What's the significance of the way Athena leaves Telemachus (lines 366-373) in The Odyssey by Homer?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Homer's The Odyssey, Athena arrives, in the form of Mentes, at Odysseus's home, and is able to talk to Telemachus in a way that encourages him to unburden his soul to her. Sensing his discouragement and despair, she talks to him about his father's noble attributes and heroic deeds.

Instead of scolding Telemachus for not dealing with the out-of-control suitors, she begins to talk to him about how his father would deal with them if he were to return. She further suggests that the young man should let his mother deal with the suitors while he goes on a voyage to meet Nestor and Menelaus.

The plan she suggests is designed to help Telemachus grow up and start to become the man who the son of a king, the son of Odysseus. Athena knows Odysseus is on his way home and will rid his house of the unwanted suitors, but she also knows this is a necessary growing-up journey for his son. 

Athena (in the form of Mentes/Mentor) leaves Telemachus in a spectacular fashion:

Off and away Athena the bright-eyed goddess flew

like a bird in soaring flight

but left his spirit filled with nerve and courage,

charged with his father’s memory more than ever now,

He felt his sense quicken, overwhelmed with wonder—

This was a god, he knew it well and made at once

for the suitors, a man like a god himself. (367-373)

By leaving this way, Athena reveals her status as a god, which fills Telemachus with "nerve and courage." Now he believes everything Athena has been telling him, and he is resolved and purposeful for the first time in his life. 

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aszerdi | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Two important and related themes in the Odyssey include the usage of cunning intelligence to consummate the homecoming of Odysseus. In Greek, these terms aremetis,cunning intelligence, andnostos,homecoming. The termmetiscomes from a a story in which Zeus swallows a pregnant goddess after a prophecy states that she will bear a child stronger than him. After Zeus does so, Athena is born by popping out from his head! The goddess' name was Metis, hence the birth of Athena is symbolic for her most critical trait throughout the Odyssey: hermetis or intelligence.

The heroes within the Odyssey all share this trait, metis, with Athena which is what allows Odysseus' homecoming to be sucessful. Odysseus recognizes Athena as a god throughout the epic because of his intelligence and cunning. Similarly, it is this common trait that may be the reason Athena favors Odysseus and helps him return home. Likewise, Penelope's metis allows her to sucessfully trick the suitors and ensure Odysseus' identity near the end of the poem.

Looking at this passage in relation to Telemachus, Athena has

"left his spirit filled with nerve and courage,

charged with his father’s memory more than ever now,

He felt his sense quicken, overwhelmed with wonder—

This was a god, he knew it well and made at once

for the suitors, a man like a god himself." (369-373)

Athena's departure instills within Telemachus the same kind of metis that characterizes her and both his parents. Telemachus' mind is quickened returning to a memory of a father he never knew, referencing his right to be king of Ithaca and his household as a blood heir of Odysseus. This emphasizes his superior worthiness among men particularly in relation to the suitors. Furthermore, this display of his own metis and ability to recognize Athena emphasizes his worthiness to be Odysseus' heir in the eyes of the Gods as well as take part in the homecoming of Odysseus.

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