The Odyssey, Book III

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Telemachus in Pylos

Telemachus arrived at Pylos where he found Nestor and his people on the shore sacrificing bulls to Poseidon and feasting on the bulls’ entrails and thigh bones. Athena, still disguised as Mentor, urged Telemachus, who was again suffering a lack of confidence in such company, to approach Nestor. Telemachus and his crew were warmly welcomed and offered food and drink and urged to make a drink offering and prayer to the god, which Telemachus and Athena did.

Nestor and his sons sacrifice to Poseidon on the beach at Pylos. Attic red-figure calyx-krater, 400–380 BC. (c) Marie-Lan Nguyen

Telemachus asked Nestor for news of Odysseus and how he died, if he knew. Nestor, speaking in a complimentary way about Odysseus at Troy, described how the gods scattered the Greeks’ ships after they left Troy: at the instigation of Athena, Agamemnon and Menelaus quarrelled; half of the Greeks stayed with Agamemnon intending to make offerings to appease Athena’s anger; half sailed to Tenedos and, having made sacrifices there, continued on their journey home and Nestor returned to Pylos; Odysseus, however, had turned back to rejoin Agamemnon and Nestor had heard no news about him or many of the others; he did hear, however, about the fate of Agamemnon: how he was murdered by Aegisthus and that Aegisthus in turn was murdered by Orestes seven years later.

Telemachus told Nestor he wished that he had Orestes’ courage to kill the suitors. Nestor said he wished that Athena would show the same affection and protection to Telemachus that she had had shown Odysseus during the Trojan War. When Telemachus said he saw no hope of this, Athena, still disguised as Mentor, said the gods could bring anyone home if they so wished but they could not save even someone they loved once it was their time to die.

To Telemachus’ request for more details about what happened to Agamemnon and Menelaus, Nestor described how Clytemnestra initially rejected Aegisthus’ advances until the guardian over her, left by Agamemnon, was removed by Aegisthus; Agamemnon would never have been murdered by Aegisthus if Menelaus had been there but his fleet was scattered in a storm and his ship was carried to Egypt after his helmsman was killed by Apollo; Menelaus only returned to Mycenae when Orestes had killed Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. Nestor warned Telemachus not to leave Ithaca’s wealth in the hands of the suitors for too long; he urged Telemachus to visit Menelaus as he had just returned home from a remote region and might know something about Odysseus.

Telemachus departing from Nestor, painting by Henry Howard, 1769–1847.

Nestor insisted that Telemachus sleep in his palace that night, which he did at Athena’s insistence. As she flew off in the form of a vulture, Nestor realised that Telemachus had the goddess’ protection; if she also favoured Nestor and his family he promised to sacrifice to her a one year old heifer. Nestor arranged for the sacrifice the next day and summoned all but two of Telemachus’ crew to watch and to feast. Nestor then arranged for a two horsed chariot to take Telemachus to Menelaus with one of his sons, Pisistratus, acting as charioteer. They drove for two days.

Book II Book IV