Telemachus: Meek by Nature or Nurture?
Known for his bravery, cunning, and fairness, Odysseus is an ideal role model in his society. His comrades continue to praise his deeds and extol his virtues long after his disappearance. Yet Odysseus’s own son, Telemachus, has apparently failed inherit any of his father’s greatness; he meekly watches as greedy suitors ruin his house and attempt to woo his resistant mother. However, as the poem progresses, a new Telemachus emerges, one who exhibits a mature confidence in his actions and words. Therefore, Telemachus is timid as a result of his turbulent upbringing, not by his natural disposition.
At the opening of the poem, Telemachus sits idly as the suitors enjoy yet another feast at his expense. The men are free to do as they wish without fear of repercussion. Telemachus doubts whether Odysseus was really his father, since a son of the hero would never permit such debauchery (1.133). But with the arrival of Athena, the situation begins to change. “You’ve got to stop acting like a child,” she says. “You’ve outgrown that now…You have to be aggressive, strong.” (1.313-318) Athena lists qualities that Odysseus embodied and demands that Telemachus man up. Since he grew up without a supportive father, Telemachus never had anyone to insist he take charge. Telemachus takes this to heart, as evidenced by the way he tells his mother to be quiet, since “Speaking is for men, for all men, but me especially, since I am master of this house.” (1.378-379)
Judging by her reaction, Penelope has not once heard her son command such respect. In the space of a few lines, Telemachus goes from lingering in the shadows to asserting himself as the one in control. Clearly, a genuinely timid soul could not change their personality so quickly. Telemachus only needed to be reminded of his responsibilities before acting in a way that befitted the son of Odysseus. His true nature is to be a leader; as Athena points out, “No, you (Telemachus)...
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