Athena’s Aid in The Odyssey
A discussion of the role Athena plays supporting Odysseus and Telemachus in Homer's Odyssey
Where in The Odyssey is there proof that Athena is standing up for Telemachus or Odysseus when no one else would?
For much of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus is compelled to struggle alone through perilous situations as he attempts to journey home to Ithaca and Poseidon vengefully endeavours to hinder his passage over the seas. Although he does encounter a variety of benefactors, the most consistent aid, both to him and his son Telemachus, is rendered by the goddess Athena. This support becomes evident almost immediately upon the epic’s commencement, where Zeus is depicted in Olympus as a brooding misanthrope – his disregard for humanity being incurred by the mortal heroes’ constant cycle of vengeance. It is here that Athena takes advantage of Poseidon’s absence by petitioning her father to end Odysseus’ exile – only because of this does Zeus consent to send Hermes to Ogygia to free Odysseus from the captivity of Calypso. This initiates the train of events that allows his return home.
Straight after this, Athena also begins her patronage of Telemachus, descending to Ithaca, where Odysseus’ son is similarly aidless and lost, beset by the entertainments of the avaricious Suitors. First, in the disguise of Mentes, she inspires Telemachus to seek out information on his father, then as Mentor she accompanies him on his voyage to Pylos and beyond. It is this stage of the narrative that the modern use of the term ‘mentor’, referring to a trusted older teacher and supporter, comes from.
In the following episodes of the story which focus upon Odysseus, Athena repeatedly provides him with support in a variety of forms which, though usually oblique, are sufficient to allow him to overcome his trials. The whole poem culminates in a ‘dea ex machina’ where Athena, in her true divine appearance, intervenes to end the vendetta between Odysseus and the Suitors’ families, bringing peace to Ithaca under the hero’s rule.