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Telemachus (pronounced /təˈlɛməkəs/; Greek: Τηλέμαχος, Tēlemakhos, literally "far-fighter")[1] is a figure in Greek mythology, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and a central character in Homer's Odyssey. The first four books in particular focus on Telemachus's journeys in search of news about his father, who has been away at war; they are, therefore, traditionally accorded the collective title the Telemachy.[2]



Telemachus's name in Greek means "far from battle", perhaps reflecting his absence from the Trojan War. Homer also calls Telemachus by the patronymic epithet "Odysseus' son".[3]

In the Odyssey

In the Odyssey by Homer, under the instructions of Athena, Telemachus spends the first four books trying to gain knowledge of his father, Odysseus, whom he has never met. At the outset of Telemachus' journey, Odysseus has been absent from his home at Ithaca for twenty years due to the Trojan War and the intervention of Poseidon. During his absence, Odysseus' house has been occupied by hordes of suitors seeking the hand of Penelope.[4] Telemachus first visits Nestor and is well received by the old man who regales him with stories of his father's glory. Telemachus then departs with Nestor's son Peisistratus,[5] who accompanies him to the halls of Menelaus and his wife Helen. Whilst there, Telemachus is again treated as an honored guest as Menelaus and Helen tell complementary, yet contradictory stories of his father's exploits at Troy.[6]

The Odyssey returns focus to Telemachus upon his father's return to Ithaca in Book XV. He visits Eumaeus, the swineherd, who happens to be hosting a disguised Odysseus. After taking his son's measure, and at the urging of Athena, Odysseus reveals his identity to Telemachus, and the two begin plotting the slaughter of the suitors.[7]

When Penelope challenges the suitors to string Odysseus' bow and shoot an arrow through the handle-holes of twelve axeheads, Telemachus is the first to attempt the task. He would have completed the task, nearly stringing the bow on his fourth attempt; however, Odysseus stops him before he can finish his attempt. Following the failure of the suitors at this task, Odysseus reveals himself, and he and Telemachus bring swift and bloody death to the suitors.[8]

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