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Telemachus in the Bow Contest in Book 21 of the Odyssey

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  • 『オデュッセイア』21巻の弓競技におけるテーレマコス
  • オデュッセイア 21カン ノ ユミ キョウギ ニ オケル テーレマコス

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In the scene of the bow contest in Book 21 of the Odyssey, several questions are raised, among which are why Telemachus joined the contest for choosing the husband of Penelope, and what he really means by his speech at 21. 113-7. It is the aim of this paper to consider how the motif (story pattern) of "the conflict between father and son" is working behind this scene, and how the poet of the Odyssey incorporated this motif into his story. In the first section, the characterisation of Telemachus is looked at. The main feature of his identity that is given emphasis is the son who is like his father. In the first four books of the Odyssey, the emphasis is on the similarity of his appearance to his father, as Telemachus is still a powerless youth at this stage. But at the same time, it is hinted at that he is to become a true hero like his father. Viewed from this context, the narrative that he could have strung his father's bow if Odysseus had not given a warning nod and stopped him (Od. 21. 128-9) shows that Telemachus is now similar to his father in power as well. Since no proof of identification is shown to Telemachus for him to recognise Odysseus, this episode functions as a proof of their identity as father and son; stringing his father's bow would be the most definite demonstration of their similarity. In the second section, Telemachus' speech (21. 113-7) is examined, where he talks of the reason for his joining the contest. The ambiguities in his speech are (1) whether ου (115) should be taken with μοι αχνυμενω (115) or with λειποι (116); and (2) what αεθλια (117) actually means. On the first point, it is concluded that ου (115) goes with λειποι (116), and on the second, it is argued that αεθλια (117) denotes "the prize" instead of "the contest" or "the weapon". Thus Telemachus joins the contest in order to gain Penelope and the kingship of Ithaca. The third section points out the reasons why the motif of father-son conflict could have intruded into this epic. The relevant factors are: (1) the poet's knowledge of the episode in the Telegony, in which Odysseus is killed by his son by accident; (2) the close contact between the Trojan and Theban epic cycles, as is shown by mention of Teiresias (Od. 11. 90-151) and Oedipus (Il. 23. 679-80; Od. 11. 271-80), in which the motif of father-son conflict is the basic pattern of the story; (3) the parallel relationship of Telemachus and Telegonus to Odysseus; (4) the widespread motif of father-son conflict throughout the Indo-European world. Thus, in this scene of the bow contest, the poet of the Odyssey seems to have alluded to the story of Odysseus' death by his own son, but also presents us with the new relationship between father and son, narrating Telemachus' acceptance of his father's warning nod. This interpretation of their momentary crisis and reconciliation well explains the episode of the two eagles, who come flying close together and depart in the same way, but in the meantime harm each other (Od. 2. 146-56). Although this episode has been regarded as difficult to interpret, it fits well with the situation of Odysseus and Telemachus at the bow contest; the son is now equivalent in strength to his father, which might cause dangerous tension between them, but they are reconciled at once and establish a new relationship. In this way, the motif of father-son conflict seems to underlie the bow contest scene.


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