19. Odysseus and Telemachos


The many fights with Poseidon and the sea the hero has to endure is obviously due to his killing the sun of Poseidon, Polyphemos. This could be compared with Baal killing Jam by hitting him between the eyes. In the last and final fight Odysseus finds help with the swineherd, Eumaios, and the ox-herd, Dolios and his 6 sons. As the helpers of Baal, the shepherd, his seven servants and his 8 pigs are mentioned. In the final fight Odysseus is assisted by Athene, as Baal in the final fight against Mot is assisted by Anat.

At Delphi, in the three winter months the mountain of the god was ruled by Dionysos and his chaotic dithyrambian music, but with spring Apollo arrives from the land of the Hyperboraeans. With his famous scar on the leg given him by a wild boar while hunting with the sons of Autolykos (“the wolf himself”, Kerenyi has proved that these wolf-names are the names of the master of initiation in the oldest layers of Orphic tradition, Pythagoras und Orpheus) on Mt. Parnass, Odysseus represents an Orphic tradition linked to Apollo and his mountain. The fact that Odysseus starts his homebound journey at winter solstice, the turning point of the sun, is, acc. to Ed.Norden, Geburt des Kindes, a fact that should be the starting point for every interpretation of the epos.

It is important to note that the final fight is during “the feast for Apollo”, as it is stressed no less than five times[1]. Odysseus is, like the sun god Apollo, arriving early in spring from the land of the Hyperboraeans, and as an incarnation of the arrow-shooting god he is the only one who is able to bend the bow and perform the master bowshot. The two traitors among his household are the maid, Melantho (who is extremely hostile to her disguised lord) and the goat-herd, Melanthios. Both names mean the “black one”. The goat-herd is the incarnation of the Dionysiac sacrificial goat and is maimed in a cruel manner, XXII 475ff. When O. has finished off the suitors, their bloody bodies lying in the big hall are compared with fish drawn ashore and gasping “in the burning sun”. The hunter Odysseus-Apollo has taken the universal kingdom back from the deep sea and the moisture of life. O. is covered with blood like “a ferocious lion”, and the faithful maid, Eurykleia, shouts the cultic ololygê[2].

Why is the bath of Telemachos (III) described in detail and in such a solemn way? It must be part of a ceremonial initiation as sun warrior. After the bath he is clothed in pharos and chiton, and after this investio he takes his seat beside Nestor, there is a meal, and he is given horses and a chariot. E.A.S.Butterworth[3] underlines that the bath and the dressing ceremony  must be seen in connection with the previous ritual sacrifice of a bull. In this ceremony Telemachos seems to be the centre. He is brought out by six sons of Nestor, himself being the 7th prince. The sacrificial bull has gilded horns, and when it is killed, the women burst into loud mourning. After the bath T. goes "from the bath as beautiful as one of the eternal gods”. The same magic transformation is experienced by O.: ”Now Athene poured great beauty over his head and made him bigger of stature …like an immortal in stature he went from the bath”[4]. The same thing is told about O.´s father Laertes[5]. Also in connection with a meal, he is bathed and anointed, and is then compared with “an immortal god”. It is with the help of Athene Ageleia these transformations are brought about[6]. O. is bathed by the old maid Eurynomê. It is no coincidence that she has the same name as the mother of the three graces (gratiai), who, on the wall of the synagogue in Dura Europos, are pictured with the instruments for bathing the divine child (cf. Goodenough´s interpretation of the scene in Jewish Symbols). Acc. to Apollonios Argonaut. I,503 she was ruling the world together with her husband, Ophion before she was dethroned by Cronos. She is, like Thetis, the goddess of the primordial sea, half woman, half fish, to judge from her idol at Phigale. A parallel to Thetis, who makes Achilleus immortal by bathing him in Styx.

When Ishtar is spurned by Gilgamesh, she complains to the highgod. O. is strongly recommended not to spurn a goddess like Circe. The killing of the heavenly bull by Gilgamesh and Enkidu is a parallel to the fatal killing of the oxen belonging to the sun on the island of the sun. Gilgamesh meets Siduri “with a covering she is veiled”[7], cf. Calypso (= “the hidden one”). On the island of Utnapishtim Gilgamesh is washed with water “clean as snow” and dressed in a clean cloak instead of the raw hides he is wearing. It will stay clean until he has returned home. Jensen compares with the bath of O. on the island of the Phaeacians, but it also seems relevant to compare it with the bath on the island of Circe. She is the daughter of the sun god and her tub is a three-footed copper-jar. It is not called rejuvenating, but shortly after, when O.'s men regain their human bodies, they are “younger than before” and bigger and more beautiful. Unfortunately, Jensen has not seen the most amazing similarity between the bed Gilgamesh makes for Ishtar out of the cosmic tree of life and the bed Odysseus has made for his wife out of an old olive tree and still nailed to the stump (XXIII).

