The Odyssey Read-Along Book III & IV

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book III

Telemachos and Athene arrive at Pylos, the home of Nestor.  After Telemachos asks Nestor for news of his father, Nestor describes their homecoming; how a quarrel between Agamemnon and Menelaos sprang up and how half of the forces left with Menelaos, including Nestor and Odysseus.  However, another quarrel began and Odysseus turned back, while Nestor continued on the windswept ocean and, with many prayers and sacrifices, made it home safely without knowing what happened to the other Achaians.  As Athene showed favour towards Odysseus in Troy, so Nestor hopes she will show favour towards his son by helping him rid his house of the unwanted suitors.  When Telemachos states that even the gods couldn’t help him with that problem, he is scolded by Athene whereupon he reveals that he believes his father dead.  Nestor then relates the stories he has learned later of the homecoming of the Achaians who had been with him: Agamemnon was killed by Aigisthos, the lover of his wife, Klytaimestra, upon reaching home, yet 8 years later Aigisthos was killed by Orestes, the son of Agamemnon; Menelaos was blown to Egypt by the gods and there lived many years before recently returning to his kingdom.  Nestor counsels Telemachos to find Menelaos who will speak the truth to him. Offering horses and his sons as guides on the morrow, he gives Telemachos a bed in the palace in which to sleep.  When dawn arrives, another sacrifice is made to the gods and Telemachos departs by chariot for Lakedaimon, the home of Menelaos.
A King and His Kingdom
While the Kings of Greece appear to be well-respected by their people, in Ithaka there is a lack of loyalty and devotion.  Respect comes with a price, and if a king is no longer able to benefit his subjects, they often will look somewhere else for either leadership, or conversely, seek power themselves.


During the short time Telemachos and Athene spend on Pylos, Nestor has two sacrificial feasts to the gods.  The detailed explanation of these offerings shows Nestor’s piety and generosity.  His devoted worship of the gods is perhaps one of the reasons he was able to return home from Troy with very few delays, unlike the rest of the Achaians.

Telemachus departing from Nestor
by Henry Howard
source Wikipedia

Book IV

Telemachos and Athene arrive at the house of Menelaos in Lakedaimon. The couple show hospitality to their guests, bringing them into the palace to feast.  Menelaos tells of their 8 year delay in Egypt before returning home and laments the death of his brother, Agamemnon, at the hands of his wife’s lover.  When he begins to reminisce about the Trojan War, he brings everyone to tears.  Helen relates how Odysseus came to her from out of the Trojan horse, extracting a promise of silence about their presence, yet Menelaos contradicts her, accusing her of trying to lure the Achaians out of the horse and to their deaths.  The next morning Telemachos shares his troubles with Menelaos, whereupon Menelaos tells him the story of the Old Man of the Sea, Proteus, who revealed the death of two of the Achaians, Aias and Agamemnon, but acknowledged that Odysseus was alive, though a captive of Kalypso (which means “I cover” or “I conceal” in ancient Greek) on her island.  Meanwhile, on Ithaka, the suitors discover that Telemachos has sailed and are stupefied at his daring.  Antinoös recovers and plots to take a ship to set an ambush upon Telemachos’ return, to take his life.  Penelope learns of the journey of Telemachos and of the suitors plans, and while initially distraught, she has a dream that all will be well because Athene is with him.  When she asks if Odysseus still lives, she is told: “I will not tell you the whole story whether he still lives and looks upon the sun’s shining, or whether he has died and is in the house of Hades.”

Fame and Glory

Menelaos states that he would gladly be happy with one-third of the riches he returned with, if only it would bring back the fallen heroes of the war. Spoils and riches are equated with glory in this culture and it is interesting that he would not give up everything for his fallen comrades.  Fame and glory can often be more important than life itself.

Trust and Betrayal

The interaction between Menelaos and Helen seems at once, comfortable and strained.  Each tell a conflicting story about Helen’s actions during the end of the war, and it is apparent that her husband does not believe her rendition.  After 10 years, they have learned to live together but trust is certainly lacking.  Is Helen telling the truth?   After such a long time, Helen’s character is still elusive.

A King and His Kingdom

Penelope, half pleading with, half scolding the suitors says:

“…….. Nor have you listened to what you heard from your fathers before you, when you were children, what kind of man Odysseus was among your own parents, how he did not act and spoke no word in his own country that was unfair …..”

Odysseus has been gone so long that the suitors have never known him personally, and this is partly from where their disrespectful attitudes stem. Their king is like a myth or dream, and there is nothing to tie their allegiance to him, except stories passed down from their elders.


Menelaos, when recounting his adventures in Egypt, reveals that the reason for his long detour was that he had neglected to render complete hecatombs (offerings) to the gods, angering them.  This is in contrast to Nestor, who made the proper sacrifices and arrives home quickly and safely.

Telemachus in the Palace of Menelaos
source Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “The Odyssey Read-Along Book III & IV

  1. So impressed by your quest to read the great classics. Your choice of he Odyssey compendable. I should start reading this book but feel a bit afraid to start. Any words of encouragement would be appreciated! BTW…love reading your past reviews….!

  2. I'm just encouraged that you take the time to read my long posts! 🙂

    To read the Odyssey is not difficult at all. The language is understandable and it flows well. What was most challenging for me was to get some understanding of ancient Greek culture. In The Iliad, for example, if you don't understand that the Greeks really equate spoils (treasure, women, etc.) with who they are (glory & fame), you won't understand that Achilles' actions are valid when he refuses to fight and, with a modern mindset, will think that he's just a big baby. I was fortunate to initially read it with a very informed group so my first read was very enriching. The Great Courses has lectures for the Odyssey that are excellent: It goes on sale all the time …… down to around $30-40. Your library may have them too.

    Otherwise it is a small task to get used to different names for the characters, ie. sometimes Menelaos and Agamemnon are called the Atreides because they are sons of Atreus. This is much more prevalent in The Iliad, yet not so much in The Odyssey. Also the order of the poem can be somewhat hard to follow because it starts in the middle (in media res) and then goes back, then forward again; in addition it jumps between Telemachos and Odysseus.

    I would certainly give it a try and not feel too overwhelmed. Honestly after familiarizing myself with the names, I find it easier than reading George Eliot, who I find a little hard to follow at times with her social commentary.

    Thanks for your kind comments and for stopping by. I will keep a look out on your blog for your review of The Odyssey! 😉

  3. I'm not surprised; you've had a rough go of it this last little while. Hope you're taking care of yourself and finding some sunshine in among the rain! I'll be looking forward to your posts! 🙂

  4. I am still formulating my post, hardest part of this whole blog thing. It does force me to try and be a better reader however.

    There also seems to be so much meaning packed into the few lines of each Book. My thoughts seemingly taking twice as much or more to portray.

Thanks for visiting. I'd love to hear from you and have you join in the discussion!