Just an infant when his father left for Troy, Telemachus is still maturing when the Odyssey begins. He is wholly devoted to his mother and to maintaining his father’s estate, but he does not know how to protect them from the suitors. After all, it has only been a few years since he first realized what the suitors’ intentions were. His meeting with Athena in Book 1 changes things. Aside from improving his stature and bearing, she teaches him the responsibilities of a young prince. He soon becomes more assertive. He confronts the suitors and denounces the abuse of his estate, and when Penelope and Eurycleia become anxious or upset, he does not shy away from taking control.
Telemachus never fully matches his father’s talents, at least not by the Odyssey’s conclusion. He has a stout heart and an active mind, and sometimes even a bit of a temper, but he never schemes with the same skill or speaks with quite the same fluency as Odysseus. In Book 22, he accidentally leaves a weapons storeroom unlocked, a careless mistake that allows the suitors to arm themselves. While Odysseus does make a few mistakes in judgment over the course of the epic, it is difficult to imagine him making such an absentminded blunder. Telemachus has not yet inherited his father’s brassy pride either. The scene with the bow captures the endpoint of his development perfectly. He tries and tries to string it, and very nearly does, but not quite. This episode reminds us that, at the close of the Odyssey, Telemachus still cannot match his father’s skills but is well on his way.
More characters from The Odyssey