The Penelopiad

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Telemachus Character Analysis

Telemachus is Odysseus and Penelope’s only son and the Prince of Ithaca. Born only one year before Odysseus left for Troy, Telemachus knows of his father mostly through the stories his mother tells him. Penelope and Eurycleia raise Telemachus, spoiling him as a child. As a teenager, Telemachus is angsty and rude to his mother, criticizing her for letting the Suitors eat away at his inheritance. Ultimately, Telemachus sails to find his father and helps him kill the Suitors and the Twelve Maids.

Telemachus Quotes in The Penelopiad

The The Penelopiad 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:
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Canongate Books edition of The Penelopiad published in 2006.
Chapter 9 Quotes

‘Helen hasn’t borne a son yet,’ he said, which ought to have made me glad. And it did. But on the other hand, why was he still—and possibly always—thinking about Helen?

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus, Telemachus
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Penelope describes Odysseus’s reaction to the birth of Telemachus. Odysseus is happy that Penelope had a son, but his comparison of Penelope to Helen upsets her.

Penelope frames her unhappiness about Odysseus’s comment as displeasure that he is “still—and possibly always—thinking about Helen.” Penelope seems concerned that Odysseus may be in love with Helen, or at least thinks often and fondly of her good looks and charms. The fact that Odysseus’s compliment is only a comparison to another woman shows how women in Greek society are pitted against each other and competition between them is encouraged, preventing them from supporting one another. Moreover, Penelope is praised for giving birth to a son, showing how women are valued based on their reproductive capabilities rather than personal merit, and how boy children are valued more than girls.

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Chapter 10 Quotes

Nine months he sailed the wine-red seas of his mother’s blood…
In his frail dark boat, the boat of himself,
Through the dangerous ocean of his vast mother he sailed
From the distant cave where the threads of men’s lives are spun,
Then measured, and then cut short
By the Three Fatal Sisters, intent on their gruesome handicrafts,
And the lives of women also are twisted into the strand…

Related Characters: The Twelve Maids (speaker), Telemachus , The Fates
Related Symbols: Weaving and Fiber Work , Water
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is part of a poem in which the Twelve Maids describe Telemachus’s birth before comparing it with their own births.

The Twelve Maids describe Penelope’s womb as a “wine-red sea,” linking the ocean with the female body. This metaphor elevates the female body to a level of high importance, considering how central the sea is to Ancient Greek life and the story of Odysseus (and the “wine-dark sea” is a common phrase in Homer’s work). The Maids also place women in a central, powerful role in this section of the poem as they mention the “Three Fatal Sisters,” the Fates who decide men’s fates through the traditionally feminine craft of spinning. By noting the central role that women play in determining men’s destinies and by linking the female body to the sea, Atwood places women in positions of extreme importance in this poem, despite how poorly they are treated in the rest of the novel.

Chapter 18 Quotes

He then said that he’d made the decision he’d had to make—he’d gone in search of his father, since no one else seemed prepared to lift a finger in that direction. He claimed his father would have been proud of him for showing some backbone and getting out from under the thumbs of the women, who as usual were being overemotional and showing no reasonableness and judgment. By ‘the women’, he meant me. How could he refer to his own mother as ‘the women’?

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Odysseus, Telemachus
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Telemachus defends his choice to go in search of Odysseus without Penelope’s permission, criticizing his mother in the process.

Through this quote, Atwood shows how male-dominated societies perpetuate themselves and how ideas of male superiority and misogyny are transferred through generations and validated by bonds between fathers and sons. When Telemachus states that Odysseus, who he has never met, would have been “proud” of him for “showing some backbone and getting out from under the thumbs of women,” he imagines a male bond between himself and his father that, since they have never met, is solely based in their maleness in comparison to Penelope’s femaleness. Meanwhile, Telemachus articulates the misogynist fear of being controlled by “overemotional” women without “reasonableness and judgment.” Throughout this speech and Penelope’s reaction, Atwood shows how Telemachus has internalized the anti-woman sentiments of Greek society, alienating himself from the mother who raised him for the sake of a father he never knew.

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Telemachus Character Timeline in The Penelopiad

