Telemachus: Hero or Puppet?

Pawns are often used in literature to manipulate the storyline. In many cases, these people are minor characters. They usually support the main idea, but are just tools that the author uses to convey the message and not very significant to the true meaning of the novel in question. But there can also be people in the story itself who control the weaker individuals. In the case of The Odyssey by Homer, the Gods are the ones who control the mortals. Athena repeatedly uses Telemachus as she pleases. She does not use every human in this fashion, and she specifically chose him for her pleasure and manipulation. Telemachus is a mindless vehicle of the Gods.

Athena used Telemachus as a way to prove her admiration of Odysseus. She did not give assistance the mortal to benefit him. She simply was helping the son of the object of her adoration. Athena aids Telemachus by giving him confidence where he needs it the most. She gives him the strength to stand up for his father’s estate when his mother’s suitors disrespect it. “But now, I urge you, think how to drive these suitors from your halls. Come now, listen closely. Take my words to heart. At daybreak summon the island’s lords to full assembly, give your orders to all and call the gods to witness: tell the suitors to scatter, each to his own place.” Athena tells Telemachus to show the suitors that he was in charge and not a child anymore. Telemachus is given this confidence by the goddess, so that he would seem to be more like his father, who Athena cherished.

The goddess provides Telemachus with advice on how to relieve the estate of the suitors. He is also told to take a ship to seek rumor of his father’s whereabouts. Athena wants Telemachus to search for Odysseus for herself, not to bring happiness to the wife or son of her favorite war hero. She knows that she will not be able to retrieve Odysseus from Calypso, so she uses the vulnerable Telemachus as a puppet, to use in any way she sees fit. She gives him bravery again, this time for the journey to Sparta. “Telemachus, you’ll lack neither courage nor sense from this day on, not if your father’s spirit courses through your veins.” Athena gave inspiration to the young man instead of giving him material possessions.

Athena soon moves into the more practical domain when she decides to give Telemachus a boat and become part of his crew. She does this just so they will find Odysseus sooner and the bright-eyed goddess won’t have to wait for them to build or buy the supplies. “Telemachus, your comrades-at-arms are ready at the oars, waiting for your command to launch. So come, on with our voyage now, we’re wasting time.” Athena is so impatient to find Odysseus that she actually becomes the prince in order to hasten the gathering of the crew.

Telemachus is just a manipulated pawn in Athena’s plan. Yet he grows and changes dramatically from the time when he first meets the disguised goddess to when he sets sail for Sparta and on his journey to find his father. Many times in literature, a character will greatly mature as a result of someone using them. This happens in the world of non-fiction as well. Sometimes a person will actually be helped by the person who is attempting to put them in a position of inferiority. It is often a challenge to find the good in every situation, and to make these circumstances work to our benefit.