Chapters 22–24 Summary

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Last Updated on January 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1217

Chapter 22 

Telemachus and Telegonus return in high spirits from spending time together outdoors. With her suspicion of Telemachus cleared, Circe thinks more about her conversation with Penelope, realizing after the fact that Penelope revealed little information about herself. Upon questioning, Telegonus admits that it was, in fact, Pelenlope’s idea to come to Aiaia—he had suggested that they flee to Sparta. This deeply concerns Circe, who worries what Penelope may be hiding. 

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Circe and Telemachus spend another evening in conversation. He asks her for stories about Odysseus, and Circe obliges. She covers everything Odysseus told her—the murders, the tricks, the gore—without downplaying their unsavory details, unlike what she did with her own son. Telemachus expresses his distaste for the kind of life his father lived, a life dominated by violence, glory, pride, and selfishness. Though Odysseus famously strove to return home to Ithaca, Telemachus reveals that once there, he was always looking to the horizon, hungry for adventure. Circe attempts to learn from him why his mother chose to come to Aiaia, but Telemachus appears to genuinely not know. 

The next morning, Circe sends the boys on an errand and confronts Penelope. Citing Penelope's suspicious interest in the spell that keeps gods from the island, Circe demands to know which god Penelope is bringing down upon her island. Penelope pleads for Circe’s mercy and finally tells her story. Penelope claims that Odysseus was not a victim of war’s battery, as Telemachus suggests; rather, war only “made him more himself.” Penelope describes Odysseus as a compulsive liar, a man who wished only to accumulate power and glory. After the thrill of war, he was unsatisfied with a simple life on Ithaca. He proposed himself as a counselor to various kingdoms, but none wanted him. Penelope told herself to be patient, “that any moment he would remember the pleasures of modest home and hearth . . . but he did not want that life.”

Penelope attributes Odysseus’s continual restlessness and dissatisfaction to Athena, the goddess who favored him above all other mortals. She tells Circe how “he would talk to the air, which gathered all around him, glowing brightest silver on his skin” and that “every time he would calm she came again.” As Athena’s favorite, Odysseus was never allowed to grow soft or “dull and domestic” under her watch. And now that Odysseus is dead, Athena is keen on coming for his son, Telemachus. Penelope knows she cannot hide Telemachus from Athena forever; she only wants a little more time together. Circe, understanding Penelope’s love for her son, agrees to let them stay for a while longer.

Chapter 23

Telegonus goes on a swimming lesson with Penelope while Telemachus assists Circe around the island, mending fixtures just as his father once did. At dinner, they exchange stories, and for the first time, Telegonus learns of his mother’s role in the famous tale of the Minotaur, Queen Pasiphaë, and the legendary Daedalus. When Scylla is mentioned, however, Circe quickly remembers why she doesn’t like to talk about her past.

Circe shows Penelope her herbs. She notices Penelope’s attentiveness, a trait Telegonus had never displayed when she showed him her craft. She tells Penelope that one need not be a goddess to be a witch, for her niece, Medea, is herself a mortal and a witch. Penelope reveals what eventually became of Medea, and Circe learns she was right in warning her niece long ago. Medea’s dream of a life with Jason collapsed, and she killed their children out of spite. Circe tells Penelope that, ultimately, a strong will is what makes a witch. 

Telemachus and Circe become closer and spend much of their time together, even as he remains distant from Penelope. Circe...

(The entire section contains 1217 words.)

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