Telemacheia: Story of the development of an adolescent becoming a basileus



This essay is concerning the idea of revenge and how it pertains to the first four books in The Odyssey.  Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, was the man of the house after his father left for the Trojan War.  When his father did not return to Ithaca, suitors flooded into his palace, ravaging his food, and overstaying their welcome.  Telemachus matures much through the book, but in the first four, there is a definite transition from an immature scared little boy, to the man that revenges the abuse at the end of the story.


To begin with, Telemachus was scared to even approach the suitors of his mother about his desire for them to be gone.  He also has lost hope that his father is still alive, but in some other part of the world.  “Yet, were Odysseus to return, were they to see him here again, they would not only pray for gold or richer clothes-just faster feet.  But he has died by now, died wretchedly” (Mandelbaum 8).  Telemachus spoke these words to Athena quietly so the suitors did not hear.  They can be interpreted to mean that Telemachus does not want them in his house anymore, but does not have the courage to say anything to the suitors themselves.  Athena tells Telemachus about his father, and what he should do to find out some information about his fathers whereabouts.  She also tells him to grow up, basically, on page 13 by saying, “Forget the pastimes of child: you are a boy no longer.”  He took this to heart, and told the suitors that he was to call an assembly.


As Telemachus begins to mature, and desire revenge on the invaders of his house, other signs are shown of this desire.  Page 28 shows that Zeus knows already of the revenge Telemachus is going to wage on the suitors.  He sends a pair of eagle down from Mt. Olympus that swoop over the suitors.  This is a sign that the suitors will meet their death when the time is right.  Telemachus also decides, with the help of Athena that he is to go on a journey to find out information about his father.  This is a sign that he is beginning to believe that his father is still alive, and that he needs additional information to decide what he is going to do, because he has decided there is something that needs to be done, and end the wasting of his wealth that the suitors are doing.


At the end of the Telemacheia, the first four books, comes to an end, Telemachus has made a huge transformation.  He is on his return voyage to Ithaca after visiting Nestor and Menelaus.  He is returning with a newfound vengeance for the suitors, as he has found out that Odysseus is still alive.   In Ithaca, Telemachus shares of his findings, and waits for his fathers return.  When he finally does return, much later in the book, Odysseus and Telemachus wage an all out war on the suitors in the walls of their home, and kill them all.


The vengeance Telemachus found against the suitors was nowhere to be found at the beginning of the book.  Telemachus was too scared to even confront the suitors about his disapproval of their “invasion of his house, and ravaging of his livestock.  Within pages he becomes much braver and less tolerant of the suitors, calls an assembly, and he even talks back to the suitors, as opposed to just letting them do whatever they please.  As Telemachus matures, and becomes increasingly brave, the suitors never change their demeanor, they never read the signs, and they never think of having any fear of what is to happen to them for their actions in Odysseus house while trying to court Odysseus’s wife.






This link shows how revenge was prevalent not only in Telemacheia, but through the rest of The Odyssey and even today.




This is a picture of Telemachus.  It shows food and drink, which caused him to take revenge because the suitors took advantage of his father’s house.


Image taken from






Telemacheia, the first four books in The Odyssey, are important in many ways, particularly its hospitality feature.  In search for his father, Odysseus, Telemachus’ interactions with hospitality are evident in his house, Nestor’s halls, and Menelaus’ halls.  Telemachus’ maturing nature grasps life in its appropriate ways – one being xenia (hospitality).


There are several possible reasons for hospitality in The Odyssey.  The host always holds a feast where he and his guests are indulged with blessed meats and wines.  Prayer is usually performed here- primarily to the gods and goddesses.  This feast could be perceived as a polite inquiry.  The host is then excused from an invasion of privacy when asking the guests who they are and where they came from.   Because the host was so kind and offered them a chance to enrich their bodies and minds with food and baths, the guest is obligated to tell of his objectives.  This then creates an opportunity for the host as well as the guest to share stories of their history; whether it is concerning battles, voyages, or faithless wives, the guest and host become more familiar with each other.  Then there is always the chance that the “guest” could be a disguised god or goddess.  This is a crucial incentive for the host to be distinctively generous and inviting in case the god or goddess is testing or strategizing a plan for the host; the host must show his best qualities and characteristics to dodge an unwanted fate.  Before departing it is often common for the host to present a gift to the guest, usually something of significance to the host.  Of course this is an example of the customary life of a wealthy man in the ancient Greek times. There are always exceptions to this culturally defined conduct of both the host and guest interactions, as it is in The Odyssey with the suitors.


