Telemachus is Not a Monster

The Odyssey is somewhat preoccupied with Telemachus’ paternity and the means by which it might be established. As mentioned in an earlier post, Aristotle suggests that children who are not like their father are monstrous. The Odyssey is also preoccupied with monstrous bodies–the giant Kikones, the deformed (morally and physically) Kyklopesthe transformed sailors, the mutilated bodies of servants–and the transformation of Odysseus’ body because of trauma at sea, age, and the needs of disguise. The threat of finding a monster at home might also be implied…

Athena signals Telemachus’ positive identity from the beginning. But the boy himself is uncertain! 

Homer, Odyssey 1.207-209

“…if in fact this great child is from the same Odysseus.
For you look terribly like that man in his beautiful eyes
and his head…”

εἰ δὴ ἐξ αὐτοῖο τόσος πάϊς εἰς ᾿Οδυσῆος.
αἰνῶς μὲν κεφαλήν τε καὶ ὄμματα καλὰ ἔοικας
κείνῳ, ἐπεὶ θαμὰ τοῖον ἐμισγόμεθ’ ἀλλήλοισι

Telemachus famously quibbles over the identification, wondering in classic moody adolescent fashion if any of this is true. Some of the scholia try to support him…

Od. 1.215-216

“My mother says that I am his, but I, well, I just
Don’t know. For no one ever witnesses his own origin…”

μήτηρ μέν τέ μέ φησι τοῦ ἔμμεναι, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
οὐκ οἶδ’· οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον αὐτὸς ἀνέγνω.

Schol. EM ad Od. 1.215 ex

“No one knows his own origin..” and elsewhere [we find] “they claim that that man is my father” (Od.4.387.) Similarly, Euripides says “a mother is a more dear parent than a father / for she knows the child is hers but he only thinks it” and Menander says, “no one knows from what man he is born / but we all suspect or believe it.” And some claim that Telemachus says these things because he was left when he was small.”

οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον] καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ “τόνδε τ’ ἐμὸν πατέρα φάσ’ ἔμμεναι” (Od. δ, 387.). ὁμοίως Εὐριπίδης “μήτηρ φιλότεκνος μᾶλλον πατρός· ἡ μὲν γὰρ αὐτῆς οἶδεν ὄνθ’, ὁ δ’ οἴεται.” καὶ Μένανδρος “αὑτὸν γὰρ οὐδεὶς οἶδε τοῦ ποτ’ ἐγένετο, ἀλλ’ ὑπονοοῦμεν πάντες ἢ πιστεύομεν.” τινὲς δὲ ταῦτα τὸν Τηλέμαχόν φασι λέγειν ἐπεὶ μικρὸς καταλέλειπται. E.M.

Later in the Odyssey, Nestor likens son to father (implicitly).

Od. 3.121-125

“..when shining Odysseus father was preeminent in all kinds of tricks, your father,   if truly you are his son. And wonder overtakes me as I look at you
For your speeches, at least, are really fine—no one would expect
A younger man to utter such suitable things.”

…ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλὸν ἐνίκα δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
παντοίοισι δόλοισι, πατὴρ τεός, εἰ ἐτεόν γε
κείνου ἔκγονός ἐσσι· σέβας μ’ ἔχει εἰσορόωντα.
ἦ τοι γὰρ μῦθοί γε ἐοικότες, οὐδέ κε φαίης
ἄνδρα νεώτερον ὧδε ἐοικότα μυθήσασθαι.

In Sparta, Helen notes that Telemachus looks like, well, Telemachus even though she has never seen him! Menelaos agrees. The scholia get a little frustrated.

Od. 4.138-146

“For I do not think that anyone looks so suitable,
Neither a man nor a woman, and wonder overtakes me as I look at him,
How this one looks like the son of great-hearted Odysseus,
Telemachus, the one that man left just born in his household
When the Achaeans left for the sake of dog-faced me
And went to Troy, raising their bold war.”

οὐ γάρ πώ τινά φημι ἐοικότα ὧδε ἰδέσθαι
οὔτ’ ἄνδρ’ οὔτε γυναῖκα, σέβας μ’ ἔχει εἰσορόωσαν,
ὡς ὅδ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος μεγαλήτορος υἷι ἔοικε,
Τηλεμάχῳ, τὸν ἔλειπε νέον γεγαῶτ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
κεῖνος ἀνήρ, ὅτ’ ἐμεῖο κυνώπιδος εἵνεκ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἤλθεθ’ ὑπὸ Τροίην, πόλεμον θρασὺν ὁρμαίνοντες.”

Schol. E. ad Od. 4.143

“She says these things even though she has not seen Telemachus but based instead on the character of Odysseus.”

οὐ Τηλέμαχον εἰδυῖα ταῦτα λέγει, ἀλλ’ ἐκ τοῦ χαρακτῆρος τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως. E.

Schol. Q ad. Od. 4.143

“She compares him to his father even though she has never seen Odysseus’ child.”

ἐξομοιοῖ δὲ αὐτὸν τῷ πατρὶ οὐχ ἑωρακυῖά ποτε ᾿Οδυσσέως παῖδα. Q.

Od. 4.147-150

“Fair Menelaos spoke to her and answered:
‘I was just thinking the same thing, wife, which you imagined.
For these are the same kind of feet and hands,
The look of the eyes and the hair on the head as that man.”

τὴν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη ξανθὸς Μενέλαος·
“οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις·
κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες
ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται.

Schol H. ad Od. 4.149 ex 1-4

“These sort of feet are that man’s”: For likeness in bodies especially shows through in the extremities and the gaze. And however so much grows more slowly, that much provides more precise signs of recognition over time. This is why it is said “From feet to the head.”

κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες] ἐκ γὰρ τῶν ἄκρων καὶ τῆς ὄψεως μάλιστα αἱ ὁμοιότητες τῶν σωμάτων ἐμφαίνονται. ὅσον δὲ βράδιον ἐστοχάσατο, τοσοῦτον ἀκριβέστερον ἀπεφήνατο τὸν μεταξὺ χρόνον δηλονότι κατανοῶν. τὸ δὲ λεγόμενον, ἐκ ποδῶν εἰς κεφαλήν. H.

The threat of children not looking like fathers is central to the fall of the race of iron. But it is couched within a general social collapse. In this case, ancient scholia turn to the abstract issue. In this case, a child dissimilar to parents would be a monstrum, but in the sense of an omen or a sign of a fallen generation. From this perspective the tension latent in Telemachus’ potential dissimilarity to his father is about stability of the last generation of epic heroes. The bastard sons of Odysseus and potential infidelity of Penelope signal, perhaps, the end of the race of heroes and a premature end to heroic epic.

Hesiod, Works and Days 180–185

“Zeus will destroy this race of mortal humans
Or they will perish when they are born with temples already grey.
Then a father will not be like his children, nor children at all like parents;
A guest will not be dear to a host, a friend not to a friend
And a relative will not be dear as in years before.”

Ζεὺς δ’ ὀλέσει καὶ τοῦτο γένος μερόπων ἀνθρώπων,
εὖτ’ ἂν γεινόμενοι πολιοκρόταφοι τελέθωσιν.
οὐδὲ πατὴρ παίδεσσιν ὁμοίιος οὐδέ τι παῖδες
οὐδὲ ξεῖνος ξεινοδόκῳ καὶ ἑταῖρος ἑταίρῳ,
οὐδὲ κασίγνητος φίλος ἔσσεται, ὡς τὸ πάρος περ.
αἶψα δὲ γηράσκοντας ἀτιμήσουσι τοκῆας·

Schol. ad. Hes. Th. 182b-d ex.

b. “Similar to…” likeness, similarity, a shared voice or similarity in mind or in shape, [lost here] because of the multitude of wickedness and adulteries…”

b. ὁμοίιος: ὁμονοητικός, σύμφωνος ἢ ὅμοιος τῇ γνώμῃ ἢ τῇ ἰδέᾳ, διὰ τὸ τῶν κακιῶν πλῆθος καὶ τῶν μοιχειῶν…

“similar to”: the similarity is clearly the commonness, the conversation, and the affection. For affection (philia) develops from similarity. Altogether this expresses tragically the oncoming evils in life following this, the distrust between children and fathers, between guests and hosts, and among friends. Friendship is the third thing mentioned. Also: cognate, companionable, hospitable.”

c.ὁμοίιος: τὸ μὲν ὁμοίιος δηλοῖ τὸ κοινωνικὸν καὶ προσήγορον καὶ φίλιον· φιλία γὰρ
δι’ ὁμοιότητος ἐπιτελεῖται. πάντα δὲ ἐκτραγῳδεῖ τὰ ἐπεισελθόντα κακὰ τῷ βίῳ μετ’ αὐτόν, τὴν ἀπιστίαν τῶν παίδων καὶ πατέρων, τὴν τῶν ξένων καὶ ξενοδόχων, τὴν τῶν ἑταίρων πρὸς ἀλλήλους. τριττὴ γὰρ ἡ φιλία· συγγενική,
ἑταιρική, ξενική.

d. “Similar to”: Similarity of men, having one desire or, he means, through mixing it up with other women, the bastard sons too.”

d.<ὁμοίιος:> ὁμογνώμων, μίαν θέλησιν ἔχων ἢ διὰ τὰς ἀλληλομιξίας λέγων τῶν γυναικῶν καὶ τοὺς νόθους υἱούς.

Later, Aristotle channels some of the same cultural assumptions from a scientific perspective. Here the monstrum (greek teras) is an indication of deformity.

Aristotle, Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά.

Image result for Ancient Greek Telemachus

“Look how big and beautiful I am.” Mid-4th century BC. Berlin, Staatliche Museen

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