The Sons of Odysseus, Part 2: Penelope’s Child(ren), Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes

One of the things nearly everyone knows is that Odysseus, the son of Laertes, has a son named Telemachus. This fact is asseverated early in the Iliad when Odysseus makes an oath based on his identity (2.260-64):

“May I be called the father of Telemachus no longer
If I don’t grab you and strip the fine clothes from your back,
The cloak and the tunic that hides your genitals;
And then I will send you wailing among the swift ships
As I beat you from the assembly with unseemly blows.”

μηδ’ ἔτι Τηλεμάχοιο πατὴρ κεκλημένος εἴην
εἰ μὴ ἐγώ σε λαβὼν ἀπὸ μὲν φίλα εἵματα δύσω,
χλαῖνάν τ’ ἠδὲ χιτῶνα, τά τ’ αἰδῶ ἀμφικαλύπτει,
αὐτὸν δὲ κλαίοντα θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας ἀφήσω
πεπλήγων ἀγορῆθεν ἀεικέσσι πληγῇσιν.

Odysseus also refers to himself as  “Telemachus’ dear father who fights in the forefront” (Τηλεμάχοιο φίλον πατέρα προμάχοισι μιγέντα, 4.354) later in the epic. These moments are exceptional because every other hero defines himself by his patronym, by his father and past rather than his son and his future.

Most scholars seem to understand this as a nod to the Odyssey and Odysseus’ different character. The scholia present the common reaction to this from Aristonicus: The Iliad is aware of the Odyssey (Τηλεμάχοιο: ὅτι προτετυπωμένος τὰ κατὰ τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν μνημονεύει τοῦ Τηλεμάχου. τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἄρα ποιητοῦ καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια, Schol. A ad Il. 4.354a 1-3).

What if this reference is not exclusive and specific (i.e. pointing to our Odyssey as we have it), but is instead selecting out and constructing one of many possible Odysseis? Yes, it is true that this notion is not incompatible with the presumption that Odysseus’ words in the Iliad ‘shout out’ to the identity of the Odysseus in the Odyssey. But at the same time, it seems to engage in a Homeric pattern of omitting or marginalizing other traditions for Odysseus. And this means ignoring other children.

In a series of posts, I am going to peruse the evidence for Odysseus’ other children in something of a catalogue of mothers, a very Odyssean thing to do. In this post, let’s consider Penelope’s children with Odysseus. We all know about Telemachus, but the mythical tradition has some surprises.

As I mention in an earlier piece, the Byzantine Bishop Eustathius says that Odysseus has more than one child with Penelope and he attributes this information to the poet of the Telegony:

“The Cyrenaion poet who wrote the Telegony claimed that Odysseus gave birth to Telegonos or Teledamos with Calypso and that he had Telemachus as well as Arkesilaos with Penelope.”

῾Ο δὲ τὴν τηλεγόνειαν γράψας Κυρηναῖος ἐκ μὲν Καλυψοῦς Τηλέγονον υἱὸν ᾿Οδυσσεῖ ἀναγράφει ἢ Τηλέδαμον• ἐκ δὲ Πηνελόπης Τηλέμαχον καὶ ᾿Αρκεσίλαον•

As far as the antiquity of the testimony goes, Eustathius is rather late. I can’t seem to find a single additional reference to an Arkesilaos as a son (any help would be appreciated). Proclus’ summary of Eugammon’s Telegony (probably 2nd century CE or later but perhaps hailing from Hellenistic epitomes) says nothing about another son with Penelope (although it does mention Telegonos, Odysseus’ son Polypoietes with Kallidikê and the dual marriage of Penelope to Telegonos and Telemachus to Kirke). It would make sense, in a way, for Eugammon not to mention another son of Penelope: it would screw up this ending.

The fragmentary Greek historian Dictys has Odysseus killed by Telegonos and leaving three sons behind him (FGH 1a49F fr. 10):

“When Odysseus was half dead, he was taken back to Ithaka and ended his life soon after. He left his dynasty to his offspring Telemachus and Ptoliporthos. Telemachus was in charge and he himself ruled all of Ithaca; he gave the lowland to Telegonos, and made Ptoliporthos the governor of midlands.”

12 ἡμιθανὴς οὖν ὢν ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐκομίσθη εἰς τὴν ᾿Ιθάκην καὶ μετ’ ὀλίγον τελευτᾶι τὸν βίον. (13) κατέλιπε δὲ τὴν δυναστείαν Τηλεμάχωι καὶ Πτολιπόρθωι τῶι ἐκγόνωι• ὁ δὲ Τηλέμαχος διαιρεῖ τὴν ἡγεμονίαν, καὶ αὐτὸς μὲν πάσης ᾿Ιθάκης κρατεῖ, Τηλεγόνωι δὲ τὰ πορρωτέρω δίδωσι, τῆς δὲ μέσης χώρας Πτολίπορθον ἡγεμόνα κατέστησε.

This son, Ptoliporthos, is mentioned (with the form Ptoliporthês) by Pausanias (8.12.7) as well. But the name gives me a little pause since it is also clearly related to one of Odysseus’ epithets in the Odyssey (9.504):

“Say that city-sacking [ptoliporthion] Odysseus blinded you!”

φάσθαι ᾿Οδυσσῆα πτολιπόρθιον ἐξαλαῶσαι

I would love to think that this name is a clever and nodding echo to another tradition where Odysseus fathers a second son with Penelope (a child whose existence marks their reunion and stands against all his subsequent sons with princesses), but that seems like a hard argument to make. Altogether, the tradition of a brother for Telemachus seems less solidly founded than the others.

Although, in light of this possibility, it is interesting that the epic so specifically insists upon Telemachus’ status as an only child. Telemachus himself describes this in the Odyssey (16.117-120):

“Kronos’ son made our line single:
Arkesios fathered a single son, Laertes,
And he in turn fathered a single son, Odysseus. And Odysseus
Left after fathering only me in his home…”

ὧδε γὰρ ἡμετέρην γενεὴν μούνωσε Κρονίων•
μοῦνον Λαέρτην ᾿Αρκείσιος υἱὸν ἔτικτε,
μοῦνον δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Οδυσῆα πατὴρ τέκεν• αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
μοῦνον ἔμ’ ἐν μεγάροισι τεκὼν λίπεν, οὐδ’ ἀπόνητο.

Doth Telemachus protest too much? Of course, this passage does not preclude the possibility of children born after the homecoming. But the Odyssey doesn’t seem too interested in this.


According to Apollodorus, some other traditions claimed that Penelope was not faithful to Odysseus (she was seduced by Antinoos) and that she was sent back to live with her father where she was impregnated by Hermes. Then, she gave birth to Pan!

5 thoughts on “The Sons of Odysseus, Part 2: Penelope’s Child(ren), Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes

Leave a Reply