The Odyssey: The Powerful and Emotionally Flooded Father and Son Re-union
In the epic poem The Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus is presented as the main character, who desires to return to his home, Ithaca, where his wife and son are awaiting his return patiently even after twenty years of him missing. In book 16, line 193 the well-anticipated reunion between father and son is described by Homer in detail. Through the Homeric language in this passage, it is evident how everything Odysseus has been through was leading up to this beautiful reunion that holds great significance in the poem because, at the end of book 16, Telemachus and Odysseus plan their revenge against the suitors together to finally regain their well-deserved honor and glory.
Before the emotional re-union, we see Athena dropping Odysseus’ disguise and allowing him to reveal himself to his son, for who he is. Divine intervention plays a huge role in The Odyssey as the gods act as anchors to the character's fates since they find ways to intervene in their decision-making and in the outcomes of those decisions. In book 16, it is evident how Athena intervenes with the re-union between Odysseus and Telemachus because she decides when to drop Odysseus’ disguise and ‘her work was done, and off she flew’ (Od. 16. 176). The disguise theme is repeated continuously, and it is evident how divine inspiration is connected with disguises as Telemachus expresses that ‘some god must have cast a spell’ and ‘some god appeared and did it all with ease’. Only the gods have the power to manipulate a person’s appearance as strongly as Odysseus’ appearance was managed, and Telemachus understood this from how Odysseus’ appearance shifted drastically from being ‘old’ and ‘wearing those dirty rags’ to looking ‘like a god’ (Od. 16. 199-200). Odysseus exclaims that he is whom he says he is and explains how Athena is the reason for his appearance ‘the goddess can transform me as she likes’ (Od. 16. 208).
In lines 189-192, we see Odysseus kissing his son and crying ‘tears pouring down his cheeks; he had been holding back till then’ the descriptive language or ekphrasis in this part shows that not only did his physical disguise drop, but also his emotional disguise, which he had on for twenty years. Even when he suffered so much loss and grief, Odysseus remained strong and with his guard constantly up, and when he finally reunited with his son, he was able to let down his guard and let his emotions consume him. This scene highlights how everything Odysseus has been through after being lost from home for so long, led up to this emotional moment he shared with his son.
In this passage, there is a lot of descriptive language and epithets that are used to describe characters. For example, Odysseus is described as ‘artful’ which means clever, and Homer desires to build Odysseus’ character as being smart throughout the poem, which portrays the hero Homer desires to represent. For Homer, intelligence holds greater significance than strength, as intelligence is what saved Odysseus and brought him back home to Ithaca, and this pushes him away from the stereotypical hero that is usually represented. Also, there is a more humane approach to the hero of this poem as the focus is on his personality and character rather than his appearance and strength. Appearance is also important, however, for Homer since there is a comparison in Odysseus’ appearance when he is disguised as a homeless beggar and then when Athena makes him look younger and dressed more eloquently. When he is a homeless beggar he is described as ‘ugly’ (Od. 16. 212) but when he is young and dressed in ‘princely clothes’ (Od. 16. 210) he is described as beautiful; portraying how significant it was for the Greeks to look presentable. Looking young means being healthy and beautiful which also translates to being god-like in Ancient Greek culture.
Furthermore, there is a lot of built-up emotion being released when Telemachus finally acknowledges and recognizes his father, and the emotion can be seen through the poetic literacy present in lines 214-220. We see Odysseus and Telemachus come together to share a deeply emotional moment where they’re both crying and releasing the feelings, they were retaining inside of them. Telemachus ‘hurled his arms round his father’ which shows how much he longed to hold Odysseus and how big of a loss it was for him to lose his father figure. Telemachus could finally be the little boy he was before his father left, and the responsibility he felt was released because his father was finally back to take matters into his own hands. Homer wanted to show Telemachus in this passage as a vulnerable man that can finally be sensitive now that Odysseus has returned. Homer portrays that vulnerability is part of being human and a man and that emotion is meant to be felt. ‘They both felt deep desire for lamentation’ (Od. 16. 215) is a very effective sentence because even though this isn’t a scene of loss and grief, Homer creates this juxtaposition, where gaining or retrieving something is like a loss to Odysseus and Telemachus. They feel so many deep emotions of relief and happiness upon finding each other, that they almost turn to desperation and grief. This sentence could also be Homer reflecting and bringing back all of the sorrow and pain they went through the past twenty years, and they’re so tired that they release all these negative emotions together since they withheld so much of that pain. Finally, this built-up of emotion from these two characters only makes us anticipate what will happen next because they, later on, begin to plan the killing of all the suitors, in which our two heroes feel they will regain their honor.
Moreover, there is a long Homer simile present in this passage where Telemachus and Odysseus ‘wailed with cries as shrill as birds, like eagles or vultures when the hunters have deprived them of fledglings who have not yet learned to fly’ (Od. 16. 216-218). This Homeric simile expresses once again a juxtaposition where a re-union for Homer is like losing something and grieving something. The Homeric simile compares two things that are unrelated to each other and compares with something the audience recognizes. In this case, a father-son reunion is familiar to the audience and is compared to birds' cries when the hunters deprive them of ‘fledglings’, something unfamiliar to the audience. Moreover, it’s intricate while also alluring comparison to make in such a scene, since comparing the cries of wild birds crying because they did not receive their meal, which was baby birds, with a father and son reunion, is peculiar. However, Homer makes it work as it sounds beautiful yet bizarre since the audience does know the feeling of being a wild predator being deprived of their food by a hunter, which is also a predator. These few lines could also be foreshadowing the death of the suitors which is what Odysseus and Telemachus desire the most, after reuniting; the birds are represented as the suitors that are smaller predators than the hunters, and the hunters represented as Odysseus and his son, which are stronger and bigger.
The Odyssey by Homer is a very interesting poem that represented a lot of themes surrounding appearance, divine intervention, disguises, honor/glory, and homecoming. The Homeric language is largely effective in establishing these themes and leading up to the re-union that holds great significance in the poem as Telemachus and Odysseus plan their revenge against the suitors together to finally regain their well-anticipated honor and glory by the end of the poem.
Puncher, Martin, et al., The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 4th ed., A, W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 504–505.
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