The timeline below shows where the character Telemachus appears in The Penelopiad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9: The Trusted Cackle-Hen
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
...person Penelope could talk to besides Odysseus, and gradually Penelope got used to her. When Telemachus was born, Eurycleia was a huge help, praying for her during childbirth and delivering the... (full context)
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Odysseus was happy with Penelope when she gave birth to Telemachus, and he told her proudly that Helen had not yet given birth to a son.... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Chorus Line: The Birth of Telemachus, An Idyll
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Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
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...the form of a first person poem narrated by the chorus of Maids. They describe Telemachus’s birth, saying how he “sailed” through his mother’s blood for nine months in his “boat... (full context)
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The Maids state that they, who would eventually be killed by Telemachus and Odysseus, made the same journey from the Fates’ cave across the oceans of their... (full context)
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...as “animal young,” to be sold or killed at will, and highlight the contrast between Telemachus’s lineage and their own. Still, the Maids emphasize, their lives were deeply intertwined with Telemachus’s.... (full context)
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The Maids state that, as they played together as children, they did not know that Telemachus would one day kill them. They wonder if they would have drowned him back then... (full context)
Chapter 11: Helen Ruins My Life
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...without looking at her. Eventually Penelope stopped trying, and spent her time instead caring for Telemachus. Eurycleia, though, would only rarely let Penelope be in charge of him, instead taking Telemachus... (full context)
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When Telemachus was one year old, according to Penelope, “disaster struck” because of Helen. A captain from... (full context)
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...Menelaus and his company to the fields to show him Odysseus and his madness, carrying Telemachus with her. (full context)
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Palamedes, however, found Odysseus out. Palamedes put the infant Telemachus in front of the ox and donkey that were pulling the plough, and Odysseus turned... (full context)
Chapter 12: Waiting
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...Odysseus’s departure. He was away in Troy while she stayed in Ithaca. Time passed and Telemachus grew older. Over the years they got news of the Trojan war from minstrel’s songs... (full context)
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...crying, much to Penelope’s annoyance. During the day, Penelope kept up a cheerful appearance for Telemachus’s sake, telling him stories of Odysseus and insisting that everything would be wonderful when he... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Suitors Stuff Their Faces
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...her back, calling her an “old bitch,” comparing her unfavorably to Helen, and imagining killing Telemachus. The Suitors also had all agreed that whoever would marry Penelope would share her dowry... (full context)
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...to stop the Suitors, since they did not respond to her pleas or her threats. Telemachus was too young to defend his mother, and there were too many of them anyway.... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Shroud
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...whole days in her room in the women’s quarters, crying and wondering what to do. Telemachus was starting to blame his mother for letting his inheritance be eaten away. Penelope thought... (full context)
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...if Penelope married one of the Suitors, the man would then be able to order Telemachus about. Penelope imagines that the best solution for Telemachus would have been if she had... (full context)
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...could tell Penelope their plans. Penelope also told them to say nasty things about herself, Telemachus, and Odysseus, to keep the Suitors from suspecting their loyalties. Several of the girls did... (full context)
Chapter 16: Bad Dreams
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...part of her trials, and that she cried constantly. Odysseus still did not return and Telemachus began ordering his mother around. He started challenging the Suitors, which made Penelope concerned that... (full context)
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In the Odyssey, a herald named Medon warns Penelope of the Suitors’ intention to kill Telemachus. Penelope here sets the record straight, saying that she knew about it first from the... (full context)
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...fits, Penelope usually fell asleep and dreamed. On the night that Medon told her about Telemachus, she dreamt that Odysseus was having his brains eaten by the Cyclops, that he swam... (full context)
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Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
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...had been sent by the goddess Athene, stood by her bedside and told her that Telemachus would come home safely, and that the gods did not want her to suffer. When... (full context)
Chapter 18: News of Helen
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Penelope resumes her narrative, relaying how Telemachus avoided the Suitors’ ambush and reached home safely. Penelope welcomed Telemachus, and then yelled at... (full context)
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Telemachus did not take the scolding well, proclaiming his manhood and saying he did not need... (full context)
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
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...thanklessness, saying that no women should have to put up with that kind of suffering. Telemachus only rolled his eyes and waited for her to finish. The two of them then... (full context)
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The Maids also provided Telemachus and his two friends, Piraeus and Theoclymenous, with dinner. Piraeus and Theoclymenous had gone on... (full context)
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...the men finished eating, Penelope, still a little hurt from their earlier conversation, asked if Telemachus had discovered anything about Odysseus on his trip. Telemachus informed Penelope that he went to... (full context)
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Penelope asked how Helen was, and Telemachus said she seemed fine, and that everyone was telling stories about the war at Troy,... (full context)
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Penelope knew that Telemachus was lying, but was flattered that he would lie for her. She thought he had... (full context)
Chapter 19: Yelp of Joy
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...dangerous and because she did not want to hurt his ego. Penelope could tell that Telemachus was in cahoots with Odysseus, because he was not a good liar, and later introduced... (full context)
Chapter 23: Odysseus and Telemachus Snuff the Maids
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...the throat and went on the kill all of the Suitors with the help of Telemachus and two herdsmen. Meanwhile, Eurycleia and the other women listened at the door of the... (full context)
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Odysseus then told Telemachus to hack the Maids up. However, Telemachus decided instead to hang the Maids from a... (full context)
Chapter 25: Heart of Flint
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When she left the women’s hall and went to the main one where Odysseus and Telemachus were sitting, she did not greet Odysseus right away—and Telemachus criticized Penelope for not welcoming... (full context)
Chapter 26: The Chorus Line: The Trial of Odysseus, as Videotaped by the Maids
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...Suitors since they had been eating his food without permission and had plotted to kill Telemachus. (full context)
Chapter 27: Home Life in Hades
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...he ever wanted. They take walks and tell stories together as Odysseus tells her what Telemachus, also living next lives, is up to. Then, just when Penelope is starting to believe... (full context)