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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 4

Summary

Telemachus and Peisistratus reach the city of Lacedaemon in Sparta and drive to Menelaus' house, where they are identified as traveling strangers. Menelaus is busy feasting, but he welcomes them and looks after them. He tells them about his own travels and his grief at the sad fate of his friends at Troy, especially that of Odysseus, who he is not sure is alive or dead. Telemachus sheds tears at the mention of his father, and Menelaus wonders whether to question him about his family now or wait until he is ready to speak. Helen, Menelaus' wife (whose abduction by Paris was the cause of the Trojan War), appears in the hall and notes a distinct resemblance to Odysseus in Telemachus' features. At this, Peisistratus introduces himself and Telemachus to Menelaus, and together they all lament the fate of Odysseus and Peisistratus' brother, Antilochus. Helen casts a soothing drug into their wine and then tells them how Odysseus had entered the Trojan city in a beggar's disguise. Menelaus in turn relates the famous Trojan horse episode and applauds Odysseus' cleverness. They finally retire for the night.

The next morning, Telemachus tells Menelaus how his house is being misused by the suitors and asks for news of his father. Menelaus recounts the long tale of his encounter at Pharos with the god Proteus, the old man of the sea, who told him the fates of his comrades. Odysseus, Menelaus recounts, is alive but being kept prisoner at the nymph Calypso's house at Ogygia. Menelaus asks Telemachus to stay longer at his palace, but the young man refuses.

At Ithaca, Antinous and Eurymachus are told that Telemachus has indeed left for Pylos. They are angered and hatch a plot to kill him on his way back home. Penelope's herald, Medon, overhears them and tells her of their plan. She is surprised to learn that her son is not at home and is deeply worried about his safety. As she laments, Eurycleia asks her to pray to Athena. Penelope does, and the goddess consoles her by sending her a dream in which her sister Iphthime assures her that Telemachus is safe. Meanwhile, the suitors sail to Asteris, a little isle, in order to ambush Telemachus.

Notes

Just after this Book, Odysseus shall be introduced in person, but for now his heroic qualities are highlighted even more by praise from Menelaus and Helen. The reader has heard so much about him by now that there is a curiosity to see the brave hero in action, which is satisfied from Book 5 onwards.


Telemachus' growing maturity is a theme of this epic, and part of his instruction occurs through the stories that he hears from Nestor, Menelaus, and Helen. These tales go back to the heroic world of Troy, as when Helen tells how she recognized Odysseus when he came to spy disguised as a beggar, or forward to the world of marvels, as when Menelaus tells how he tricked Proteus, the old man of the sea, into revealing Odysseus' fate. The concrete information about Odysseus' tearful existence at Calypso's isle creates a growing assurance in his return and heightens the reader's anticipation of his triumph.

The rich house at Sparta first appears imposing, but it soon reveals the sad adventures of which it has been a part. Menelaus has lost his brother and his friends, and neither his wealth nor Helen can make up for the loss. Helen's portrayal is more vivid than that or Nestor or Menelaus. She is a woman of intensity and of powers beyond human coping. Although she is divine, she has no peace, since she is filled with sorrow and guilt. Telemachus sees the contrast between her and the long-suffering and faithful Penelope; he senses that his mother will eventually earn her peace.

While at Ithaca, the suitors are sufficiently afraid of Telemachus to plot his death. This evil decision justifies the necessity of their eventual punishment and slaughter. Penelope's dismay at the danger to her son's life humanizes her. At the same time, Eurycleia shows her worth by acting more rationally, asking her to pray to Athena instead of needlessly crying. The goddess gets into action once again by consoling Penelope through the dream she sends her.

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