A brief overview of "The Odyssey" by Homer.
Book 3: Telemachus With Nestor
New Major Characters
Nestor: Friend and comrade to Odysseus who now tells Telemachus all he knows of his father’s survival.
Menelaus: Brother of Agamemnon and commander of the return fleet from troy, Nestor sends Telemachus to speak with Menelaus.
Orestes: A son who also lost his father and in turn avenged his death, the tales of him serve as a sort of guide to Telemachus for what he should aspire to be.
Athene: (Athena) She’s becoming the protector and guide of Telemachus whom she wishes to help find Odysseus.
Upon landing in Pylos, the crew of the ship was welcomed by a large party of sailors all burning offerings to the god Poseidon and was invited to join in the feasting. Out of respect Nestor handed the glass of suppliant wine first to Athene who, with all her influence, prayed to Poseidon, asking for glory to be bestowed on Nestor and his kin, recompense for Pylos and lastly for the success of Telemachus’ quest.
After seeing that the strangers had been fed and had finished in their prayers, Nestor found it time to question the visitors of their intention in Pylos and from where they had come. With inspiration from the gods, Telemachus replied full of wit and confidence, that he had come to Pylos to speak with Nestor and that he wished to know only the truth of his father’s possible survival or the manner and whereabouts of his death only to bring peace to himself and end his grief. Nestor, recognizing the intelligence of the boy and his resemblance to Odysseus, conceded to recall everything he remembered or had heard about the great Odysseus.
In reply to Nestor’s sparse recollection, Telemachus continues to inquire about the tale of Aegisthus and Orestes. Nestor goes on to tell how Aegisthus seduced Agamemnon’s wife while he was away at war and upon Agamemnon’s return, shamefully murdered him. Orestes, Agamemnon’s faithful son, returned from Athens some time later and avenged his father by taking the lives of his infidel mother and the murderer Aegisthus and was then bestowed with honor from his people and now his deeds continue to live on in song. On completion of this tale Nestor then recommends to Telemachus to travel to Lacedaemon and plead with Menelaus for more information concerning Odysseus.
At the end of this tale, Athene declared that the feasting should end and that the people should rest. When Nestor offered beds in his palace for the night, Athene kindly refused asking only for swift horses and a chariot be provided for Telemachus in the morning before swiftly taking the shape of a vulture and flying away. At this sight, Nestor was overwhelmed by the closeness of the goddess and he prayed to her listening ears and in the morning he had his sons prepare the sacrifice of an unbroken heifer with gilded horns to be offered to Pallas Athene who came to accept the gift.
Bathed and glistening, Telemachus took to the chariot with Peisistratus, Nestor’s son, who took the reigns and they were off to meet with Menelaus.
Book 4: Menelaus and Helen
New Major Characters
Peisistratus: Nestor’s only unwed son, the leader of men, friend and travel companion to Telemachus.
Helen: Wife to Menelaus, she instantly recognizes Telemachus due to his likeness to Odysseus.
Proteus: The Old Man of the Sea, father to Ediothee, tells Menelaus of Odysseus’ imprisonment.
As Telemachus and Peisistratus arrived at the courtyard gates of Menelaus’ palace, a great wedding feast was being held inside. Menelaus, wanting to return the hospitality he had been shown during his many journeys, invited the two to come in and join in the festivities. He sent them to be bathed and after treated them to delicacies and the finest portion of the roast.
While eating Telemachus was taken aback by the splendor of Menelaus’ halls and said so to Peisistratus, Menelaus’ keen ears, however, hear what Telemachus had uttered and denied that his halls, or any halls of man, could ever rival those of Zeus. Especially now that those company who made it so splendid were all long gone, the most painful loss being that of Odysseus. At the mention of the great Odysseus and his newborn son that had been left behind, Telemachus broke down into tears and Menelaus recognizing him was conflicted whether to wait for Telemachus to speak or to probe him with questions. He was unable to make up his mind, however, because his wife, the beautiful Helen, entered the room and instantly knew the face she saw.
With a slip of the hand, Helen put a drug into their dinner wine so that they may shed no more tears that evening and began telling a story of Odysseus during her time in Troy. She told how he used his cunning to disguise himself as a beggar and to gain information inside the city. In continuation, Menelaus added that it was Odysseus who brought about the success of the Trojan Horse by silencing the men who longed to call out to their wives voices.
The next morning Menelaus approached Telemachus and asked him the true reason of his visit. When Telemachus revealed that he had come to glean information about his long lost father, Menelaus began telling the tale of his return voyage from the war. His ships were leaving the ports of Egypt, from an island near the mouth of the Nile, when his ship was marooned on another abandoned island. For twenty days his crew was stuck there, wasting away for lack of food, when the daughter of the Old Man of the Sea, Eidothee came to him and told him of a cunning plan to capture her father and acquire all of the answers to his questions.
It took Menelaus and three of his best men to subdue Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, and after learning that they must return to Egypt and make proper offerings to the gods before returning home, Menelaus asked one further question, what had become of the other ships? The old man warned Menelaus that he would be saddened by his words, but Menelaus begged him to proceed all the same. During his recollection Proteus told Menelaus of the deaths of Ajax and his brother Agamemnon and after much weeping he asked to hear the fate of the third, the fate of Odysseus who was imprisoned on Calypso’s island.
At the end of his tale Menelaus begged that Telemachus stay in his palace a while longer but Telemachus kindly refused and urged that he must return to Pylos where his friends anxiously waited and then on to Ithaca to the land he missed dearly. What Telemachus did not know, however, is what the awful Suitors had been plotting in his absence. After receiving word that Telemachus had indeed set sail for Pylos, and with twenty good men at that, the Suitors were enraged and forthwith plotted to assassinate the youth in a small sea passage.
Unbeknownst to the Suitors was a steward who heard their plans and reported them immediately to the Queen, Penelope. The news of her son’s voyage and of the assassination plan of the Suitor weighed heavily on Penelope and she was distraught with grief. The old maid, who had concealed Telemachus’ whereabouts, comforted the queen and encouraged her to make offerings to the goddess Athene, which they did. Hearing Penelope’s pitiful cries and supplications Athene came to her as her sister, Iphthime, to console the grieving queen and to promise her the safety of her son, for he had the goddess Athene by his side.
*Notes based off reading The Odyssey by Homer