Odysseus is not the only figure in the Odyssey to enjoy a well-developed character. The analysts would disagree with this idea, with the more extreme ones claiming that, as the poem is a compilation of many different authors' work, there can be no characterisation as such. They point to apparent inconsistencies in the portrayal of the characters of the leading figures. For example, at VI.127, Odysseus is described as "brave", although he is bashfully trying to approach a group of young girls, covering his nakedness in embarrassment. There are indeed many examples when the epithet does not seem to fit the situation. Telemachus is not always thoughtful, even when described as such. However, it is much more attractive to see these instances as ironic than as signs of incompetence. The epithet or simile attached to a character is almost never done insensitively.
Telemachus and Penelope
There is no need to give a list of Telemachus or Penelope's characteristics, as reading the poem will elucidate them better than any other way. Nevertheless, some points can be made concerning the issue of their role in the Odyssey and why they are portrayed as they are. Penelope is shown as a paragon of womanly virtue, continually contrasted with the Clytemnestras and Helens of this world. But she is no flat image. Her caution, intelligence, and a hint of stubbornness, as well as other qualities, make her a wife worthy of our hero, which is vital if the romantic elements of the second half of the Odyssey are to work. If Odysseus were to have laboured for ten years to be reunited with a mere cipher of a spouse, both he and we would feel cheated by such a result.
Telemachus is described to us as a youth on the verge of manhood. Some have criticised the inconsistency of this depiction, for Telemachus must be at least twenty years old by the time the Odyssey starts if he is to be Odysseus' son. Homer was not a realist, however, and we should forgive him this slip, partly because it does not seem that the Greeks were that concerned with chronology as long as there was an interesting story to tell. Thus, Herodotus could tell a story of Solo's meeting with Croesus even though he was well aware that they could never have done so, as the former died long before the latter reached manhood. Similarly, Euripides' Children of Heracles has wildly inconsistent chronologies in it, but this did not matter as long as the story, characterisation and thematic material made matters convincing internally.
Telemachus' importance comes from his role as the main hero's son, although his own characterisation is not ignored. There is considerable pathos when he first recognises his father, which would not work if he were only a flat image. He also represents the gap between the generations to some extent. The Homeric poems often depict a decline in the worth of men as time goes on, and Telemachus is inferior to his father, if only because he is still a young man. Odysseus slaughters all the Suitors soon after his arrival in an old-fashioned bloodbath. Telemachus, conversely, tries to reason with them through the assembly in Book I. He fails, but we can see a new type of government being attempted, one which is less heroic in that it takes more account of other people.
The Suitors are not pleasant men, but they are not uniformly or continuously bad men. They practise the sacrifices due to the gods, and a number of them are not entirely unsympathetic. Eurymachus, the chief Suitor, is conciliatory to Telemachus at the assembly in Book I, as well as showing other favourable traits throughout, even if they are always masks for a certain degree of hypocrisy. Amphinomus dissuades the rest of the Suitors from carrying on with their effort to kill Telemachus after the failure of their first attempt (XVI.400-405). He is the only Suitor to act in a friendly manner to the beggar (actually Odysseus in disguise). Nevertheless, he must die, along with the others. The fact that Homer does not just show them as paradigms of evil has been disconcerting to many readers of the Odyssey, as their slaying makes Odysseus seem brutal and extravagantly savage in his treatment of them. The question of whether they deserve their fate is a vexed one. On the whole, they treat Telemachus and his mother very badly, but is death really required? The main reason why their fate might be difficult for a modern audience to appreciate in the same way that an ancient one would is because of the importance in the ancient
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