Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 3

By Homer

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Book 3

  • At dawn the next day, Telemachos arrives in Pylos to find the citizens making sacrifices to Poseidon.
  • They tend to do that a lot, and it's probably not unrelated to the two key facts: Poseidon is both powerful and highly temperamental.
  • Telemachos is nervous about having to deliver a speech (which you had to do whenever you arrived anywhere, it seems) in front of nobility like Nestor, but Mentor/Athene encourages him: she tells him to have faith in himself because the gods favor him.
  • This is a good thing to hear—especially in ancient Greece.
  • Still, before any speeches are made, the Ithakans are invited to a sacrificial feast.
  • Peisistratos, a son of Nestor, gives wine to Mentor/Athene and asks him to make a prayer to Poseidon.
  • Mentor/Athene prays to Poseidon to honor Nestor and his sons and his kingdom and then fulfills the request herself—because she's a goddess.
  • After they feast, it's time to find out where the Ithakans came from and what they're after.
  • Telemachos, all jazzed up for his big speech, introduces them and asks for news about Odysseus (whom Nestor fought alongside at Troy).
  • Nestor, reminded of the Trojan War, laments how long and difficult it was. He also says some nice things about Odysseus and tells Telemachos that he takes after his dad.
  • And then it's more story time.
  • Nestor details that, after their success at Troy, the Greeks had some trouble getting back home—the gods (ahem, Athene) weren't cooperating.
  • Menelaos and Agamemnon, two brothers and also two Greek kings, argued as brothers (and kings) tend to do.
  • Menelaos decided to take his fleet and leave Troy immediately while Agamemnon stayed behind, making sacrifices to appease Athene.
  • The army, couldn't decide unanimously which man to follow, so they split up.
  • Odysseus sided with Menelaos and took his ships to sea—and then he changed his mind.
  • Heading back to Troy to show loyalty to Agamemnon, he took half of Menelaos' ships with him.
  • Bad move, Odysseus: Menelaos and the remainder of the ships, including Nestor, safely made their way home.
  • Agamemnon, as everyone knows, came home only to be killed by his scheming wife Klytaimestra and her lover Aigisthos. (This is the murder the gods were discussing at the very beginning of the poem.)
  • Telemachos says he envies Orestes for taking revenge and wishes the gods would help him avenge himself similarly on the suitors.
  • Nestor reminds him that Odysseus was a great favorite of Athene and that there is hope yet that he might come home.
  • Eh, says Telemachos. He has a hard time believing the gods are on his side.
  • You're wrong, says Mentor/ Athene. Telemachos underestimates the gods. After all, they can save a man just by wishing it.
  • Telemachos is really more interested in Agamemnon's death than philosophical debate, so Nestor tells the story:
  • Klytaimestra, Agamemnon's wife, has an affair with Aigisthos while her husband's away. While all this adultery is going on, Agamemnon's brother Menelaos is stranded in Egypt, where he can't exact vengeance.
  • Agamemnon comes home and is promptly killed by his treacherous wife and her equally treacherous lover.
  • The evil pair reigns for seven years in Agamemnon's (former) kingdom of Mykene.
  • In the eighth year, Orestes, Agamemnon's son, comes "back from exile" and kills Klytaimestra and Aigisthos.
  • On the funeral day of the treacherous couple, Menelaos finally arrives home. He's quite sad to find his brother is dead.
  • The end.
  • Having finished his story, Nestor warns Telemachos not to stay away from home too long, since the suitors are hanging out unchaperoned back there.
  • Well, except that he really needs to check in with King Menelaos at Sparta.
  • As Telemachos and Mentor/Athene are heading back towards the ships, Nestor offers them all beds for the night. More of that good Greek hospitality.
  • Telemachos accepts, and Athene finally reveals herself by turning into an eagle. She decides to stay and watch over Telemachos' crew while he speeds to Sparta.
  • Nestor is awed that she is helping Telemachos and promises to make a sacrifice of a golden-horned heifer to her. (The gods love a good steak.)
  • At dawn, Nestor arrives with his sons and makes good on his word.
  • They perform a sacrifice (yes, another one) and Nestor invites Telemachos' whole crew to the following feast.
  • Afterwards, he provides Telemachos horses so he can go to Sparta. Nestor's son Peisistratos accompanies him to keep an eye on the horses.
  • Road trip! Two days of fun chariot-traveling follow.

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