Telemachus, last of a very odd line (part 1)


New Member
Hello friends,

I am a new member of this forum; as a researcher on ancient myths and legends, I would like to share some of my thoughts and theories with you.

Readers of Homer's Odyssey have become conditioned to expect nothing but heroism, nobility, loyalty and keen benevolent intelligence from Odysseus/Ulysses, glorified protagonist of this epic poem. Yet few non-specialists realize that the idealized Homeric version is very different from what pre-Homeric myths have to say about Odysseus: dark tales of treachery, violence and the most cynical infidelity that anyone could imagine. What is more, few people beyond etymologists know that the meaning of the name Odysseus is "hateful"/"hated".

According to certain poems from the Epic Cycle (all of which have pre-Homeric, probably Mycenaean origins), this man called Odysseus was not indeed the son of Laertes, but rather of Sisyphus (yes, that same chap who was punished by the Olympians by having to eternally push a heavy boulder up a slope). Now, this Sisyphus had the reputation of being one of the craftiest scoundrels on Earth: and his offspring Odysseus certainly took after him! Odysseus' maternal grandfather, Autolycus, was another such wily rogue; in fact, he and Sisyphus were constant rivals for the first prize in trickery! Both were vulgar, unprincipled men, local chiefs who ruled by might, not right; they, and Odysseus, represented a new generation of rude raiders, bullies and pirates who sought male-oriented political dominance in Greece of the late 13th century B.C., where the matriarchal and matrilineal system still largely prevailed.

Homer lived approximately 4 centuries after the fall of Troy, at a historical time when patriarcal practises were already firmly established. The bard who wrote the Odyssey would have had only a very foggy notion of what society was like in Mycenaean times. Commissioned, probably, by the ruling family of Ithaca to compose a long epic poem in order to magnify the deeds of their "ancestor", Odysseus, Homer obviously received crystal clear instructions to whitewash or utterly cancel all the negative personality aspects of Sisyphus' roguish son. Homer obeyed; in spite of certain places in his poem where he simply could not distort the original versions...which were simply too well known by the public...the picture which he painted of Odysseus is glowing : that of a loving, devoted son, husband and father; a staunch defender of the oppressed, in the name of equity; a brave, stalwart, perservering warrior and traveller who never let himself be daunted in the face of danger and adversity.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'll continue on this (very long) theme in my next post, revealing in particular the role which Telemachus played in his family history.

Please send comments!