Significance of Location in "The Odyssey"
Significance of Location in “The Odyssey”
The story of the Odyssey begins 20 years after Odysseus leaves his home, and his family. The setting is the family home in Ithaka, and our main character (at this point) is Telemachos, son of the great Odysseus.
By beginning the story at this time and location rather than focusing straight in on Odysseus‘ situation, the reader is given an “inside view” of Odysseus‘ home life, and from these first 4 books we are given much very valuable background information. One such piece of information is learning of the 100′s of suitors that have inhabited the palace (of Odysseus) in his absence, and the feelings that Telemachos has about these men i.e. total powerlessness. He feels that he cannot do anything about all these strange men in his house, and this causes him great frustration, also he probably wants to be able to show his mother that he can protect her and resents the fact that he can’t.
Another benefit of introducing the book with “The Telemachy” is that we see just how much Odysseus is needed back home, to rid his palace of the suitors and to reclaim his position in his household.
“How great your need is now of the absent Odysseus” (Athene)
“The Telemachy” creates a feeling of suspense as during these four books we do not even know where Odysseus is or whether he will ever come home.
The “closeness” we have to the events at the palace during this time, makes the issue of the suitors seem a lot more real and important than if we’d heard it from another source, we can feel Telemachos’ impotence, and frustration at his lack of power at this time.
This part of the play also introduces us to all the key characters in Odysseus‘ life; such as his wife, Penelope (the object of the suitors‘ affection), and obviously his son, Telemachos. Also, Nestor, his son Peisistratos, Menelaos and Helen. These characters all, in their own ways, reveal a bit more about Odysseus to his son. The things we hear about Odysseus give us a bit of insight into his character, that we would not have gained had we launched straight into the story from Odysseus‘ point of view. We hear of Odysseus‘ cunning, clever nature and his flair for disguise, we learn that he is particularly good at controlling things, himself, and others. His reputation is honoured by Nestor, Menelaos and Athene, they all speak very highly of him to Telemachos, and treat him like a friend because he is his father’s son.
“…this is the son of a man greatly beloved who has come now in my house…and I would love him beyond all Argives…” (Menelaos)
Because of the order that “The Odyssey” is written in, we have the advantage of hearing Odysseus‘ travels directly from him, in the past tense. This gives us a better insight in to the workings of his mind and helps us get to know him as a character.
Through these books, Homer sets up a picture where not only is it obvious that Odysseus is needed at home, but he also has the ‘ideal’ situation to come home to, here he has a chance to prove himself again, and re-establish his place as man of the house. Although Telemachos has his moments of glory, he is not the hero of the story. It is Odysseus who by his brave, clever actions proves his heroism through the eventual slaughter of the suitors. Telemachos, who without his father’s help was no match for the suitors, at this point assists Odysseus, but Homer makes sure he doesn’t steal his father’s glory.
Another way in which Homer insures that Odysseus remains the hero of the story is by writing in the main stages of Telemachos’ maturation (and therefore his main focus in the book) away from Ithaka, and therefore away from the main action. “The Telemachy” gives us a chance to get to know Telemachos in his own right before Odysseus comes into the picture and steals the scene.
If the book had started with Odysseus‘ travels as our main action, we would not have had the input of Athene’s help as at this point Athene was still angry with all the Achaians. Many people believe that the main reason for starting “The Odyssey” with “the Telemachy” is to establish Athene as the encourager, approver and authoriser of the action contained within the rest of the book. During the first four books Athene is portrayed as a “guardian angel” both to Telemachos and Odysseus.
Rather surprisingly, her encouragement also extends to the murder of the suitors. In the book, murder is portrayed by Athene and Zeus as a good ending to the story. Athene paints a heroic picture of Orestes, the man who killed Aigisthos after Aigisthos seduced Orestes’ mother and murdered his father.
Many people believe that “The Telemachy” was originally written as an independent poem and was later added to the tales of Odysseus as a preface. I think that these first four books provide a very important background to the story, for three main reasons. Firstly, they paint a detailed picture of the present state of Odysseus‘ home life and the need his family have for him at this time. Secondly, they introduce us to the main characters and give us a particular insight into the character of Telemachos. Lastly, but almost most importantly, these four books introduce us to perhaps the most important character in the play, the all-seeing, all-powerful, grey-eyed Athene.