The Odyssey Book 4 Summary and Analysis
by Homer

The Odyssey book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Odyssey Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Book 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Menelaus: the king of Sparta

Helen: his wife, instigator of the Trojan War

Eidothea: daughter of Proteus

Proteus: sea god interrogated by Menelaus during his travels

Ajax Oïleus: blasphemous Greek who pulled Cassandra from Athene’s temple

Medon: a herald who remains loyal to Penelope and Telemachus

Telemachus and Peisistratus arrive in Sparta and enter Menelaus’ palace. They are warmly received during a wedding celebration in honor of Menelaus’ two children. Megapenthes, the king’s son through a bondswoman, is about to marry a Spartan woman, and Hermione, the only child of Helen, is being sent to marry Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. The two travelers feast with Menelaus, who, though unaware of their identities, begins to muse about his sorrows during the Trojan War. He even mentions his grief concerning the lost Odysseus at which Telemachus weeps. Helen enters and guesses Telemachus’ identity immediately. The four of them begin reminiscing about Troy, and weep for those that died there until Peisistratus begs them to cease their sorrow.

Helen, however, cheers everyone up by drugging the wine with an ingredient she discovered in Egypt that brings happiness to all who partake of it. Afterwards, she recounts a story of Odysseus in Troy. Disguised as a beggar during a spying mission, Odysseus was discovered by Helen, who promised not to reveal his identity until he returned to the Greek camp safely. Having acquired a good body of intelligence, Odysseus fled to the Greek camp, but not before he first slaughtered several.

Menelaus then recalls the time when Odysseus and many of the Greek soldiers were hiding in the Trojan Horse. Helen had come to mischievously tempt the hidden Greeks by calling to them with the voices of their respective wives. It was only through Odysseus’ steadfast spirit and commanding force that the Greeks who succumbed to her trap were silenced until the danger was over.

The guests are finally led to their bedchambers, but in the morning Menelaus returns to interview Telemachus, who informs the Spartan king of his purpose there and the troubles besieging his household. Menelaus recounts for Telemachus a story of his own wanderings. After leaving Egypt, Menelaus’ ships became stranded on an island because of poor winds. When his men were on the verge of starvation, a nymph named Eidothea, the daughter of the sea god Proteus, took pity on Menelaus. She told him that her father Proteus, if captured, could advise Menelaus on how to achieve his homecoming. In the morning, Eidothea skinned four seals, and used the hides to conceal Menelaus and three companions on the seashore. When Proteus came up to the beach to take a nap with his seals, Menelaus and his men sprang upon him and held him tightly. Proteus tried to escape by transforming himself into various beasts and natural forces, such as water and magical fire. Menelaus held tightly, and when Proteus surrendered at last, he told Menelaus what he wished to know: the Spartan had rendered insufficient sacrifices to the gods; he must therefore return to Egypt to make restitution before being able to return home.

At Menelaus’ request, Proteus also narrated the death of Ajax Oïleus, whose ships were destroyed by Poseidon at Athene’s behest; it was this Ajax who had pulled Cassandra unwillingly from Athene’s temple. Ajax almost escaped destruction by climbing upon a sea crag, but arrogantly claimed his escape was a sign of his superiority over the gods; Poseidon, enraged, pulled him down to a watery death. Proteus also recounted Aegisthus’ ambush of Agamemnon, which occurred during a pretended festival; Menelaus wept to hear of his brother’s death. Finally, Proteus told Menelaus of Odysseus, who was imprisoned at that time on Calypso’s isle. Menelaus finally tells of his journey back to Egypt, his sacrifices there, and eventual return home. Here, Menelaus’ stories end.

Although unsure if his father has survived since the time...

(The entire section is 1,260 words.)