The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Telemachus rises at dawn and gathers all the Achaeans to the meeting grounds. Athena makes him look particularly god-like and striking. Telemachus describes to the crowd the disgrace of his household - the suitors that dishonor his mother and consume the house's resources. He himself is only a boy: he lacks the strength and experience to drive the suitors from the house. He reproaches the crowd for its indifference, threatens that the gods may revenge the suitors' crimes, and weeps with shame and anger.
Telemachus grows more and more animated in his outrage, but he worries that he does not have Odysseus's power – that he did not inherit his glory. Nevertheless he has the strength of the gods at his back. His grief and tears are not signs of weakness, here, but signs of determination: the grief will drive him to take action.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Antinous replies that Penelope is to blame for the suitors' behavior. Penelope promised to choose a husband once she finished weaving a shroud for Laertes, but in order to postpone the day of decision, she wove the shroud by day and unwove it at night. When one of her maids betrayed her secret to the suitors, they forced her to finish her web. Antinous claims that the suitors are justified in their rude behavior because Penelope tricked them, and because she refuses to choose a husband. Antinous suggests and Telemachus send Penelope back to her father, who would pick her husband
Penelope's trick is a perfect example of cunning: unlike Odysseus, who uses cunning to take action, Penelope uses cunning to abstain from action – to postpone choosing a husband. Her duty is to wait for Odysseus, so her inaction is honorable. By accusing Penelope, Antinous tries to get honor on his side, but his accusations are empty: her behavior toward the suitors is not dishonorable, so the suitors are not justified.
Themes
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Telemachus responds that to send Penelope back to her father would be a disgrace, and would meet with anger from both his family and the gods. He asks the suitors to heed their shame and to leave his household, and threatens again that the gods will revenge their crimes. At that moment, Zeus sends an omen of the revenge Telemachus describes: two eagles that come down from the mountains and tear each other to pieces as they fly over the crowd. Halitherses, a prophet, interprets the omen to mean death for the suitors. Eurymachus mocks the prophecy and the omen; he says that the suitors will not stop their feasting until the queen chooses a husband.
To exile Penelope from her home would not be just, and injustice toward honorable people is punished by the gods – by that logic, the behavior of the suitors will be surely punished. Zeus's omen strengthens Telemachus's threat. Some of the suitors scoff at the omen, which in itself is an insult to Zeus. The suitors bully and threaten Telemachus to frighten him into submission, but their words don't affect him.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Telemachus declares that he will not discuss the matter any more with the suitors. He asks the Achaeans for a ship and a crew of twenty men to sail to Pylos and Sparta in search of news about Odysseus. If he hears that his father is alive, he will hold the suitors back for another year; if he hears news of his father's death, he will give him a proper burial and encourage Penelope to marry again. Odysseus's friend Mentor reproaches the crowd for their indifference and inaction in the face of the suitors' violence, and reminds them that Odysseus was a kind and godlike ruler. Leocritus hushes Mentor and predicts that the suitors would murder Odysseus even if he were to return. He breaks up the assembly.
No matter what news he learns, Telemachus resolves to do what's right rather than sit by passively. Mentor emphasizes that the offenses of the suitors are made worse still by the fact that they're dishonoring a just, honorable man. The suitors continue to ignore the will of the gods and fantasize about Odysseus's death.
Themes
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
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After the meeting, Telemachus prays to Athena with a heavy heart. In the shape of Mentes, she tells Telemachus that from now on he will be as courageous and clever as his father, and that he is sure to succeed in his mission. She tells him to pay no mind to the suitors, who are surely doomed, and to gather provisions for the trip; in the meantime, she will assemble a crew and choose a ship. Antinous encourages him to join the suitors' revelry, but Telemachus declares with restored confidence that he will have nothing to do with the suitors, and promises to bring destruction to their party. He ignores their insults and provocations and goes to the storeroom, where he asks his nurse Eurycleia to prepare food and drink for the journey. The nurse cries out in fear for his life, but Telemachus assures her that a god is watching over his mission, and asks her to keep his departure secret from his mother for ten days.
When Telemachus feels discouraged, Athena lifts his spirits by describing his sure success. But is she predicting his success, commanding it, or promising it? To what degree does she predetermine the fates of father and son? Telemachus's strength increases, and he speaks confidently to the suitors and to his nurse. He decides to hide his departure from his mother to spare her some grief – an act of cunning for an honorable purpose.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
In the meantime, Athena walks through the town in the shape of Telemachus: she gathers a crew of twenty men, whom she asks to meet in the harbor at sundown, and borrows a sturdy ship. She also brings sleep to the suitors, who stumble to bed. She calls Telemachus to the ship. With renewed energy, he commands the men to load the provisions into the storerooms. Athena takes the pilot's seat and sends the ship a strong accompanying wind. The crew pours wine in honor of Athena and the other gods as the ship sails off into the night.
Here, Athena acts on Telemachus's behalf: she interferes directly, but masks her interference. She uses sleep to disarm the suitors and to ensure a safe departure for Telemachus. She acts as pilot on the ship, but Telemachus, presumably, is captain: she takes an important but secondary role. The crew shows piety in drinking in Athena's honor.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon