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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 3: LORD OF THE WESTERN APPROACHES

Book 3 begins at dawn. Nestor's people are gathered on the shore to sacrifice respectfully to the gods and then to feast.

As Telemakhos approaches Nestor, you can tell from what Athena says to him that he must be feeling awkward in front of this wise, old, famous king, a friend of his father but someone he hasn't ever met. He's afraid he won't say the right thing. This is another test of his ability to handle things as an adult.

Observe Peisistratos, Nestor's youngest son, graciously makes the guests welcome. His request that the disguised Athena offer the prayer sets up a humorously ironic situation. Athena is offering a prayer to herself, which she then grants.

NOTE: These well-mannered people make the guests comfortable and give them wine and food. Talk and questions come later. Their ways are different from ours. We usually want to know who somebody is and what he does for a living before we're willing to invite him to dinner. Notice how Telemakhos handles himself when he's finally asked why he's come.



Homer whets your appetite for Odysseus' appearance by having other characters talk about him. Nestor says, "He had no rivals, your father, at the tricks of war." Nestor also compliments Telemakhos on being "tall and well set-up," well built. This statement about his manly appearance must make him feel good, especially after so many insults from the suitors.

Nestor has no direct news of Odysseus, but he tells what happened to other Greeks after the war. He relates the story of Agamemnon's murder, which you heard at the start of Book 1. He says Menelaos was detained in Egypt on the way home, but managed to make a fortune while stuck there. Nestor suggests that Telemakhos visit Menelaos for further news, and offers a chariot, horses, and the company of his son, Peisistratos. Athena says Telemakhos should accept and that she will stay with the ship. Athena leaves the company quickly, in the form of a seahawk, and all now realize that Athena has been among them. A young cow with gold foil on her horns will be sacrificed the next day in Athena's honor.

Another dawn. The sacrifice is carried out, involving flowers, water, and a basket of barley. Nestor's son Thrasymedes does the slaughtering himself, not a priest or servant, and the butchering details are vivid. You might ask yourself why the women wail with joy.

At the close of the book, after another feast, Telemakhos and Peisistratos drive off in high style in the chariot lent them by Nestor. Compare Telemakhos' experiences with Nestor to those in Ithaka among the suitors. He has been accepted and admired. He has spoken and acted well. He drives off in the equivalent of Nestor's Cadillac with a friend of his own age and class. Homer never says, "Telemakhos was happy," but he doesn't need to. You can feel that relief and happiness when the thoroughbreds with their streaming manes prance off.

NOTE: A storyteller has to be aware of pace, of building the action to a climax and not letting the tension flag. Telemakhos' visit at Pylos was full of satisfactions, but compared to the visit with Menelaos, it was fairly low key. Menelaos is younger, richer, and more expressive than Nestor. It was his wife Helen's abduction that caused the Trojan War. It was his brother who was murdered when he returned from that war. Menelaos' friends suffered and died on his account. He grieves for them. He doesn't say it, but perhaps he grieves so much because he feels responsible.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer
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