Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 4

By Homer

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Book 4

  • When Telemachos arrives, Menelaos is hosting a double wedding feast, and he serves them food even before finding out their names. Nice guy!
  • Telemachos is totally awed by the place, and he can't help but whisper that Menelaos.
  • Menelaos agrees; he was pretty happy to see it again after wandering the seas for seven years. But it's not all happy homecoming; he was pretty bummed to discover his brother Agamemnon murdered.
  • Also, he lost a lot of friends in the Trojan war.
  • Menelaos misses Odysseus more than anyone else does, he says (although we think Penelope is probably a good contender for that title).
  • And, oh, hey! Aren't you Telemachos, Odysseus' son?
  • Sure is. Telemachos is so bummed by hearing the King talk fondly about his father that he cries. Awkward silence.
  • Helen, Menelaos' wife (and BTW the woman that started the whole Trojan war to begin with by getting herself stolen) enters and breaks the silence tactfully by saying that Telemachos looks just like Odysseus.
  • Menelaos fondly recognizes Peisistratos as Nestor's son, and everyone gets back to eating.
  • Helen decides to drug the men's wine with an anodyne of forgetfulness, hoping to soothe away their sorrows, which—and correct us if we're wrong, but doesn't that means she's roofieing them?
  • After treating the wine, she serves it and tells funny stories about Odysseus.
  • Like this one time, Odysseus disguised himself as Trojan beggar—even beating himself up to make it look convincing—to get information from the Trojans. Ha!
  • Then Menelaos recounts the time they were inside the Trojan horse and Helen, whose loyalty apparently lay with the Trojans at the time, came around knocking on the horse and calling each man inside in the voice of his wife.
  • Odysseus saved everyone from giving themselves away by urging them into silence and even clapping his hands over one man's mouth.
  • Everyone enjoys these stories, plus they've been drugged, so Telemachos suggests they all go to sleep.
  • In the morning, Menelaos finally asks Telemachos why he has come, and Telemachos explains the sitch.
  • Menelaos isn't happy about the suitor situation. He tells Telemachos another story.
  • Once, when Menelaos was stranded on the island of Pharos, Eidothea, one of the resident nymphs, advised him to capture the god of the island—Proteus—and hold him captive.
  • Normally, this would be suicidal, and therefore a really bad idea, but in this case, it's the only way the god will tell them how to get off the island.
  • Eidothea helps disguise Menelaos and three of his men as seals. When Proteus surfaces to count his seal flock, they pounce on him and cling desperately while he shape-shifts into several different beings.
  • (Ever heard the word "protean"?)
  • Finally, Proteus reveals that Menelaos is trapped at Pharos because he didn't offer a proper sacrifice to Zeus before departing.
  • The only way he can appease the now-angry god is by going to the Nile River and making them an offering.
  • With the diagnosis out of the way, Menelaos asks Proteus for news of his Greek friends.
  • Proteus tells him that Aias (little Aias that is) has died for foolishly challenging the gods.
  • Mythological Context Lesson: there are two different characters named Aias (or Ajax, if you're feeling Latin-y) in Greek mythology, but they aren't related. This one here is called little Aias, and the other is called big Aias, or Telamonian Aias (his dad was a dude name Telamon).
  • The deal with little Aias is that he raped and killed Kassandra (a Trojan Princess) on the altar of Athene. This was a big no-no—both for obvious reasons (rape/ murder) and because altars were sacred spaces. Naturally, the gods killed him.
  • Next, we learn again that Agamemnon is dead.
  • Finally, what we've all been waiting for: Odysseus is being held as a prisoner of Kalypso and would really like to get home.
  • Menelaos is all, "Thanks, man" and books it off island. And that's it for his story.
  • Telemachos gets ready to head back to Pylos. Idiotically (if you ask us), Telemachos refuses horses and a chariot and wants a keepsake instead.
  • Menelaos gives him a silver bowl set. Oh, yeah, that'll come in handy. NOT.
  • In the meantime, back at Ithaka, Noëmon, the rich merchant who sold Mentor/Athene the ship, asks Antinoös when Telemachos will be back from Pylos because he needs his ship.
  • Apparently it was more of a lease than a sale.
  • Antinoös freaks out because he didn't know about Telemachos' voyage at all. (Or else he wasn't listening when Telemachos TOLD THEM ABOUT IT at the council meeting.) Mostly, he just gets all riled up because he's a jerk.
  • So he calls a meeting with all the other suitors. Since Telemachos has been making their parasitic lifestyle so difficult and also they all pretty much hate him, the men decide to sail out to sea, ambush the young man on his way home, and send him to his death.
  • Nice, guys.
  • Town crier Medon (we so wish that job hadn't gone out of style) overhears this and makes a not-so-public announcement to Penelope, who freaks out. Justifiably.
  • She didn't know about the voyage either and laments wildly—first for her lost Odysseus, then for her son who is about to die.
  • Eurykleia, the old nurse, feels guilty about concealing the journey from Penelope and begs her mistress to pray to Athene for Telemachos' sake.
  • Penelope does, and Athene hears her. (She's got good ears, that goddess.)
  • Meanwhile, down at the docks, the suitors have set sail.
  • Athene, pitying Penelope, sends an image of the queen's sister—Iphthime—to her in her sleep. Iphthime assures her sister that Telemachos will come home safely. When Penelope doesn't believe her, the hallucinatory sister reveals that he has Athene's help.
  • Penelope, all reassured by this, asks for news on Odysseus. Before answering, Iphthime fades away.
  • Penelope wakes up feeling as fresh as a daisy, while the suitors wait in ambush. We suspect this won't end well for them.

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