The first book describes Telemachus’ first meeting with Athena in the guise of Mentor.  He treats her well and invites her to feast.  Although Telemachus is already discouraged with the inappropriate manners of the suitors, Mentor reinforces it.  She says, “These guzzlers seem to me no better than a pack of swaggers – too rude, too coarse.  Seeing their shameful doings, any man of sense would feel both anger and contempt (page 11).” Here, Mentor is allocating Telemachus’ maturity when his anger builds against the suitors.  She wants him to know what they are doing is wrong in their culture and he should not permit it any longer.  After their conversation concerning Odysseus concludes, Telemachus offers Mentor to bathe and refresh her spirit.  She replies, “Do not delay me now. I truly wish to leave; whatever gift your heart would give – consigned when I stop here again, on my return, that I may bear it at home.  And it will earn you a gift of equal merit (page 14).”  Mentor implies here that Telemachus’ kind hospitality (xenia) will gain him favor from the gods. 

Telemachus travels to Pylos and Sparta where he is received by Nestor and Menelaus.  Unlike the treatment in his own halls, Nestor and Menelaus are very kind to him as he is to them.  An example of a proper household is evident in these two halls.  Since Telemachus has no father present to model after, he is now fully aware of the mistreatment of the suitors.  Telemachus is greatly offended by them.  He states, “But now you [suitors] cast despair into my heart – a sorrow past all care and cure (page 25).”  The suitors have taken advantage of the xenia and Telemachus must take charge and correct the order of his hall.



This link shows contrasting views when Telemachus reaches King Nestor in Pylos.




This picture shows how the gods were leaders; Athena in the guise of Mentor leads Telemachus in the right direction.


Image taken from




Telemachus: An Intriguingly Shrewd Prince


One of the most significant sections of The Odyssey is the “Telemacheia”. This is because it offers an intimate look into the intricacies and themes of the epic. This essay will illustrate one of these topics. The emphasis will be to further understand Telemachus’ mental progression, particularly, how he matures through inner spiritual growth. 


Upon further evaluation of Book I, the reader is struck by Telemachus’ lack of assertiveness. At this point, there are many remarks one could make about Telemachus’ nature. However, there appears to be one dominant characteristic he embodies, faithlessness. This can be observed in his negative views pertaining to his father’s status, and even more importantly, in his depressed confidence. His boyish insecurity is demonstrated early in Book I when Telemachus explicates, “…since the firm Odysseus now is dead. I am left with grief and misery. I sigh not only over him: the gods have given me still more calamities (Mandelbaum, 17).” This statement vividly illustrates how Telemachus considers himself a victim and consequently, embraces a defeatist-mentality.


In Book II, Telemachus inspired by Athena, takes his first steps toward becoming independent. These baby steps begin with Telemachus calling for an assembly, which is profound, for there hasn’t been one in twenty years. Even more surprising is the fact that he finally accuses the suitors of injustice (something he had never publicly done). At first this appears to be a monumental step, after all, he has finally verbally asserted himself. Yet, upon further scrutiny, we ascertain that he really hasn’t made much progress. In a response to the suitors, he remarks, “But if I hear that he no longer lives (regarding Odysseus’s fate), then I, returning to my own dear land, to honor him will heap a death-mounted high and offer to his memory rich rites—and give my mother to another husband (Mandelbaum, 30).” Quite possibly, the latter part of that sentence is the most important utterance Telemachus articulates in the first two Books. They embody his complete apathy towards becoming a king (paramount basileus) like his father. Instead, Telemachus seems content with relinquishing his hereditary power, and assuming an inferior role on Ithaca. Nonetheless, he embarks on his journey to Pylos and Sparta.


