Mythology Mondays: Telemachus sets sail

(Read the first part of my series on Odysseus here)

Telemachus was woken by the rosy-fingered Dawn, and prepared himself to leave his home. He strode out and had the heralds gather the people for Assembly. Athena “lavished marvelous splendor on the prince” to impress the bystanders, and it worked. They “gazed in wonder as he came forward” to take his father’s chair.

Telemachus proposes that the Assembly vote to have the Suitors expelled from Ithaca. There’s a whole lot of shouting and rallying as Telamachus quarrels with his mother’s suitors. Finally Telemachus bursts into tears. They insulted his mommy, you see.

Book Two of the Odyssey is almost entirely fighting between Telemachus and his supporters and the Suitors. Eventually, Telemachus leaves the assembly hall, gets on his ship and sails off.


Telemachus is going on a journey to visit his father’s friends, those who fought with him at Troy, to learn what information they might have about Odysseus. His first stop is Pylos to see King Nestor, in Book Three.

Telemachus is hesitant. Athena speaks to him, in the guise of Mentor, his father’s trusted friend.

“Telemachus, no more shynesss, this is not the time!
We sailed the seas for this, for news of your father -
where does he lie buried? what fate did he meet?
So go right up to Nestor, breaker of horses.
We’ll make him yield the secrets of his heart.
Press him yourself to tell the whole truth:
he’ll never lie - the man is far too wise.”

They continue to Nestor’s house. There’s some obligatory prayer and sacrafice. Then, they sit down to eat. As is customary, they enjoy their meal in full before Telemachus can ask the questions burning in his mind. Finally, the meal is finished and he speaks.

“I beg you - if ever my father, lord Odysseus,
pledged you his word and made it good in action
once on the fields of Troy where you Achaeans suffered,
remember his story now, tell me the truth.”

Nestor is an old man now, he was older than Odysseus at the beginning of the war and twenty years have passed since then. He replies with a lengthy tirade on the “living hell we endured in distant Troy” on the suffering of the ten years of war, mourning the loss of the dead, Achilles and Patroclus, Ajax and Nestor’s own son Antilochus.

Nestor tells Telemachus of the incidents after the fall of Troy. The gods had allowed the Greeks to win, but they were not content. They caused a division among the men as to what to do next. Menelaus wanted to return home as soon as possible, now that he had recaptured his wife Helen. Agamemnon, his brother, urged the men to stay for further plundering. Odysseus and Agamemnon fought in front of everyone - Odysseus sided with Menelaus.

Half of the Greeks left with Menelaus, half stayed behind. Odysseus followed Menelaus, but when the Greeks stopped to offer a sacrifice, Odysseus decided to turn back to see if he could convince Agamemnon to leave Troy.

Here, Nestor digresses to tell Telemachus the news that Agamemnon has been murdered, and Clytemnestra and Aegisthus in turn by Orestes.

Telemachus identifies with the story and says that he wishes he had his cousin (Oreste’s) courage and could avenge his father by killing his mothers suitors. Nestor says that Telemachus would be better to hope that Odysseus would return and avenge himself, but Telemachus is doubtful. Athena, still disguised as Mentor, chastises the boy and tells him to have more faith.

Nestor doesn’t really have much more to say, he seems preoccupied with the story of Agamemnon. He tells Telemachus that he would learn more from Menelaus than from himself, and Telemachus sets sail the next morning in the company of Nestor’s son Pisistratus, toward Sparta.

This part of the Odyssey, the first four books, is often called the Telemachy. Odysseus does not actually appear in the Odyssey until Book Five. The story is non-linear. It does not tell the adventures of Odysseys from the fall of Troy to his return directly. Instead, the audience discovers those events through the act storytelling by various characters - Nestor, Menelaus and Odysseus himself.


The Telemachy provides the context and structure for the story of Odysseus, and also acts as it’s own coming of age story, the typical journey of the eponymous hero into manhood. As such, he needs the assistance of a mentor or guide - Athena’s assistance under the guise of Mentor is what give us that very word.

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