How does Ulysses describe his son?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Ulysses describes his son, Telemachus, as a man who lacks his restless, adventurous spirit. He is far more suited to governing Ithaca, and so he makes the choice to leave the throne and name Telemachus his heir:

This is my son, my own Telemachus, 
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle--- 
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill 
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild 
A rugged people, and through soft degrees 
Subdue them to the useful and the good. 
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere 
Of common duties, decent not to fail 
In offices of tenderness, and pay 
Meet adoration to my household gods, 
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine. 

It is significant that Ulysses does not judge Telemachus as a lesser man for his difference in temperament. He is simply different than Ulysses, and people ought to do what they are best able to do. Just as it would be a shame for Ulysses and his brave mariners to live out their days in quiet boredom, so it would be a waste of Telemachus's talents to keep him from the throne any longer. By pointing out that his son has the "slow prudence" to carry out the daily chores of administering a kingdom, Ulysses seems to suggest that he does not. "He works his work," Ulysses works his, but he is still "well-loved." In short, Odysseus describes his son as even-tempered, patient, and competent, precisely the sort of man who can rule Ithaca effectively after he is gone.


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