Penelope resumes her narrative, relaying how Telemachus avoided the Suitors’ ambush and reached home safely. Penelope welcomed Telemachus, and then yelled at him for leaving without permission, and with no experience sailing. She called him a child and told him that he could have been killed, and then Odysseus would blame her when he returned.
When Penelope and Telemachus fight, although Penelope has been the only parent in Telemachus’s life, she still must evoke Odysseus to give herself authority. Odysseus is a patriarchal presence in the family even in his absence.
Telemachus did not take the scolding well, proclaiming his manhood and saying he did not need anyone’s permission to take the boat. He then blamed Penelope for letting so much of his inheritance be consumed by the Suitors. Telemachus defended his choice to get new of his father, and insisted that his father would be proud of him for getting out from under the women’s (meaning Penelope’s) irrational and overemotional command.
Penelope, wondering how her son could refer to his mother as “the women,” burst into tears. She then rebuked his 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 cooled off somewhat, and Telemachus received a bath and fresh clothes from the Maids.
Telemachus calls his mother “the women,” lumping her in with stereotypes of women in general. This section shows how Telemachus becomes inducted into the patriarchy by setting himself apart from his mother through gender stereotypes that infect his viewpoint.
The Maids also provided Telemachus and his two friends, Piraeus and Theoclymenous, with dinner. Piraeus and Theoclymenous had gone on the ship with Telemachus, and Penelope resolved to tell their parents about their wild antics. As Telemachus ate, Penelope thought that she wished she had taught him better table manners—every time she had tried, Eurycleia had stopped her, saying there was time for that later. Penelope regretted that Telemachus had been spoiled.
Penelope’s discussion of Telemachus’s table manners, which follows her tense argument with her son, seems to be a commentary not only on his etiquette, but also on his larger feelings of entitlement and his lack of respect for women. Eurycleia, in never correcting or checking Telemachus’s behavior, reinforced these ideas and left him spoiled.
When 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 visit Menelaus. Penelope asked if he saw Helen while he was there, and Telemachus said that he did, and that she gave them a good dinner. Menelaus told him, Telemachus stated, that Odysseus was trapped on an island with a goddess and forced to sleep with her every night.
Penelope’s question about Helen shows how, even as Telemachus is delivering the first news of her husband in years, she is still intently focused on her cousin. Penelope’s competition with Helen clearly verges on obsession, since Penelope seems more interested in learning about Helen than about Odysseus.
Penelope asked how Helen was, and Telemachus said she seemed fine, and that everyone was telling stories about the war at Troy, and that Helen spiked the drinks so everyone had a good time. Penelope asked Telemachus how Helen looked, and Telemachus said that she was “radiant” and “everything she’s cracked up to be, and more.” Penelope, feeling threatened, suggested that Helen must be getting older now. Telemachus agreed, and then, seeing Penelope’s expression, told his mother that Helen did look very old and was not actually that beautiful.
Again, Penelope shows how deeply and unhealthily interested she is in Helen and in general ideas of attractiveness through her questions about Helen’s appearance. Telemachus picks up on Penelope’s competitiveness with her cousin and uses the moment to soothe his mother. Telemachus and Penelope reaffirm their relationship after their fight by mocking and criticizing Helen together.
Penelope knew that Telemachus was lying, but was flattered that he would lie for her. She thought he had inherited his ancestors’ gift for lying. Penelope thanked him and left to pray for Odysseus’s safe return.
Penelope’s happiness with Telemachus’s lies is in line with Penelope’s consistent preference for happy lies over painful truth (a trait that Odysseus seems to share as well).