Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TFBT: The Father of Telemachus

Why is Odysseus called "the father of Telemachus" while all the other Homeric heroes are remembered as "the son of" somebody or another?  When Odysseus begins telling his tales to the Phaeancians he is introduced as the “son of Laertes”. I thought that odd because he is so often referred to as “the father of Telemachus”. I wondered about contrasting the use of “son of Laertes” vs “father of Telemachus”? For example; I read once that any time the epithet Cronides (Cronion) is used of an elder Olympian it is to remind the audience that they are their father’s children and just as capable of being cruel and abusive of authority as he. So is there any significance in Homer’s unusual of “son of Laertes” on occasion? What do we know about Laertes that might apply to Odysseus? 

Maybe we are asking about the wrong parent, here.   As we have noted before in Hour 25, Homer goes to great lengths in both epics to hide the darker aspects of Odysseus.  Like the betrayal of Palamedes,  the attempted murder of Diomedes and possibly Odysseus’ bastardy.  

"Sisyphus came to him and identified the cattle he had stolen by their hooves, and took them away. While he was delaying there, he seduced Anticlia, the daughter of Autolycus. She was later given in marriage to Laertes, and bore Ulysses. Some writers accordingly call him Sisyphean; because of this parentage he was shrewd. " Hyginus, Fabulae 201

Euripides (Iphigenia at Aulis)  and Sophocles (Philoctetes) both knew the rumors of Odysseus’ parentage. It appears that those characters in the epics who wanted to praise Odysseus could call him “son of Laertes” and flatter him.  Those that wanted to shame him could call him “son of Laertes” as a way of reminding him he wasn’t.  Meanwhile, the famously non-judgmental Homer take the high road and gives Odysseus the epithet of “father of Telemachus” to avoid any implication or inference of scandal. 

Is the father reference for polymetis Odysseus significant in the same way as the ‘son of Kronos’? We’ve seen before at Hour 25 where the names of sons, were but aspects of their fathers.  Well Laertes is NOT “the craftiest of all humankind”, but Sisyphus is.  (Homer, Iliad VI.151)





  1. I find it interesting that at the beginning of the Odyssey, Telemachus expresses doubt whether Odysseus is really his father.

  2. Maya,

    Good observation! From the moment Odysseus says his name is "Outis". He looses his identity and journeys to "find himself". Think about how many names Odysseus uses. If you aren't sure of who you are; how can anyone else be?