Telemachus Journey from Boyhood to Hero: Homer’s Odyssey Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

As described by Arnold van Gennep in “The rites of Passage,” the concept of the rites of passage is a ritual event used to signify the process of transition of a person from one social or cultural status to another (Gennep 23).

Arnold van Gennep states that the concept of rites of passage is a general socialization theory whose aim is to mark, describe, and note the milestones that an individual makes in his or her life. Van Gennep introduced the “three universal” phases for all the rites of passage- separation, transition (liminality) and incorporation (reintegration) (Mahdi, Christopher and Meade 36).

According to this concept, an individual must lose his or her identity in the stage of separation. An abrupt process ruptures an individual’s relationship with the members of the society, the family, and the community. In most cases, the person has to be alienated or move across social and geographical boundaries.

The transition phase is the intermediary period in which the individual, after losing the identity, is prepared for the final stage of incorporation back to the community. There is a lot of confusion, education, and testing, and the individual may lose name, language, disguise, or behavior (Mahdi, Christopher, and Meade 36). The final stage involves the movement of individuals from isolation by returning to the community but possessing a new identity.

In the initial stages, Homer presents Telemachus as a young and relatively weak individual. However, the reader is able to forecast Telemachus’ ability to exercise authority in his father’s household. In Book 1, Penelope (Telemachus’ mother) attempts to dictate the type of song to be performed for the 118 suitors in her household. However, despite being a minor, Telemachus is able to admonish her, which signals Telemachus’ future as a hero and respectable man in his society.

Nevertheless, despite seeing the economic and social destruction the suitors are making in his father’s house, Telemachus is not able to drive out them. Yet, he calls an assembly threatening to remove them. In fact, he accepts the fact that he is immature when he says, “I am a weakling… knowing nothing of valor” (Armstrong 131). It indicates his weakness and inability to fit the social definition of a hero. Therefore, a rite of passage is required to transform Telemachus from childhood to manhood and a hero or respectable man.

To achieve this, Telemachus must leave for Pylos and Sparta, specifically to search for his father. At this point, Homer attempts to describe a clear definition of the social definition of a respectable man- that of an individual who has a strong link with the father as well as an individual with courage and ability to undertake difficult and challenging tasks. Here, it is clear that the first stage of the rite of passage is presented- Telemachus must be separated from his family and society “to find his identity.”

While traveling through Sparta and Pylos, Telemachus must meet new societies, cultures, and traditions. He must learn new things and find a new identity, as described in Van Gennep’s concept. He learns of the Greek concept of social contract or “Xenia,” the relationship between the hosts and guests. The host must provide for the guests, but the guests must respect the host.

He also learns of his father’s cunning, heroic nature and braveness in the Trojan War. Here, Homer indicates that a hero or honorable man must be brave, courageous, and patriotic. In addition, he learns that Odysseus is alive, as described in the story by Menelaus, the king of Sparta.

In the final stage, Telemachus returns home after undergoing a two-year transition period in which he finds a new identity as described in Van Gennep’s concept. He leaves Sparta confident of himself and ready to face the suitors, who have already ganged up to ambush and kill him before he completes his rite of passage.

However, the transition period is accomplished, and the young Telemachus becomes a hero and a respectable man, thanks to the rite of passage. Therefore, it is clear that the rite of passage has been used as a transition period to make Telemachus fit into the Greek perception of an honorable man or hero.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Thomas. The Human Odyssey: Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life. New York: Sterling Publishing Inc., 2008. Print.

Gennep, van Arnold. The rites of passage. New York: Psychology Press, 2006. Print

Mahdi, Louise Carus, Nancy Geyer Christopher and Michael Meade. Crossroads: The Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage. New York: Open Court Publishing, 2010. Print.

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