The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Telemachus's ship arrives at Pylos the next morning, the crew finds 4500 of Nestor's people sacrificing bulls in honor of the god Poseidon. As the crew climbs ashore, Athena urges Telemachus to put his shyness aside and question Nestor about Odysseus. The prince worries about his youth and inexperience, but Athena assures him that the right words will come, with the help of the gods. She leads him to the place where Nestor and his friends and family sit roasting meat.
Right away, we see that Nestor and the people of Pylos honor the gods. We also note that Athena continues to encourage Telemachus in his maturation. Her encouragement seems to be half good faith, half divine meddling: will the right words come because Telemachus is more capable than he suspects, or because a god will place them there?
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Nestor's son Pisistratus brings Telemachus and his men meat and wine, and encourages them to say a prayer for Poseidon. With instinctive tact, Telemachus offers the wine to Athena first, and she asks Poseidon to grant Telemachus safe passage home. Telemachus repeats her prayer, and they feast. Only after they've finished does Nestor inquire about their identities. Telemachus explains that they've come to seek news about Odysseus's journey or about his death.
The people of Pylos follow the rules of hospitality by offering the strangers food and drink without delay. These rules acknowledge that a traveler often needs to disguise his identity for one reason or another, because they require a host to give a stranger food and comfort before asking for his name.
Themes
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Nestor mentions the many men whose deaths he witnessed during the Trojan War; he describes Odysseus as a man of unequalled cunning, and tells Telemachus that his eloquence is similar to Odysseus's. After the fall of Troy, Nestor says, Athena created a feud between the brothers Menelaus and Agamemnon: Menelaus wanted to return home at once, but Agamemnon wanted to stay in Troy to offer Athena sacrifices. Half the men, Nestor included, left with Menelaus, but Odysseus and the other half stayed with Agamemnon. Nestor returned safely to Pylos, but he knows nothing about Odysseus's fate. Nestor mentions that Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon when the king returned home, and that Agamemnon's son Orestes avenged the murder: Nestor tells Telemachus to be courageous like Orestes.
Despite Telemachus's insecurity, his speech makes a good impression on the king; Nestor implies that Telemachus's way with words comes from his father (rather than a god). Nestor's story implies that the fates of all four men in the story were determined by the feud, but it seems that Athena created the feud for no particular reason: the actions of the gods often seem mysterious or arbitrary. Nestor's tale about Agamemnon and Orestes helps cement Telemachus's determination to restore honor to his household by defeating the suitors.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
Telemachus tells Nestor that he wishes the gods would give him the power to wreak revenge on the suitors feasting in his father's house. Nestor wonders whether Odysseus will ever return to punish the suitors, and echoes Telemachus in wishing for him the affection of the gods. Telemachus says sadly that this can never be; but Athena (in the shape of Mentes) chastises him for speaking foolishly. Telemachus repeats that Odysseus will never return, because the gods have cursed him. He asks Nestor to tell Menelaus's story – why did he not avenge his brother's death?
Though Nestor seems to encourage Telemachus to take strong, independent action, Telemachus emphasizes his dependence on the gods. Nestor admits that Telemachus needs the good will of the gods to succeed, and Athena implies that Telemachus already possesses it. Be that as it may, says Telemachus, the gods hate Odysseus, so his mission is not likely to succeed. The passivity of piety seems to contradict the strength of honorable action.
Themes
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Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
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Nestor says that Menelaus was still at Troy when Aegisthus seduced Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra. She remained faithful to her husband as long as his bard was there to guard her; but Aegisthus sent the bard to die on a desert island, and Clytemnestra yielded to Aegisthus, who made many grateful sacrifices to thank the gods. In the meantime Zeus swept Menelaus to Egypt, where he spent seven years amassing a great treasure. Agamemnon returned home, but was murdered by Aigisthus. After Aegisthus had reigned for seven years over the land of murdered Agamemnon, Orestes came home and killed Aegisthus and Clytemnestra; he avenged Agamemnon the very day that Menelaus returned home. Nestor finishes his tale by advising Telemachus not to stay away from his home for too long, and to visit Menelaus in Lacedaemon.
Bards keep memories alive by repeating stories, and Nestor's story implies that Agamemnon's bard guarded Clytemnestra from infidelity by keeping Agamemnon's memory alive in her. When the bard disappears, Clytemnestra forgets her husband and betrays him. The treacherous Aegisthus shows piety by sacrificing to the gods, but his piety cannot compensate for his dishonorable behavior: the gods do not protect him from Orestes' revenge.
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
Athena suggests that it's time for them to leave, but Nestor insists on giving them gifts and putting them up for the night. Athena approves this request but says that she will sleep on the ship and leave for another land at dawn; she turns into an eagle and flies away. The king is amazed; he tells Telemachus that he will never be deficient in character if he is so beloved by Athena. Nestor takes Telemachus back to his palace and they drink to Athena, then everyone goes to sleep.
When the king realizes that Telemachus's companion is a god, he stops emphasizing Telemachus's eloquence and will, and focuses instead on the prince's dependence on the gods. It is pious to speak of god-human relationships in terms of complete dependence, though it is honorable to follow one's own conscience.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
The next day, Nestor holds a feast. When everyone is gathered, a goldsmith covers a heifer's horns in gold, Nestor pours purifying water and flings barley, and one of his sons chops through the heifer's neck. The women pray, the men drain the heifer's blood, quarter it, and cut out and burn the thighbones. They eat the organs and roast the remaining meat. In the meantime, Nestor's daughter Polycaste bathes Telemachus, rubs him down with oil, and dresses him in beautiful clothes, so that he looks like a god. After everyone feasts, Nestor orders his sons to bring Telemachus a team of horses and a chariot, and his son Pisistratus drives the team towards Sparta.
The feast shows that the requirements of piety can be very elaborate and costly, and that they seem to vary slightly from country to country. We can infer that the gods care less about the details than about the fear and respect that inspire people to invent such complicated rituals. Nestor continues to show his hospitality to Telemachus by assigning tasks to his sons and daughter. Just as he helped the guest arrive, he helps him to depart.
Themes
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon