Telemachus – Son of Odysseus

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In Greek mythology, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, is known for his search for his father and for helping him recover his throne. The story of Telemachus is a coming-of-age tale, showing his growth from boy to man and later, king. He plays a prominent role in the early chapters of the Odyssey by Homer. Let’s take a closer look at his myth.

Who Was Telemachus?

Telemachus was the son of King Odysseus of Ithaca and his wife, Queen Penelope. He would eventually become King of Ithaca and marry the enchantress Circe. Apart from his stories with Odysseus, there are not many recollections of his deeds.

Birth of Telemachus

Odysseus was one the suitors of Helen of Spart, the most beautiful woman on earth. However, after she chose Menelaus as her husband, he went on to marry Penelope. From this marriage, Telemachus was born.

At the time of the Trojan War, Telemachus was only an infant. The Trojan War was one of the most famous events in Greek mythology due to its repercussions and all the characters involved.

The war originated with the abduction of Helen by Paris of Troy. In anger, and to reclaim his honor, King Menelaus of Sparta waged war on the great city of Troy. Menelaus requested the help of the kings and warriors who were bound by the Oath of Tyndareus, which included Odysseus. Menelaus sent the emissary Palamedes to recruit King Odysseus and his troops, who had no choice but to participate.

Odysseus and the Baby Telemachus

Odysseus did not want to leave for various reasons, one being a prophecy that said that if he left, many years would pass before he could return home. Another reason was that he did not want to leave his wife and son to go to war. 

Due to this reluctance to participate in the war, Odysseus faked madness so that he could stay in Ithaca. The king started plowing the beach to show his insanity to Palamedes, Menelaus’ emissary, but he did not fall for it.

To prove that Odysseus was faking madness, Palamedes took Telemachus and placed him in front of the plow. When Odysseus saw this, he stopped plowing immediately in order not to hurt his son, thus proving that he wasn’t mad. Odysseus’ attempts to stay failed and Telemachus ended up without a father for most of his life.

The Telemachy

Telemachy is the popular name of the first four books of Homer’s Odyssey, which tell the stories of Telemachus going in search of his father. After the Trojan War, Odysseus and his crew suffered several misfortunes, and most of the men died. According to some sources, his return home after the end of the war of Troy lasted ten years. In this period, Telemachus looked for information regarding the whereabouts of his father. 

  • In Odysseus’ absence, suitors came after Penelope. They had invaded the castle. They demanded the queen to choose one of them as her new husband and, therefore, King of Ithaca. Penelope kept refusing them, and Telemachus kept looking for his father. He even called an assembly and demanded the suitors to leave his estate, but at the time, the prince had no power whatsoever, and the suitors dismissed his request. 
  • According to the myths, Telemachus first visited King Nestor of Pylos under Athena’s commands. The king had participated in the War of Troy, and he told Telemachus several stories about the feats of his father. In the Odyssey, Nestor also referred to the myth of Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, who killed the suitor who tried to take his father’s throne. 
  • After visiting the court of Nestor, Telemachus went to Sparta to look for information from King Menelaus and Queen Helen. There are several depictions and famous paintings of this reunion in the court of King Menelaus. Unfortunately, Telemachus did not receive much information from this encounter. However, he discovered from Menelaus that his father was still alive. After this, he returned to Ithaca.

The suitors of his mother saw Telemachus as a threat to their aspirations to the throne. To some scholars, the Telemachy is Telemachus’ journey from boyhood to manhood, which he caps off at the end of the Odyssey by helping his father retrieve his throne. 

Telemachus and Odysseus Kill the Suitors

When Odysseus returned to Ithaca, the goddess Athena updated him on the events that had taken place and advised him to enter his court in disguise to evaluate the situation. Then, Odysseus revealed his identity to Telemachus in private, and together they plotted a way to get rid of the suitors from the castle. 

Telemachus told his mother to organize a contest to decide whom she would marry. The suitors had to use Odysseus’ bow and arrow to shoot through the holes of twelve ax-heads. After all of them failed to do it, Odysseus shot the arrow and won the contest. Once he did this, he revealed his identity, and with the help of Telemachus, he killed all the suitors.

After this, Odysseus took his place as the rightful king of Ithaca. He ruled over Ithaca with Penelope and Telemachus by his side. When Odysseus died, Telemachus inherited the throne and married Circe. In other accounts, he married Polycaste, the daughter of Nestor, or Nausicaa, the daughter of Alcinous.

Telemachus and Circe had a son, Latinus and a daughter called Roma.

Telemachus story Greek myth

Telemachus FAQs

1- Who are Telemachus’ parents?

Telemachus is the son of Penelope and Odysseus.

2- What is Telemachus known for?

Telemachus is known for his long search for his wandering father.

3- What is Telemachus afraid of?

Telemachus was wary of the many suitors who came after his mother, seeking the throne of Ithaca. As he was the heir to the throne, he was afraid of these suitors.

4- What kind of person is Telemachus?

At the start of The Odyssey, Telemachus is described as a boy. But by the end, he is a man and a strong adult.

In Brief

The Odyssey is one of the most famous literary works in history, and the myth of Telemachus covers four books of it. He believed in the return of his father to Ithaca, and he was a central character when Odysseus recovered the throne.