Man Or Boy? Essay, Research Paper
Man or Boy? Telemakhos Can’t Decide
Many boys who grow up without a father lack the direction and insight gained only through having a masculine role model. Such a boy is introduced in Homers’ epic tale The Odyssey as Telemakhos, Odysseus’ son. In the beginning of the story, Homer portrays Telemakhos as a timid and passive person who has not the strength to run out the suitors who have taken over his house. However, in Book XXI lines 358-378 the reader may note a dramatic change in Telemakhos’ attitude as he begins to take on the responsibilities of a man. Through this short passage one realizes that Odysseus’ son is now willing to stand up for himself and thus take a stand against the suitors.
Beginning at line 360, Telemakhos makes a statement directed towards his mother that “no man here has more authority than I do.” With these lines Telemakhos is interrupting his mother who previously is overseeing the bow-stringing contest. Telemakhos may have decided to interfere because he wanted to decide the rules of the contest. With Telemakhos in charge he can force the suitors to let his father have a chance to shoot the bow. This is crucial because Telemakhos knows who his father is and his mother does not so she would not know to allow Odysseus to participate in the game.
Up until this point Odysseus’ son has not spoken outwardly in an authoritative manner. Therefore, Telemakhos indirectly shows the suitors how he has become more powerful by speaking to his mother in front of them in a strict manner. Then in lines 367-368 he goes on to say that he will settle all disputes concerning the bow for he is the master there and so Penelope should leave. If Homer had written the story so Penelope had stayed in the banquet hall instead of obeying her son, Telemakhos’ would have not appeared so empowered as he did.
At this point in the tale the reader is aware that Telemakhos knows his father Odysseus has returned to retake his estate. Why then would Homer chose to make Telemakhos into a strong man when he does not have to be? His father Odysseus has already returned so there is nothing for Telemakhos to be in charge of or responsible for. Perhaps the boy is taking charge because he wants to impress his father and prove he can help overtake the suitors. After all there are many men for Odysseus and Telemakhos to fight and he must be brave to succeed.
There may be another reason for Telemakhos’ change of heart though. At the start of the story Homer paints the picture of him “sitting there unhappy among the suitors, a boy, daydreaming” (Book I line 140). Though the reader is unsure of how long the boy has been unhappy, one can infer that Telemakhos does not decide to rid of the suitors until Athena prompts him to do so. When he decided to take her advice and find word of his father overseas, Odysseus’ son made his first attempt to take responsibility for his land.
At a glance, this passage where Telemakhos gives his mother orders may seem uneventful. In actuality, this is a turning point in the boys’ life because he publicly acknowledges for the first time he is a man. Being the man of the house means that Telemakhos has responsibilities and obligations especially to his father. Later in the story one sees just how Telemakhos will fulfill the duties his title entails.