Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Homer’s Odyssey: Book 3

Telemachus and crew arrive on the shores of Pylos where Nestor’s people are sacrificing black bulls to Poseidon. Telemachus confesses to Athena that he feels unworthy of “interrogating an older man” (3.27), but Athena insists, “We’ll make him yield the secrets of his heart” (alternately: “broach the storehouse of his mind”) (3.20). Athena reassures Telemachus: “some of the words you’ll find within yourself, / the rest some power will inspire you to say” (3.29-30).

The obligatory rituals proceed, and Athena is pleased that Telemachus understands the cup-bearing decorum. After eating and drinking, only then is it time to find out who these visitors are. Nestor waxes nostalgic, recalling Achilles, Ajax, Patroclus. “But so many other things we suffered, past that count — / what mortal in this wide world could tell it all?” (3.126-127). (Uh, maybe Homer??)

Nestor praises Odysseus and recounts the departures from the fallen Troy. He also refers to Orestes’ avenging his father Agamemnon’s murder — a grim shadow of the potential crisis closer to home here. At the request, Nestor tells further the end of Agamemnon.

“When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more” (3.451), more ritualistic slaughter takes place: this time “Nestor’s son impetuous Thrasymedes / strode up close and struck — the ax chopped / the neck tendons through — / and the blow stunned / the heifer’s strength” (3.503ff). More gruesome dismemberment is described while Telemachus is being bathed and oiled by Nestor’s youngest daughter. They all eat and help along their eventual colon cancer, after which, “When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more” (3.550), Nestor’s son Pisistratus and Telemachus head out on chariot towards Sparta and Menelaus.

Odyssey: Book 4
Odyssey Index