The Odyssey

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Telemachus Character Analysis

Odysseus's young son. Telemachus spends his youth helplessly watching the suitors corrupt his household and harass his mother Penelope, but Athena's forceful guidance helps him mature from a nervous youth to a confident, eloquent man – much like his father. Although Athena's hovering, controlling presence might seem oppressive and restrictive, it helps the prince to acquire a great deal of freedom in speech and action. His final passage into manhood is the fight against the suitors, where he proves his courage and skill.

Telemachus Quotes in The Odyssey

The The Odyssey quotes below are all either spoken by Telemachus or refer to Telemachus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Odyssey published in 1996.
Book 2 Quotes

You should be ashamed yourselves,
mortified in the face of neighbors living round about!
Fear the gods' wrath – before they wheel in outrage
and make these crimes recoil on your heads.

Related Characters: Telemachus (speaker), Antinous, Eurymachus, Ctesippus
Page Number: 2.69-72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, young Telemachus yells at the suitors who have overrun his mother Penelope's court. In the absence of Odysseus, suitors have come from across the land to ask for Penelope's hand in marriage, and they're all incredibly rude and sloppy. Telemachus angrily warns the suitors that the gods will punish them for their rudeness one day (foreshadowing the final scenes of the poem).

Telemachus's outburst reminds us that he's too young and weak to attack the suitors himself, but he's also portrayed as a moral authority in the poem: he's been trained in right and wrong, and immediately recognizes when the suitors overstep their position. In ancient Greece, the highest law is the law of the household: visitors and guests are required to be polite and orderly. Thus, for the suitors to be rude and spend all their time in Penelope's home, abusing the law of hospitality, is a sign of their immorality--a crime for which they'll eventually pay with their lives.

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Book 3 Quotes

Some of the words you'll find within yourself,
the rest some power will inspire you to say.
You least of all – I know –
were born and reared without the gods' good will.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), Telemachus
Page Number: 3.29-32
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, young Telemachus gets a visit from the goddess Athena. Athena tells Telemachus that she's going to help his father return to his home, and that Telemachus needs to take action as well. Telemachus is reluctant to follow Athena's advice and ask Nestor about Odysseus, but Athena encourages him nonetheless, assuring him that he'll "find the right words."

In one sense, this passage further complicates the idea of free will in the poem. Telemachus must choose to take action on his own, but Athena, a goddess, is also blatantly advising him what to do, and she tells him that he will be inspired by "some power" to say the right things when the time comes. As is typical of Homer and Greek mythology in general, there is a complicated mixture of human freedom, divine intervention, and overarching fate involved in every action.

The passage is also important because it establishes speech and eloquence as a vital part of maturity. Telemachus's story in the poem is a coming-of-age tale: with Athena's help, he'll learn to take control over his own life. The first step in doing so, it's suggested, is learning how to express his opinions with courage and conviction. Homer, a poet, is a little biased in portraying speech as the most important part of maturity, perhaps. He even makes a comparison between Telemachus's speech to Nestor and his own duty to recite the Odyssey--in both cases, the mortals look to the gods for inspiration, but also receive glory for rhetorical skill and power.

Book 16 Quotes

Would I were young as you, to match my spirit now,
or I were the son of great Odysseus, or the king himself
returned from all his roving – there's still room for hope!
Then let some foreigner lop my head off if I failed
to march right into Odysseus's royal halls
and kill them all. And what if I went down,
crushed by their numbers – I, fighting alone?
I'd rather die, cut down in my own house
than have to look on at their outrage day by day.

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker), Telemachus, Antinous, Eurymachus
Page Number: 16.111-119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Telemachus has made contact with Odysseus, but doesn't yet realize that he's reunited with his own father (Athena has disguised Odysseus as an old beggar). Instead of revealing himself to Telemachus, Odysseus gives a long speech in which he talks about how he'd avenge Penelope's honor if he were young and noble. In another minute, Athena will urge Odysseus to reveal his true identity to his son--but for now, Odysseus keeps himself hidden.

Why doesn't Odysseus just reveal himself to his beloved son right away? Homer suggests a couple of answers. First, Odysseus is unsure if he can trust Telemachus: Agamemnon has inspired him to distrust everyone, even his own family. (Immediately after this passage, Athena appears, assuring Odysseus that he can trust Telemachus.) Second, Odysseus doesn't want to reveal his whereabouts too early: if he tells Telemachus who he is, there's a chance the news could get back to Antinous and the other suitors, and he could be killed. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Odysseus genuinely loves to lie, and wants to draw out the suspense of his secret return. He gets a thrill from pretending to be someone he's not--here, for example, he's definitely enjoying himself as he goes on about what he'd do "if" he were Odysseus. One could even argue that Odysseus is a trickster/poet/artist first and a father/warrior/king second. 

