When does a boy become a man? This rite of passage is explored in Robert Fagles' translation of Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. Odysseus (king of Ithaca) fought in the Trojan War for ten years and after the fall of Troy he spent the next ten years trying to get home. He left behind an infant son, Telemachus, and a devoted wife, Penelope. Although they longed for Odysseus' return, Penelope and Telemachus were the perfect hosts to wayward strangers - even as their estate became overrun with arrogant suitors - men intent on marrying Penelope and taking possession of the throne. Athena, goddess and daughter of Zeus, is instrumental in encouraging Telemachus to begin his journey to adulthood saying, "You must not cling to your boyhood any longer - / it's time you were a man." (1, 341 - 342).
Young Telemachus first encounters Athena, disguised as Mentes, son of Anchialus, while he was sitting among the suitors, suffering from a heavy heart and daydreaming about his father. He welcomes her into his home and Athena stirs emotion within Telemachus by saying, "You're truly Odysseus' son? You've sprung up so! / Uncanny resemblance... The head, and the fine eyes - / I see him now." (1, 240 - 242). By acknowledging his resemblance to Odysseus, Athena rouses, within Telemachus, the strong emotions for the father he barely knows, and initiates the rising of inner strength that Telemachus must develop in order to confront his impending challenges. It is clear that Telemachus responds positively to Athena's encouragement when he instructs his astonished mother to tend to her own tasks, declaring "As for giving orders, men will see to that, but I most of all: I hold the reins of power in this house." (1, 412 - 414).
Telemachus, now displaying the initial signs of dignity and determination and living life with purpose for the first time, orders the suitors to return to their own homes. Unfortunately, respect has not yet been earned and his words are met with tenacity as the...
Cited: Homer. The Odyssey. Trans., Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
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