Telemachus learns invaluable lessons in hospitality during his stay with King Nestor (on Pylos) and King Menelaus (on Sparta). This xenia or guest-friendship is an essential ingredient Telemachus must learn to embrace. As a result of his encounters, a metamorphosis occurs in Telemachus. Renewed by King Menelaus’s encouraging remarks (concerning his father being alive and captive on Calypso’s Island), Telemachus begins to demonstrate signs of becoming more independent and self-assured. This new self-sovereignty is illustrated in his anxious command to immediately leave Sparta and journey back to Ithaca.


Arguably the most significant reason for Telemachus’ new faithfulness is that during his journey he was forced to look within himself. Like an impressionable teen, Telemachus has emulated the people with which he has interacted, the result being a nearly complete transformation of his character.  This greater journey, a voyage of self-discovery, has resulted in greater self-confidence. In shedding his inferiority complex, Telemachus has finally put himself in a reasonable position to set things straight back on Ithaca. After all, being perpetually paralyzed by trepidation, he could not objectively diagnose the salient problems that plagued his life.


A positive, external confirmation of this inner journey is that Telemachus begins to demonstrate signs of becoming an even greater person than Odysseus. This is quite a fantastic feat, for most conservative scholars would argue that Odysseus has the most resolve of any individual found in the epic. However, there is more to maturity than merely vigor. While Telemachus may not embody that characteristic, as readily, he does possess a significant quality that Odysseus never seems to fully exemplify. Specifically, Telemachus shows a masterful ability for suave conversation. Throughout his journey he brilliantly manipulates and compliments others, and in doing so, shows an amazing capacity for tactfulness. He does such a wonderful job building social capital with Menelaus that the king pleads for him to extend his stay. In short, the important understanding is that his debonair character is a priceless trait for a prince to personify. Nevertheless, only upon discovering his inner-self, does he truly exploit this tremendous resource.   




This picture shows how Telemachus is growing into the strong and powerful ruler his father once was.


Image taken from





Faith in the Unknown, But Not What is at Hand


The first four chapters of The Odyssey, which is also known as the “Telemacheia”, are very important in developing themes that are seen throughout the rest of the epic.  This part of the book also allows us to take a closer look at the development of the young Telemachus.  He grows and matures and becomes a well-respected man like his beloved father.  One of the things I noticed about Telemachus was his faith.  He had varying degrees of faith in himself, strangers, the gods, his father, Odysseus, and his mother, Penelope.  Faith continues to be an important repetitive theme throughout the epic.


Telemachus’ faith in strangers was one of the first things that I noticed about him early in Book I.  When Athena comes disguised as Mentes to visit Telemachus, upon first seeing her, Telemachus rushes to her and says, “My greetings, stranger.  Welcome to our feast.  Eat first – and then do tell us what you seek (Mandelbaum, 7).”  He is only interested in what is best for the stranger without knowing what kind of bad tidings he could bring.  He also has faith in the Kings Nestor and Menelaus to house him, feed him, bring him the truth about his father, and to give him gifts.  Of course, this has to do with xenia, a type of guest hospitality and friendship that was expected in ancient Greece at this time.  In fact, as we will find out later in the book, it is quite against the norm to not participate in this stranger friendliness because the Cyclops are the only group that do not participate in xenia.


Telemachus also has a great amount of faith in the gods.  When Athena leaves him in Book I after being in disguise he was “aware that he had some god as visitor (Mandelbaum, 14).”  Telemachus has faith that the gods will bring the suitors what they truly deserve for their wrongdoings, a harsh death.  He is also sure to offer libations and sacrifices to the gods when eating and at many times throughout the first four books.  Besides having faith in the gods, I believe he also has some fear.  He has seen all to clear how much one can suffer if he angers even one of the gods as is the case with his father, Odysseus.


