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The Odyssey: Athena's Assistance

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Athena and the gifts she gives to Telemachus and his father help them in the story.

Athena and the gifts she gives to Telemachus and his father help them in the story.

How Does Athena Help Telemachus?

Divine inspiration, trip planning, and social advice are some gifts Athena gives to young Telemachus and his father. The first five books of the ancient epic poem, The Odyssey, include the story of brave Telemachus, son of the cunning war strategist Odysseus. Throughout the novel, Telemachus searches for the truth about his father, who mysteriously disappeared on his return from the battle at Troy. Through her help and guidance, the goddess Athena acts as a catalyst in the story of this grand epic.

Athena’s first and most important gift initiates the sequence of events that form the story of The Odyssey. On page one of the epic, Athena goes to Zeus and the Olympian court and persuades them that the time has come for Odysseus to go free and for Telemachus to reunite with him. She carries out these plans at a time when Poseidon, the god who Odysseus has angered, is away and cannot counter her arguments. “Poseidon had gone to visit the Ethiopians worlds away…” (Homer 78).

This act also underlines and emphasizes Athena’s loyalty and caring towards Odysseus. She knows how much Odysseus yearns for home and is determined to help him. “But my heart breaks for Odysseus, that seasoned veteran cursed by fate so long…” (Homer 79). Athena’s next step will light the fire under Telemachus’s curiosity about his father and convince him to find out the truth about his father’s existence.

A marble bust of Homer, the author of The Odyssey. This is a Roman reproduction of an original Greek bust, and it is housed in the British Museum.

A marble bust of Homer, the author of The Odyssey. This is a Roman reproduction of an original Greek bust, and it is housed in the British Museum.

Athena Inspires Telemachus to Find Odysseus

Next, Athena inspires Telemachus to embark on a journey that is the story of the first five books of The Odyssey. In the form of Mentes, a comrade of Odysseus, Athena inspires Telemachus, giving him hope that his father is still alive and that the only way to find out the truth about his return is to search for him personally: “Yet I tell you great Odysseus is not dead. He’s still alive, somewhere in this wide world, held captive, out at sea…” (Homer 84).

Athena even gives Telemachus instructions on how to find his father. She instructs him on the exact mode of transportation he should use and offers some kind words that bolster his downtrodden spirit: “Fit out a ship with twenty oars, the best in sight and sail in a quest for your long lost father”(Homer 86). However, there is still a possibility that Telemachus will lose faith in Athena’s plan before setting out.

Again, in book two, Athena keeps the story going by ensuring Telemachus continues his journey to find his father. After giving a speech to the assembled people of Ithaca on how the suitors are ravaging his father’s wealth, Telemachus loses confidence in his ability to carry out Athena’s plan: “Look how my countrymen-the suitors most of all, pernicious bullies-foil each move I make…” (Homer 101).

However, Athena reassures him with her supportive words: “Telemachus, you’ll lack neither courage nor sense from this day on.” (Homer 102). Bolstered by Athena’s words, Telemachus continues to prepare for his journey with newfound vigor.

Some of the tasks associated with long-distance travel 2,700 years ago were too difficult for a mere fifteen-year-old to accomplish in solitude. These tasks included finding a ship and crew and stocking up provisions. So again, Athena intervenes by going through Ithaca to find the best sailors for Telemachus’s crew and the best ship for his journey: “Disguised as a prince, the goddess roamed through the town, pausing beside each likely crewman, giving orders” (Homer 105).

Telemachus plans to leave quickly and silently in the night so as to not awaken the suitors who might try to delay his departure. So Athena, the impeccable trip planner, remembers to “shower sweet oblivion over the suitors…” so that Telemachus, Mentor, and their crew will have a smooth departure (Homer 105). The next stop for Telemachus and his crew will be King Nestor’s palace at sandy Pylos.

In addition to trip planning services, Athena provides Telemachus with social advice to help him get the information he needs to find his father. Telemachus, who has never left Ithaca before, is somewhat nervous before his meeting with king Nestor: “How can I greet him, Mentor, even approach the king? I am hardly adept at subtle conversation”(Homer 108). Athena reassures him that he has the words inside himself because the gods have made it so: “Some of the words you’ll find within yourself, the rest some power will inspire you to say…I know [you] were born and reared with the god’s goodwill.”

Telemachus gains some important information about his father from Nestor; however, he would not have been able to gain that information without Athena’s assistance. Athena also shows her support when she accompanies Telemachus into Nestor’s palace.

Telemachus on Calypso's Island by Nicolas Vleughels.

Telemachus on Calypso's Island by Nicolas Vleughels.

How Does Athena Help Odysseus?

Odysseus is trapped on Calypso’s island all this time, longing for home.

Without Athena’s prodding, Odysseus would never have left Calypso’s island to continue his journey home. By arguing in front of the Olympian court, Athena convinces Zeus to send Hermes to Calypso. The message Hermes delivers instructs Calypso that the time has come for her to release Odysseus from her plush prison: “You are our messenger, Hermes, sent on our all missions. Announce to the nymph with the lovely braids our fixed decree: Odysseus journeys home-the exile must end” (Homer 153).

And so, with Athena’s help, Odysseus is freed from Calypso’s prison. However, once Calypso sends Odysseus off with a ship and provisions, Odysseus is spotted by Poseidon, who sends down a storm to destroy Odysseus’s ship and strand him in the middle of the ocean.

Once again, the bright-eyed goddess comes to the aid of Odysseus and inspires him to keep swimming until he reaches the safety of the Phoenician coast: “a tremendous roller swept him towards the coast where he’d have been flayed alive, his bones crushed if the bright eyed Pallas had not inspired him now.”(Homer 164). This generous act of assistance from Athena will bring Odysseus closer to reuniting with his son Telemachus and his wife, Penelope.

If Athena had never provided Telemachus and Odysseus with assistance and guidance, the great legend of The Odyssey would never have begun. Athena is a catalyst to the poem and a guide to Telemachus. This legend is important because it laid the groundwork for many other mentors, showing them how important it can be to have a mentor and protector.

The Role of Athena in the Odyssey


hola on November 26, 2018:

this was very good, Adios mis amigos

Domvause on June 06, 2018:

Thank you, I have learnt more about Athene than ever!

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