The Odyssey, Book II

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Assembly on Ithaca

The next morning Telemachus called all the Achaeans to an Assembly, the first since Odysseus had left. They wondered who had done so and for what reason. Telemachus explained he had because he had lost his father and because the suitors were pestering Penelope to marry and were eating and drinking away Odysseus’ wealth; they were doing nothing to prevent this. The suitors felt ashamed by Telemachus’ words but said that Penelope was to blame for leading them on with empty promises for almost four years, weaving on her loom a shroud for Laertes and promising that, when she had completed it, she would choose one of the suitors to marry; however, one of her female servants told them that Penelope undid the weaving every night so that it would never be completed; Telemachus should send her to her father’s house and she should marry the man her father chose for her; they refused to leave until the choice had been made.

Penelope and the Suitors by John William Waterhouse, 1912.

Telemachus refused to do this and said either Zeus or he himself would destroy them if they stayed. As a sign of approval Zeus sent two eagles to circle above them, flapping their wings and clawing at each other with their talons. This was interpreted by a bird-seer as meaning Odysseus would soon return and bring disaster to the suitors which would spill over on the Ithacans. He confirmed that his other prophecies about Odysseus had come true. He was contradicted by Eurymachus, one of the suitors, who said that Odysseus was dead, Telemachus would come to harm if incited to violence and the seer would have a huge fine imposed on him; he repeated that the suitors would only leave once Penelope had remarried.

Telemachus then asked for a fast ship and a crew of twenty men to take him to Sparta and Pylos in order to seek information about his father; if he found out Odysseus was alive he would wait another year for his return, if dead, he would build him a funeral mound and give his mother in marriage to a new husband.

Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus, who had been given responsibility for his household while he was away, criticised his fellow Ithacans for doing nothing about the suitors. Another suitor, Leocritus, said Mentor was deluded if he expected men to take up arms over feasting; if Odysseus did return he would die fighting against so many; the suitors would not leave; he doubted Telemachus’ voyage would ever happen.

At this point the Ithacans returned home and the suitors returned to Odysseus’ palace.
Telemachus went to the sea shore where he prayed to Athena because he was being prevented from doing what she had told him to do. Athena came to Telemachus disguised as Mentor and reassured him that he would be successful; she would provide him with a ship and a crew; he should prepare food and wine for the journey.

When Telemachus returned home, Antinous, one of the suitors, invited him to eat with them and they would arrange a ship and crew for him. Telemachus declined and said he would do his best to destroy them. He subsequently received taunts from them. He went to a locked store room where gold and bronze and excellent wine were kept, awaiting Odysseus’ return. He asked Eurycleia to prepare provisions for his journey. She begged him not to leave, fearing further trouble from the suitors, but Telemachus reassured her saying he was being helped by a god; she should not tell his mother that he had left for at least twelve days or until she missed him. Eurycleia promised to keep his secret.

Minoan fresco of a ship sailing from Akrotiri. (c) Martin Taylor

Athena, disguised as Telemachus, arranged a ship and crew for him and made the suitors sleepy so that they went to bed early; then disguised as Mentor she urged Telemachus to set off on his journey and she accompanied him, having arranged for a favourable wind. The crew poured wine libations in her honour.

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