As we go further in the “Telemacheia”, Telemachus develops more faith in himself.  For years he has let the suitors eat away his wealth and belittle him within his own house.  Finally, in Book II, he calls an assembly and publicly denounces them and asks for help to find his father.  It states in Book III that the suitors are shocked upon finding out the Telemachus actually followed through to search for word of his father.  The Telemachus of old would have never done such a thing.  He still has troubles and doubts himself when going to talk to King Nestor.  He worries, “When one is young, he may indeed be blamed for questioning his elders.  I’m ashamed. (Mendelbaum, 41).”  After meeting with the kings he begins to realize that he is well respected for his young age because of his eloquent speaking, and because he was the son of Odysseus who was known for being a hero throughout the Greek world even if not in his own island of Ithaca. 


Another type of faith that Telemachus shows is faith in his parents. He shows very different levels of faith in his mother and father, which I do not quite understand.  He shows faith in his father whom he has never really known, and who has been missing from his life for twenty years.  Telemachus pleads to Nestor, “I’ve come in search of word about my father- the famous, the unfaltering Odysseus (Mandelbaum, 44).”  He believes from the words of others that his father is a great man and is willing to risk his life in traveling to find even the slightest word about his father.  Telemachus seems to find it easy to believe in things that can’t be seen, like his father and the gods, and even the unknown, such at the goodwill of others, but he can’t seem to believe in the only thing or person who has been there for him his whole life, his mother.  As he tells Menelaus, he has “no longing for my mother and my home (Mendelbaum, 83).”  Why such resentment for his mother?  Telemachus believes his mother would turn against him and Odysseus and marry one of her many suitors when, in truth, Penelope is suffering as much as or possibly more then Telemachus himself.  With all the things Telemachus has faith in, he should be able to believe in his own mother who has never given him a reason to distrust her.  I saw this lack of faith in his loving mother one of Telemachus’ only weaknesses.



This link is relevant because it talks about the important events of Telemachus’ life.




In this picture, you can see the tension between Telemachus and Penelope.  Their relationship was not the best because of the strain put on them from Odysseus’ absence.


Image taken from




Coming of Age


Telemacheia, the first 4 books of The Odyssey, features a young, immature boy that grows into an older, wiser and stronger man.  It deals with a character that most students can relate to because of his closeness in age to theirs.  Telemacheia pertains mostly to the story of Telemachus and his own epic of growth and rise to power.


At the beginning of Telemacheia, Telemachus is around 19 or 20, has grown up with no father and is very immature and naïve about the world around him.  It is at this point that he learns from Athena about his father more and decides he needs to grow up.  It is with this ‘coming of age’ that Telemachus starts his journey to become like his father, and calls an assembly to tell all that he is indeed the son of Odysseus and will rule his house accordingly. 


This growth plays an important role in the rest of the book.  At first, Telemachus’ age defines him, but it’s later in Telemacheia (and eventually in the closing books) we see him as Odysseus’ equal in power, courage and intelligence, while only getting a couple of years older.  This sudden growth represents the basic concept of Telemacheia.  It’s built in for the reader to understand both background and to better comprehend the point of maturity, or ‘coming of age’.

 It seems to be this factor, that age is unimportant to who you are and are willing to become, that is of most importance in the Odyssey.  This process of maturing is really what Telemacheia is all about.  It’s a process that is about learning, accepting and understanding. Once Telemachus learned about his past, decided on his future, he became a power.  He could have been 20 or 30, and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Homer believed that maturity was an important theme for Telemacheia.  Since Telemacheia starts the novel, it’s with this main theme that the book can progress and have a growth of its own.







This picture shows Telemachus’ immaturity earlier in The Odyssey before he gains courage to fight for his household.



Image taken from




*      For another look on how xenia was important in The Odyssey check out!  This website agrees with ours in respect that the Greeks kept xenia in the households out of fear of the gods.


*      A big theme in The Odyssey is Telemachus’ coming of age.  This website talks about his growth through hope, perseverance, and courage.


*      This website shows how Odysseus’ absence affected both Telemachus and Penelope which is explained in Telemacheia, the first four books in The Odyssey.



*       Webpage by Casey Friske, Lindsay Grossheim, JT Dominick, Liz Weyerbacher, and Andy Payne (respectively).