Chapters 22–24 Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1211

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...

(The entire section contains 1211 words.)

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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. 

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 catches herself watching him and “watching myself with him.”

Hermes startles all of them when he suddenly arrives at their door with a message from Athena. As expected, the goddess wishes to have a word with Telemachus. Hermes continues, conveying that Athena also “requires that the witch Circe lower the spell that bars her from the isle.” Penelope turns to her son, breaking their long spell of their silence, and invites him to walk with her, for she has waited long and has much to reveal to him.

Chapter 24

Telemachus now knows that he is Athena’s chosen one. Circe assures Telegonus of his safety from Athena, promising to make the goddess of war swear an oath and reminding him that she has the poisoned spear ready just in case.

Later, Telemachus tells Circe of how, even in his childhood, Athena would come to him, subtly coaxing him. She came in different guises, mostly in the form of people who would take particular interest in him. Always, the air would “smell like buttery olives and iron” when it happened. After Odysseus returned, however, she simply vanished. 

Circe remarks to Telemachus that he would make a good king—that he could be “Telemachus the Just.” Telemachus appears preoccupied by thoughts of the life that awaits him as Athena’s chosen mortal; this is a painful reminder to Circe that his future lies away from her, and she offers him her son’s boat for his eventual departure.

Circe is restless. She walks in the darkness, scaling the highest peaks and regretting that she never confided in Odysseus about the darkest parts of her history: “who else would have tolerated it, with all its ugliness and errors?” The next morning, Circe sets off to remove her spell on the island. As soon as it disappears, she rushes down from the peak and across rocks and trees to get home. She scrambles to reach the spear before Athena arrives.

Athena suddenly appears before them, stern and forthright. She turns to Telemachus and gives him her offer: a prosperous city, a great bloodline, and the unwavering support of the silver goddess herself for as long as he lives. Much to Circe’s surprise, Telemachus refuses. He says he has “no taste for fighting Trojans or building empires.” He desires a different life, even as Athena warns him that no songs will ever be sung of him if he lets this chance pass. Telemachus remains firm in his refusal. Athena is angered but then makes the offer to Telegonus instead. Shaken by this sudden turn of events, Circe pleads Telegonus not to take Athena’s offer, but Telegonus has always dreamed of adventure and a life beyond the island. In the end, he decides to go with Athena.

With Telegonus gone, Circe begins to contemplate her life, which she knows will never change. Penelope's friendship and Circe's burgeoning feelings for Telemachus won’t matter: since those she cares for are mortal, their relationships and even their entire existence will someday seem like merely a blink to her. When they die, they will go to the Underworld, where Circe, as an immortal, cannot follow. Mortals might reunite with loved ones after death or, at the very least, drink from the river Lethe to forget past horrors. Circe, however, is doomed to watch everyone she meets leave her forever, with only Titans and Olympians by her side. Disturbed by this realization, she calls out to summon her father, Helios.

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