Books 4–7 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1197
Telemachus and Pisistratus arrive at Sparta during a celebration. They are gladly received by Menelaus, who deduces that they are of noble birth. Telemachus exclaims at the beauty of the halls, and Menelaus sadly says how quickly he would trade his treasures to gain back the life of his friends, most of all the missing Odysseus. The mention of his father moves Telemachus to tears, and Menelaus rightly guesses that Telemachus is Odysseus’s son. Helen, Menelaus’s wife, arrives, and the two tell stories of Odysseus’s exploits during the war. Helen recalls Odysseus’s disguise as a beggar, and Menelaus recounts how Odysseus saved the Greeks from being discovered in the Trojan horse.
The next day, Menelaus asks Telemachus the reason for his visit. Telemachus confides that his family’s estate is being ruined by his mother’s suitors. Menelaus replies that the suitors’ abuse will be repaid in the end. Then he recounts his own return from Troy: trapped in Egypt, he relied on a nymph to guide him and help him capture Proteus, the ancient god of the sea. In addition to telling him how to sail safely back to Sparta, Proteus informed Menelaus that Odysseus was alive but trapped by Calypso on an island. After the tale, Menelaus asks Telemachus to stay and allow himself to be showered with gifts. Telemachus thanks him tactfully but ultimately declines, insisting on a quick and necessary return to Ithaca. Meanwhile, on Ithaca, the suitors plan to ambush Telemachus.
Zeus, the lord of Olympus, sends Hermes to Ogygia to command Calypso to release Odysseus. Calypso laments the gods’ double standard in not allowing goddesses to keep mortals as lovers and remarks that she is responsible for saving Odysseus’s life. In the end, however, she relents, admitting that if it is the will of Zeus, then she will send Odysseus on his way with the necessary provisions and knowledge. She tells Odysseus to fashion a raft and sends him away with gifts.
On Odysseus’s eighteenth day of sailing, Scheria, the land of the Phaeacians, comes into view. The sea god Poseidon, coming from another land, chances upon Odysseus and, realizing that Odysseus has been rescued, buffets him with a storm. The goddess Ino comes to Odysseus’s rescue, giving him a magic veil and instructing him to swim for the shore. As Poseidon continues his assault, Athena intervenes, calming the winds and smoothing the waves. Odysseus manages to swim ashore by way of a river, then returns the veil to Ino. In the forest on Scheria, he makes a bed of leaves, and though he fears falling prey to wild beasts, his exhaustion overtakes him, and he sleeps.
In order to aid Odysseus, Athena enters the dream of the Phaeacian princess Nausicaa, disguised as Nausicaa’s best friend. She suggests that Nausicaa wash her clothes in the river in order to prepare for courtship. The next day, Nausicaa asks for a cart from her father, King Alcinous, and goes to the river with her maids to launder clothes. While the young women are drying their clothes, Odysseus, who is naked, overhears their mirth and approaches them. He considers hugging Nausicaa’s knees in supplication but ultimately decides to remain at a slight distance. He asks Nausicaa for assistance, and Athena makes him more attractive so that he will be more convincing. Nausicaa gives Odysseus directions to the palace and instructs him to ask for help from her mother, Queen Arete, but asks that he delay and let her travel there first, lest their appearance together draw too much attention. Odysseus waits and, after praying to Athena, leaves for the palace.
Odysseus is led to the palace by Athena, who has disguised herself as a little girl and wraps Odysseus in a protective mist that prevents the Phaeacians from perceiving him. She directs Odysseus to throw himself at Queen Arete’s feet so that the Phaeacians will help him continue on his journey home. Odysseus enters the palace during a feast, and as soon as he sees Arete, he follows Athena’s advice. As he kneels before the queen, the mist around him evaporates, and he is revealed. King Alcinous suspects him of being a god, but Odysseus asserts that he is mortal. He asks the king and queen for a safe passage home, and they willingly agree to give him a ship. When Arete recognizes Odysseus’s clothing as belonging to Nausicaa, Odysseus explains his encounter with the princess as tactfully as he can. Alcinous wishes aloud that Odysseus could stay to marry Nausicca but promises to help him leave the next day.
Book 4 marks the end of the Telemacheia, which is the set of books that recount the story of Telemachus. Telemachus notably matures over the course of these books, with him initially dejected and self-admittedly inept and outclassed by the suitors, then subtly changing as he decides to undertake his own journey and hears the stories of his father’s cunning and heroism. He is directed by Athena and welcomed hospitably by his father’s old friends. Though he has not seen Odysseus since his infancy, Telemachus depends on stories about him for signs of who he ought to become. In Telemachus’s dealings with Nestor and Menelaus, Telemachus even exhibits a talent for flattering and pleasant conversation, so much so that Menelaus asks him to stay longer and consent to be showered with gifts. Having found a growing confidence in himself and learned that his father remains alive, Telemachus returns to Ithaca, ready to take charge of the situation.
Meanwhile, Odysseus finally makes his appearance in book 5. He initially appears rather unheroic, trapped and sulking on a beach. The complaints that Calypso makes to Hermes in this book about a gendered double standard are not merely anecdotal: in Greek myth, male gods take many more lovers than goddesses do, and goddesses are generally punished more severely for certain misdemeanors. In a sense, this double standard extends to Penelope and Odysseus, as Penelope’s faithfulness is predicated on her total chastity, while Odysseus consummates a number of dalliances, including with Calypso. It is, however, still worth noting that Odysseus remains more or less devoted to his home, as he tells Calypso that though she might outclass Penelope in every physical and magical respect, he still prefers his wife.
The text also verbalizes parts of Odysseus’s situational thought process. His constant suspicions and deliberations are intended to portray a quick, clever, and situationally aware mind. He deliberates whether he can really swim to shore at Scheria, whether he can safely sleep in the forest, and how to approach Nausicaa. Moreover, as the king and queen of Scheria, Alcinous and Arete, interrogate him, readers begin to see a kind of sly manipulation at work. Odysseus does not readily reveal his identity and only reveals a little of his past to make himself seem important and mysterious, and when asked about his clothes, he praises the princess’s kindness but also avoids offending her father’s hospitality by asserting that it was his own idea to arrive separately from Nausicaa.