Chapters 19–21 Summary

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Last Updated on September 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1776

Chapter 19

As Circe wonders what it is that Athena fears about Telegonus, she prepares for Athena’s revenge. She spends many days poring over every plant and flower, studying their design and making blends of herbs and roots, in hopes of coming up with something that will aid her against the powerful goddess.

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The idea of using something from the underworld—for “no gods, save those who govern souls, may set foot in the underworld”—eventually takes shape. She uses blood that Odysseus fetched from the house of death and, after devoting the day to experimenting with its properties, devises two spells. With no time to waste, she climbs to the highest peak on the island and casts her first spell of protection there. It acts as a dome over the island, creating a barrier of living death that should bar gods from entering. The second spell is cast just beneath it. This spell is tied to the island, and will make everything on the island come to the defense of Telegonus should Athena breach the first spell. These spells are a constant drain on Circe’s power and will require renewal every month, which she painstakingly and tirelessly undertakes while looking after her son. 

The spells do not, however, eliminate the natural dangers surrounding a mortal child. Telegonus has his mother’s strong will, as seen in his persistent restlessness and his resistance to remaining in one place for too long. He is not a peaceful child and frequently flies into destructive rages. The only thing that calms him is the view of the horizon and the sea. Throughout his childhood, Circe is torn between her desire to allow him his freedom and her need to keep him from harm’s way.

Telegonus grows into a young man and eventually asks about his father. Circe begins to tell him tales of Odysseus, though she sugar-coats them to protect his innocence. One day, Telegonus pleads for Circe to allow one ship to come in; the ship in question is in danger, and Circe reluctantly agrees to drop the spell “this once.” 

At the table, Telegonus surprises Circe with his firm display of authority when the men ask whose house they are in. The men are drawn to him; they honor his counsel and ask him to oversee the repair of their ship. Their brief visit sparks Telegonus’s interest in exploring the world beyond the island even more. Eventually, he asks to have a cave on the island all to himself, and Circe honors his privacy.

The day Telegonus turns sixteen is the day he shows Circe his boat, which he has been working on for months. He reveals that Hermes has been guiding him in his plan to sail to Ithaca to meet his father. Circe is horrified. She attempts to dissuade him, explaining that Hermes is a trickster and that Odysseus’s legitimate son, Telemachus, will not take his arrival kindly. She reminds him of Athena and the looming threat she still poses. Mother and son begin to argue. Even as their disagreement escalates, each remains obstinate. Telegonus wishes not to be trapped on the island all his life, even if it means taking risks, but Circe wishes to keep him alive, even if it means that he feels trapped.

Circe seeks counsel from her memories, and thinks back to the time she asked Odysseus what he did when he could not make Achilles and Agamemnon heed him. He simply replied: “That’s easy. You make a plan in which they do not.”

Chapter 20

The next morning, Circe approaches Telegonus and tells him he may go—under certain conditions. Telegonus is overjoyed. He has won his freedom, and he accepts all of Circe’s conditions. She casts a protection spell on his boat and instructs him to always remain on the boat while at sea. Upon landing on Ithaca, he must then go directly to his father and ask him to intercede with Athena. She asks him to show Penelope high praise and honor. Then,...

(The entire section contains 1776 words.)

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