In book 16, Telemachos has returned back home from his arduous journey in search for Odysseus. He is unable to find the whereabouts of his biological father, thus, he immediately greets his fatherly figure Eumaios- he is more than happy to embrace this man who has been there for him in Odysseus’ absence. As Odysseus sees his son embracing his beloved “father” Eumaios, he feels temporary relief because he knows that Telemachos has had protective guidance for the past twenty years, but he also becomes emotional and wants Telemachos to share the same love for himself as he does for Eumaios. Although it seems as if Odysseus is happy with the relationship between Telemachos and Eumaios, his true feelings reveal that he is actually heartbroken because he believes that he has been replaced, and he is upset since he has not been able to perform his fatherly duties.
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When Telemachos arrives in the courtyard, he is quickly welcomed by Eumaios, and as Odysseus brokenheartedly examines the relationship between father and son, he feels as if he has been replaced by another man. Immediately upon his arrival, Eumaios stops what he is doing and greets his son with love and affection. Eumaios “[kisses] his head, and [kisses] too his beautiful shining/eyes…And as a father, with heart full of love, welcomes his only/ and grown son for whose sake he has undergone many hardships/” (Homer 16. 15-18). When the narrator explains that Eumaios “kisses his head” and “kisses his beautiful shining eyes” it is understandable that Odysseus is saddened. No father would want to see his very own child embracing somebody else as affectionately as Eumaios does with Telemachos. He is naturally inclined to kiss and hug his own son after a long, twenty years of separation. Since he is unable to welcome Telemachos with open arms, he also does not want anybody else take over his fatherly right. It is apparent that he feels pain because he wants to be the one Telemachos addresses, but since Eumaios has been there through his adolescence, their bond is much stronger. This is not the only indication that shows why Odysseus feels replaced. When Eumaios says, “You have come, Telemachos, sweet light; …But come now into the house, dear child, so that I can pleasure/my heart with looking at you again…” (16. 23-26). When Eumaios addresses his son as the “sweet light” of his life, a powerful connection is seen between the two because a “sweet light” refers to a pleasant brightness- this pleasant brightness that has illuminated Eumaios’ spirit is his so-called son, Telemachos, who has come for Eumaios’ sake. As Odysseus watches a weeping Eumaios caress his son, it hurts him to see how his relationship with Telemachos is far from fatherly. He knows that his own absence is the reason which causes the distance with between father and son, yet what pains him even more is knowing that he cannot quickly regain his fatherly status, for it will take him time to build a stable and loving relationship with Telemachos. Any father would hope to have a wonderful connection with his son, but knowing that he has been replaced makes Odysseus feel heartbroken and dejected, therefore, he wants to establish a relationship with his son, just like Telemachos has established with Eumaios.
Not only is Odysseus heartbroken because he feels as if somebody else has taken his place, yet he is also troubled by the fact that he has not been able to successfully perform his fatherly duties and guide Telemachos from adolescence to adulthood. When Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachos, he dolefully says, “But I am your father, for whose sake you are always grieving/as you look for violence from others and endure hardships” (16. 188-189). When Odysseus claims that Telemachos is always “grieving” and must “endure hardships”, he expresses his true remorse and regret for all the trouble Telemachos has faced in his absence. Obviously, no father would want to cause his own son any type of pain, but in this case, Odysseus acknowledges that it is his fault for all the difficulties Telemachos has gone through- had he been there for Telemachos to guide him, he would have been able to protect him from any injury or harm. No child deserves to grow up without both parents’ presence in his or her life, and because Odysseus was not part of Telemachos’ life for a long time, it is reasonable that he feels guilty and blames himself for all that his son has had to undergo. This is not the only way which shows Odysseus’ regret for not performing his obligations. The narrator shows an emotional scene between father and son when “they cry shrill in a pulsing voice, even more than the outcry/of birds, ospreys or vultures with hooked claws, whose children/were stolen away by the men of the fields…” (16. 216-218). The very detailed visual imagery shows how even birds, who express utmost pain when their children are taken away from them, cannot surpass the pain that Odysseus reveals for his son. This metaphor parallels the grief expressed from a bird in comparison to the grief expressed in human nature- they share a common emotion of pain. The narrator stresses that even if “the children [of these birds] were stolen away” , the pain would be not exceed that of a father’s, who has been separated from his son for nearly half of his life. The parallel between the two distinct situations shows how Odysseus is apologetic towards Telemachos. As they lament and mourn for each other, Odysseus shares the circumstances which hindered him from being there and experiencing Telemachos’ growth and achievements- for the first time, they share a bond that has not been seen before. Brokenhearted Odysseus has missed out on a big part of Telemachos’ life and has not been able to fulfill his obligations as a father, thus, he must put forth all efforts to regain Telemachos’ trust and faith.
Odysseus finally encounters his son after twenty years of separation. This encounter may not have been the way Odysseus ideally wanted it to be, but in due course, it is an eye opening experience which allows for Odysseus to understand how much Telemachos longs for his father; after experiencing the pain of seeing somebody else taking his fatherly authority and performing his paternal duties, Odysseus understands the need to come into Telemachos’ life and take responsibility- he will try anything in his power to recuperate his position as a role model, inspiration, and ultimately, a father.
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