The question of what it takes to become a man is one that has existed for millennia. Naturally the answer to that question changes, often significantly, depending on where one asks. Even in mythology, this is a popular subject, and shown very clearly in Homer’s epic The Odyssey and Virgil’s The Aeneid. While both tales focus on fathers, the stories of their sons also hold great importance, and each of the sons has a coming of age story within their father’s. But for the Greeks and soon-to-be Romans, becoming a man can mean slightly different things.
Telemachus, the son of the great Odysseus, has to learn, for the most part, to become a man in the absence of his father. The son of Aeneas, lulus, also grows up in the midst of trouble and war. And while in some ways, their stories parallel their fathers’, in the end both learn to step out of their father’s shadows and embrace their own destinies. Becoming a man, so to speak, then has no one simple answer, but is a combination of cultural ideas and independence. At the start of The Odyssey, Telemachus is on the cusp of adulthood, and he really just needs a push to start his journey there.
Athena is that push, something obvious even before reading the first line of the epic considering the title for Book 1 is “Athena Inspires the Prince”. Prior to meeting the goddess, Telemachus lacks much of what might make a man save for appearance, considering his age. He lacks oratory skills and command, and he must gather the necessary mental and character strength to prove himself a man to those around him. Athena spurs Telemachus to action, giving him advice to find his father, or news of him at the very least, then advises him to find a way to rid his house of the suitors plaguing it.
As if to drive home the point that Telemachus must grow up, the goddess says “You must not cling to your boyhood any longer—it’s time you were a man” (1. 341-342). From this point on, Telemachus starts to become more of a man, shown mainly through his words and actions, as well as how his relationship with his mother changes. He seems to immediately have more confidence in himself and his position as de facto ruler of his home. He tells his mother off and sends her to her room and asserts his dominance over the household, saying “So, mother, go back to your quarters. Tend to your own tasks…
As for giving orders, men will see to that, but I most of all: I hold the reins of power in this house” (1. 409-414). Far from stopping there, he reproaches the suitors and even issues a challenge to them in the form of an assembly of leaders; his speech has evidently changed with his meeting Athena, since the suitors are impressed by it, as “they all bit their lips, amazed the prince could speak with so much daring” (1. 438-439).
But oratory skills and splendor lavished by the gods do not a man make, something made clear during Telemachus’ speech to the gathered assembly during which he even describes himself as “a boy inept in battle” (2. 6). And though he otherwise impressed with his newfound oratory skills, by the end of his speech, he still is perhaps too emotional, as he bursts into tears at the end, and while it garners pity for him, it is not enough for anything to be done about the suitors. But after the assembly, Athena again encourages him and he makes his trip for news of his father. He faces danger from the suitors and their attempts to assassinate him, but through divine intervention, again, their hopes of his death are dashed.
During his journey, his oratory skills continue to improve, and he clearly sounds like his father, as Nestor says “I look at you and a sense of wonder takes me. Your way with words—it’s just like his—I’d swear no youngster could ever speak like you, so apt, so telling” (3. 138-140). Menelaus shares a similar sentiment, saying “Well said, my friend… Not even an older man could speak and do as well. Your father’s son you are —your words have all his wisdom” (4. 227-229). But Telemachus needs something else to fully become a man-his father. It ecomes clear throughout the epic that Telemachus looks, speaks, and acts like his father, which in a way underscores his transformation into a man.
With his father’s return and what becomes of the situation with this suitors, Telemachus finally really becomes both a warrior and a man. Even though during this time he follows his father, it is in an effort to learn when he could not for twenty years. Thus Telemachus matures, perhaps the most important part of becoming of man, and while similar to his father, as sons generally are, he also becomes his own person, having earned that right, in a way, by becoming a man in the first place.
For lulus in The Aeneid, his journey to adulthood takes rather more time. When Aeneas flees with his family from burning Troy, lulus is a child, and for him to become a man, time must first pass. He holds to his father’s hand as they leave troy, and his life is among the bargaining chips that both his mother Venus and wife Creusa use to urge Aeneas to leave Troy. Throughout the rest of the story, lulus grows up, going where his father goes with the rest of the Trojans.
