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The Odyssey

by Homer

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In The Odyssey chapter 15, why is it significant that Helen gifts Telemachus a robe for his future bride?

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The gift of the robe is significant as an act of sharing between Helen and Telemachus. It is also meaningful because the gift is for a future wedding, and so connected with an important transformation that Telemachus will undergo. Furthermore, we are told that Helen wove this robe, so it an object that she personally has produced. All three features make this a meaningful gift.

Helen herself mentions that the robe is intended as a future wedding gift, and that it comes from her hands. In addition, it is a keepsake: she tells Telemachus it is intended to invoke memory. But marriage for Helen does not have such good memories. In fact, Helen herself was not properly married in Troy after she left Menelaus. (Different interpretations of Helen's movement to Troy cast it as either abduction or flight.) The importance of proper social procedures may be an association that she is asking Telemachus to make. The gift could encourage him to follow proper ritual and social paths.

Worman, Nancy. 2001. This Voice Which Is Not One: Helen's Verbal Guises in Homeric Epic. In Making Silence Speak: Women's Voices in Greek Literature and Society. A. Lardinois and L. McClure, eds. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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This strikes me as a really interesting question. On one level, the gift of a robe from Helen seems to mark Telemachus as a young man who has now reached an age at which it may be appropriate for him to marry. So, acquisition of such a robe may be sort of a sign that Telemachus is "all grown up."

On another level, the gift creates a bond of guest-friendship between Telemachus, the future king of Ithaca, and Helen, the current queen of Sparta. Gifts of guest-friendship were like personal treaties between individuals, which could even carry over to subsequent generations in Homeric culture (compare the guest-friendship between Diomedes and Glaucus' fathers in Iliad 6).

Another possibility is that Helen might imagine Telemachus as a potential match for her own daughter, Hermione, although the mythic tradition will eventually link Hermione with Achilles' son Neoptolemus.

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