Declining a gift

Reading Book 4 of the Odyssey, one student remarked that Odysseus would have been proud of his son’s conversation with Menelaus.

The morning after Telemachus has arrived in Sparta, Menelaus invites him to stay for another eleven days, after which he will send him away with splendid gifts: three horses and a well-polished chariot, and a beautiful cup, so that Telemachus may remember him whenever he pours a libation.

Telemachus has to decline the longer stay: he would, he says, happily be a guest for a whole year, such pleasure does he take in hearing what Menelaus has to tell him; but his companions are waiting for him in sacred Pylos.

He also has to decline the chariot and horses, and he explains why:

δῶρον δ᾽ ὅττι κέ μοι δοίης,  κειμήλιον ἔστω:
ἵππους δ᾽ εἰς Ἰθάκην οὐκ ἄξομαι, ἀλλὰ σοὶ αὐτῷ
ἐνθάδε λείψω ἄγαλμα: σὺ γὰρ πεδίοιο ἀνάσσεις
εὐρέος, ᾧ ἔνι μὲν λωτὸς πολύς, ἐν δὲ κύπειρον
πυροί τε ζειαί τε ἰδ᾽ εὐρυφυὲς κρῖ λευκόν.
ἐν δ᾽ Ἰθάκῃ οὔτ᾽ ἂρ δρόμοι εὐρέες οὔτε τι λειμών:
αἰγίβοτος, καὶ μᾶλλον ἐπήρατος ἱπποβότοιο.
οὐ γάρ τις νήσων ἱππήλατος οὐδ᾽ ἐυλείμων,
αἵ θ᾽ ἁλὶ κεκλίαται: Ἰθάκη δέ τε καὶ περὶ πασέων.
 ‘As for gifts, whatever you think fit to give me, let it be something I may treasure. Horses I cannot take to Ithaca; I will leave them here to bring glory to yourself. You are king of an ample plain with clover in plenty and galingale, with choice wheat and common wheat and white broad-eared barley; but Ithaca has no riding-spaces, no meadows even. Goats, not horses, go grazing there, though I love it all the more for that. These islands of ours that shelve down seawards are all short of good roads for driving, short too of fields for pasture—Ithaca most of all.’*

Menelaus is delighted with this reply:

‘αἵματός εἰς ἀγαθοῖο, φίλον τέκος, οἷ᾽ ἀγορεύεις…
 ‘What you say, dear child, is proof of the good stock you come from…’*

Of course, he says, he will change the gifts: instead, he will give Telemachus the finest and most costly thing in his palace, which is a silver mixing-bowl with rims of gold, made by Hephaestus himself.

This he does when Telemachus leaves (Book 15), and Helen adds a gift of her own: a robe for Telemachus’s bride on the day he eventually marries.

One may agree with the student’s comment above. Odysseus is captivated by Nausicaa to the point of veneration—and his own son seems to show similar qualities.

*from the translation by Walter Shewring, OUP 1980.