Of the first real clues to this are when he takes part in a hunt while the Trojans are in Carthage, and he does well, even hoping for better prey: “But young Ascanius, deep in the valley, rides his eager mount and relishing every stride, outstrips them all… but his heart is racing, praying—if only they’d send… some frothing wild boar or a lion” (4. 195-200). During the funeral games for Anchises, lulus show how he’s becoming a warrior by leading his squadrons, with himself riding a better horse than the rest, in a parade followed by a mock battle to honor his grandfather, and is described as “handsomest captain of them all… iding a mount from Sidon” (5. 627-628). lulus shortly after takes some responsibility, leading the charge to the burning ships. Much later in battle, lulus takes on a role of leadership in his father’s absence. When Nisus and Euryalus leave, the latter asks lulus to take care of his mother and lulus shows maturity in agreeing to, thinking of his own father and mother.
Then during battle, lulus shows how much he has grown from his mock battles as “then… Ascanius shot for the first time in war the flying arrow he’s saved till now for wild game… ow his bow-hand cut down Numanus” (9. 670-674). In doing so he lifts the spirits of the rest of the Trojans. Throughout the rest of the book, lulus continues to grow and for him, becoming a man means becoming a warrior and leader of his people. For as important as Aeneas is to The Aeneid, it is lulus who is often mentioned when Virgil “prophesizes” the future of Rome. Even in Book 1, when love pacifies Venus by revealing the future to her, he says “lulus… will fill out his own reign thirty sovereign years… raise up Alba Longa’s mighty ramparts” (1. 321-325).
In the same passage, when Jove speaks of Julius Caesar, he makes sure to mention that the name comes from lulus. When Aeneas’ father takes him through the realm of the dead, he says “behold these people, your own Roman people. Here is Caesar and all the line of lulus… Here is the man… Caesar Augustus! ” (6. 910-914). Thus when talking about the greatest Romans, Anchises makes it a point to say that they come from lulus. Even when Aeneas’ shield is described, “there is the story of Italy, Rome in all her triumphs… all in order the generations born of Ascanius’ stock” (8. 38-741).
Thus lulus’ in journey to become a man, he is also starting to embrace his destiny, even if he does so unwillingly. For it is lulus that Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar trace their ancestries back to among the founders of Rome. lulus then easily removes himself from his father’s shadow, at least in the history Virgil shows will come to pass, as a leader of Rome and ancestor to some of its most-revered rulers. Both Telemachus and lulus mature and become men in a sense during their journeys, somewhat alongside their fathers.
Telemachus’ own journey is inherently tied to his father’s, as he needs his father to return to banish the suitors from his house. Like his father, Telemachus has the help of the gods on his side, specifically Athena, partly because she also is interested in helping Odysseus. But without her, he would likely not have succeeded in growing up, at least not in the same way. Still, it the end, he does become a man and his journey to do so ends with the deaths of the suitors and the peace made with their family.
From there, Telemachus can follow his own path. ulus’ journey likewise follows his father, mostly since he is still relatively young and follows his father alongside the rest of the surviving Trojans. Like his father and Telemachus, lulus also receives some diving help, such as when he fires his arrow at Remulus when he prays Jove, who grants his prayer and thus helps him on his own quest to become a man, and even Apollo offers praise to the boy on his courage. With his growing maturity throughout the epic, lulus shows that he can be the founder of Rome that Virgil talks about with such reverence in his prophecies.
Thus both grow to be their own person after following and learning from their fathers and gaining help from the gods. Becoming a man then is not a simple task. It takes courage and hard work. For Telemachus to become a man, he must improve his oratory, and thus leadership, skills. He must demonstrate courage and dominance over his household, but he must also briefly learn directly from his father and take revenge on those who have wronged his home and family.
With their deaths and peace made, Telemachus becomes his own man with his own story to tell after standing in his father’s shadow for twenty years. Tulus by comparison grows up on the move, following his father and the other Trojans as they search for a new home. He becomes a man through his growing maturity and in becoming a warrior and strong leader who can be among the great founders of Rome that proud rulers like Julius Casear and Augustus Casear can trace their lineage back to. Thus both become men, albeit in slightly different ways, and both gain their own legends to make.