Book Sixteen of The Odyssey

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In Book Sixteen of The Odyssey, the protagonist, Odysseus encounters his son, Telemakhos for the first time. Odysseus has been away on his journey for years and therefore has not had the opportunity to impart a father’s wisdom on his son. When he first encounters his son in this section, Odysseus is cleverly disguised as a beggar. His wife, Penelope, has been under siege by unwanted suitors. The suitors assume that Odysseus was killed in the Trojan War. They are desperate to win the hand of Penelope. However, she continues to fight off the suitors with various methods. When Odysseus first encounters his son, he does not disclose his identity. Eventually, he does inform his son that he is merely disguised. He and Telemakhos need to fight off the suitors together. However, in the passages of Book 16, Homer also allows the father to impart wisdom and advice to his son. In this section, the character of Odysseus as a father comes to light for the reader.

While still protecting his true identity, Odysseus asks his son if he is content to allow the unwanted suitors to overrun his house. He also questions if his son has any brothers to assist him. Perhaps, Odysseus wanted to determine if his wife had any other children by other men at this point. He also chastises his son gently for the presence of the suitors. He reminds Telemakhos that he is the son of a great warrior. Essentially, he believes his son should die honorably rather than allow unwanted guests to establish permanent and ungrateful residence in his home. His son attempts to explain to the beggar that this is a difficult situation for both his mother and himself.

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When Odysseus reveals himself, his son believes he is a god. His appearance and clothing changed miraculously. Odysseus tells him that he is merely his absentee father. Odysseus acknowledges that his son suffered as a result of his absence. This clearly indicates the Odysseus recognizes the obligations of a father to his son. He realizes that his son may lack both courage and skill in battle. These character flaws are the fault of the father, not the son. Odysseus realizes that he was not around as a father to teach his son the necessary virtues of courage and skill in battle. However, he does chastise his son for not acknowledging him as his father once he has revealed his true identity.

They quickly embrace and shed tears. This clearly indicates that there is a bond between them that distance and time did not destroy. Additionally, Odysseus loves his son. While his son may not be perfect, Odysseus takes great joy in seeing his son and embracing him as his father. Odysseus explains his plan to rid the palace of the suitors. Telemakhos, however, fears this plan will not work. He admits that he heard tremendous tales of his father’s bravery and skill; however, he still questions the feasibility of the plan. His father does not grow angry. This again shows the affection and respect he has for his son.

The section also shows that Odysseus expects tremendous loyalty from the son he does not know. He tells his son that no one is to know of his true identity. This includes Penelope. While he was raised by his mother, Telemakhos still must show complete loyalty and fidelity to his father. Odysseus clearly believes the father and son bond is unbreakable despite a separation. This is further noted at the end of the book. Telemakhos becomes alive with the power of his father. He and his father are able to enjoy a large meal together. Additionally, the book ends with both of them falling asleep in their beds. This indicates that both of them are comfortable with the father-son relationship they have just established.

Overall, the book indicates that Odysseus is a strong and good father. He recognizes that his absence from his son created difficulties and pain for the son. He also expects his son to behave as the princely son of a true warrior. Once again, this book indicates that Odysseus as a character possesses many tremendous qualities.

  • Homer. The Odyssey. Book 16. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Shorter 3rd Edition. Ed. Peter Simon. Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013. Lines 44-327.

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