The Odyssey, though named for the great warrior and story focus Odysseus, cannot be soley regarded as a single man’s journey. The growth in intellect, maturity, and strength the Odysseus undergoes is reflected distinctly in his son, Telemachus. In the first books, other characters continue to treat him much as a child, and in many respects, Telemachus still acts like one. The first few books illustrate the relationship between Telemachus and his father, a father he has barely known. When Odysseus left his wife and child, Telemachus was still an infant.
For his want of a father, Athena acts as a mentor to him; particularly when she gives him the courage to journey from his home in search of his father. Had he not the courage here, he could not have stood against the suitors’ wills in the final books. Telemachus’s emotional growth is key to the paralleling storylines. When Menelaus mentions his father, the young Telemachus breaks down in tears, betraying his immaturity. However, the pride he feels leaving Sparta hints at the courage he shows in later books, aiding Odysseus against the suitors.
Odysseus faces a similar situation. He, like Telemachus, worries about his family Penelope in particular and kingdom, possibly triggered by Proteus’ mention of Agamemnon, who was killed by his own wife. The titular hero of this epic romance laments his seeming fate and the deaths of his crew, but continues with the courage and hope of reaching home. It seems that Odysseus learns little, unlike Telemachus, but not by any fault of his own, I think. He may simply be the epitome of Greek standards, clever and noble as he often is, and actually has little room to grow.
For Telemachus, the goals he sets reflect the maturity he gains: to reach a level of adulthood and to stand by his father’s side, to protect his family and kingdom, and most importantly, to be respected as a man. At the story’s onset, Telemachus can bee seen as an inactive young prince. When the challenges rise, however, Telemachus himself rises to meet them. He challenges the suitors with his divinely-inspired courage, and, though not completely effective, he surprised them a great deal with his authority as he did with his own mother in later books.
Telemachus undoubtedly gains a new awareness, not only about his father, but also about the kingdom, his mother, and the role he needed to play. By the end of his long emotional journey, Telemachus realizes what it takes to be a man; a feat which could not have been possible without his escapades to Pylos and Sparta. The key moment, the point at which Telemachus exceeds even his own expectations if not dreams, comes when Penelope offers the challenge of Odysseus’ bow. Each of the suitors tries and fails, but Telemachus makes the same bid for his birthright; he could have strung the bow, but for his father’s signal not to.
Had Telemachus succeeded, he would have been fully grown, but at the mercy of the vengeful suitors. Odysseus’ revelation catches them off-guard enough to make his assault. Telemachus, we can safely assume, will someday assume his father’s place as hero and king of Ithaca, because he undergoes parallel ordeals and is a match in strength and courage. The Odyssey creates a parallel for readers, between Odysseus and Telemachus, father and son. Telemachus learns the role of his father, the king of Ithaca, in order to follow in his footsteps.
The two are compared in the poem from every aspect, Telemachus at home often acting as a distant foil for Odysseus. However, in analyzing The Odyssey, one may also presume that Homer had not intended for the Telemachus to be as great a hero as his father had. This may be due to the fact that he never fought in the Trojan War (his setting, unlike his father’s, is a time of peace); but more notably, although he has matured, Telemachus never has the opportunity to learn through hardship, like his father.