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Telemachus Character Timeline in The Odyssey

The timeline below shows where the character Telemachus appears in The Odyssey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
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Meanwhile, Athena flies to Ithaca to speak to Odysseus's son Telemachus. Droves of men courting Odysseus's wife Penelope have been feasting for years in Odysseus's court,... (full context)
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After Telemachus has given Athena a proper welcome, she tells Telemachus that Odysseus is still alive, and... (full context)
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...stop singing about the Achaeans' journey home, because the song brings her too much grief. Telemachus reproaches her; he reminds her that Zeus, not the bard, is responsible for Odysseus's suffering.... (full context)
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After Athena flies away, Telemachus addresses the suitors. He tells them to leave his household at once, or Zeus, the... (full context)
Book 2
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Telemachus rises at dawn and gathers all the Achaeans to the meeting grounds. Athena makes him... (full context)
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Telemachus responds that to send Penelope back to her father would be a disgrace, and would... (full context)
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Telemachus declares that he will not discuss the matter any more with the suitors. He asks... (full context)
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After the meeting, Telemachus prays to Athena with a heavy heart. In the shape of Mentes, she tells Telemachus... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Book 3
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When Telemachus's ship arrives at Pylos the next morning, the crew finds 4500 of Nestor's people sacrificing... (full context)
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Nestor's son Pisistratus brings Telemachus and his men meat and wine, and encourages them to say a prayer for Poseidon.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Telemachus tells Nestor that he wishes the gods would give him the power to wreak revenge... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
Book 4
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Telemachus and Pisistratus arrive at Menelaus's palace, where the king is celebrating the two separate marriages... (full context)
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...he grieves for Odysseus the most, because he worked the hardest but suffered the most. Telemachus cries to hear his father mentioned so tenderly, and Menelaus understands then that he's speaking... (full context)
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In the morning, Menelaus asks Telemachus whether he has come to discuss a public or a private problem. Telemachus describes the... (full context)
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As Telemachus and Menelaus feast at the king's palace, the suitors feast and amuse themselves in Odysseus's... (full context)
Book 5
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...is now trapped in Calypso's house without any way home. Zeus instructs Athena to bring Telemachus home unharmed, and tells the messenger god Hermes to tell Calypso to release Odysseus from... (full context)
Book 11
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...him that Penelope still grieved and waited for him, that his estate was still in Telemachus's hands, and that his father lived in poverty and solitude. She herself died of grief... (full context)
Book 15
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Athena flies to Lacedaemon and tells Telemachus to come back to Ithaca. She warns him that some of the suitors will try... (full context)
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...and try his luck begging at the palace, but Eumaeus urges him to stay until Telemachus returns. In response to Odysseus-as-beggar's questions, he tells him that king Laertes lives grieving for... (full context)
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The next morning, Telemachus arrives safely and secretly in Ithaca. He directs the ship to continue on to the... (full context)
Book 16
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When Telemachus arrives at the farm, Eumaeus asks him to take care of the stranger. Telemachus gladly... (full context)
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...outside to talk to her, and she tells Odysseus to reveal his true identity to Telemachus so that the two can plan their revenge against the suitors. She makes Odysseus look... (full context)
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Odysseus asks Telemachus to describe the suitors so that they can plan an attack. Telemachus doubts that only... (full context)
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Both Eumaeus and a herald from Pylos report to Penelope that Telemachus has come home. The suitors are dismayed to hear the news. They gather at the... (full context)
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Penelope emerges from her chambers and confronts Antinous about his schemes against Telemachus. She reminds him that Odysseus once saved his father, and shames Antinous for mistreating Odysseus's... (full context)
Book 17
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Telemachus goes into the city; the suitors are friendly to him, but their intentions are dark.... (full context)
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Odysseus enters his own house for the first time in twenty years. Telemachus tells Eumaeus to instruct Odysseus-the-beggar to go around the table begging for scraps, and Athena... (full context)
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...gods. The other suitors agree that the gods will strike down Antinous for his crime. Telemachus is anguished to see his father abused, but he hides his feelings. Eumaeus speaks briefly... (full context)
Book 18
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...notes that there is nothing to be done – he is fated to die on Telemachus's spear. (full context)
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...suitors' deaths. Eurymachus throws a stool at Odysseus-the-beggar but the stool hits a servant instead. Telemachus scolds the suitors and sends them all to bed. (full context)
Book 19
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That night, as the suitors sleep, Odysseus and Telemachus lock up most of the weapons as part of their plan. Telemachus goes to sleep,... (full context)
Book 20
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...Odysseus's anger so she inspires a suitor names Ctesippus to fling a hoof at him; Telemachus loudly chastises the suitor, but Odysseus remains calm. Another suitor urges Telemachus to convince Penelope... (full context)
Book 21
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...that can shoot an arrow cleanly through the axes will have her hand in marriage. Telemachus tries it first, to set an example, but he can't even string the bow. The... (full context)
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...a thing, she says, compared to the shame the suitors have brought on the household. Telemachus asserts his right to be the one to hand over the bow and sends Penelope... (full context)
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...Then the king shoots the arrow cleanly through the row of axes. He says to Telemachus: it's time for the song and dance that follow a feast. (full context)
Book 22
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...wipe out their crimes. Eurymachus calls the suitors to battle, but Odysseus quickly kills him. Telemachus kills Amphinomus and then runs to get weapons for himself, Odysseus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius. (full context)
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...Odysseus, but Athena makes sure the arrows miss their mark again and again. Odysseus and Telemachus slaughter the suitors like eagles attacking little birds. Odysseus spares only the bard and the... (full context)
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Telemachus brings out Eurycleia; she is happy to see the suitors dead, but Odysseus warns her... (full context)
Book 23
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...but also like the mysterious beggar. As she considers the stranger in indecision, Odysseus tells Telemachus that the palace must look as though they are celebrating a wedding; he wants to... (full context)
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...in her room, because men might come to avenge the suitors. He sets out with Telemachus, the swineherd, and the cowherd. (full context)