolutely. I just found it strange that the hero is praised throughout the tale for his craft, deceit, and trickery, but then someone else is condemned for telling a lie. Hence, I thought it was something worth pointing out, that’s all. Cheers!

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