The first to see Gilgamesh as the sun hero was H.Rawlinson[8] and he compares the 12 songs of the Accadian version with the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The monster, Humbaba, acc to C.Virolleaud[9], represents the evil that threatens the sun (p.65). Gilgamesh seeks eternal life through his journey. After his 12 labours Heracles is given eternal life.

Sun heroes:

Gilgamesh travels to the “twin mountains”[10] “who guard the rising of the sun”. They form a “gate”, the scorpion man and woman guard it. (They are an old  symbol of ejaculatio, release of semen, and therefore they break the original ecstatic union between man and female, heaven and earth, and this is why they are often pictured as pillars lifting the sky or the mystical bird from the earth).The journey goes on through the gate, through the subterranean road (tube) of the sun until he catches sight of the garden of the gods with the tree of life which has carneol as its fruit and lapis lazuli as leaves.

Odysseus, after killing the Humbaba-like Cyclops, travels through the gate of the symplegades to the island of the cattle of the sun.

Perseus travels in the course of the sun to Ethiopia, where he gains the princess

The Argonauts travel through the symplegades to the kingdom of Colchis ruled by Aeëtes, son of the sun.

Heracles travels towards the west in the cup of the sun = Melqart's journey over the sea.

The novel, Aithiopica, by Heliodor: The hero travels towards Ethiopia, close to the sun.

The novel, “Marvellous things beyond Thule”. The journey goes west and ends up in visiting the islands of the moon and the sun.

The Acts of Thomas: The journey goes east in a quadriga drawn by 4 wild donkeys (a symbol of the sun´s chariot). Cf. Melqart and Mithras hunting 4 wild stags, and the tradition of the golden hind, an androgynous symbol, hunted by Heracles. It was originally part of a group of five; the four hunted down by Artemis and made into a quadriga.

Alexander the Great is called Dhu´l Qarnain in the Qoran (Sura 18). He followed a god-given road to the sunset in “a muddy wellspring”. From there he travelled to the sunrise, and from there to a people living on this side of “the two rocks”, but threatened by the hordes of Gog and Magog on the other side. Dhu´l Q. erects a strong copper wall between the two “barriers”. (The sun hero fights the powers of chaos).

Also Baal in Ugarit is described as the sun warrior who, through many struggles and descent to the realm of death, completes the cycle of the sun and the year, fighting the floodings of the winter storm and the burning of the summer heat. As Baal is helped by Anat and Kothar-and-Chasis, so are El Cronos and Perseus helped by Athene and Hermes, Cadmos, Odysseus, Jason by Athene. Baal´s two servants lift the two mountains, the gate of the sun, up on their hands[11]. After Jason´s passing between them, they were made stationary. Characteristic of the sun warrior is that he is often born among cows and raised by shepherds, hidden from the cruel king of chaos, the hunter. He is the dethroned and suffering bull, the highgod reborn. Note how Baal in a bull´s hide, just before his death, procreates a son with Anat on the beach of the realm of death[12]. Anat brings this son to Mt Saphon and proclaims his birth as “a gospel of god” (bsrt il)[13]. But in a way typical of the syncretistic thinking of most religions, the heathen sun warrior has also something of the hunter in him. In fact, the hunter seems to overshadow most of his brighter aspects.

Melqart is sleeping in the underworld until his awakening. Note that O. is sleeping under the nightly sail from the island of the Phaeacians and is set ashore, still sleeping. The sail over the mighty ocean takes only one night, and when the Morning Star, rises the ship is approaching Ithaca. (The sun hero´s symbol is the Morning Star). The ship goes into harbour between two perpendicular tongues of land. At the far end of the bay an olive tree is growing near to a grotto which has to entrances. To the north for man, and to the south for gods. Inside there are jars of honey and a tinkling of clear water, and ocean blue cloaks are woven by water-nymphs. We have here a description of the holy mount with the water and tree of life behind the gate of the sun. Like Melqart´s, the return of Odysseus is a wakening.

But the gate of the sun is also encountered in its more frightening appearance in Scylla and Charybdis: one mountain was high, and its top covered with clouds. The other was smaller, with a fig tree on its top and by its foot the narrow whirl of Charybdis reaching right down to the bottom of the sea. The two mountains are opposites: one reaching the sky, and the other the bottom of the sea, one having some connection to the hunter with its six dog-headed monster, the other having some connection to the moon (sucking the water in and out like ebb and flood) and the vegetation. As the guardian of the gate, Charybdis, like Cerberus, bears a name of Near Eastern descent, cf Cherubim.

A.B.Cook[14] has compared the Homerian word  plangtai (“itinerant” rocks) with the twin mountains the Argos ship had to pass to get to Colchis with the floating Ambrosian rocks in Tyre. They are also called Kyanai (“doggish”) Soph. Ant.966, Herodot 4,85, perhaps as guardians of the gate to the beyond.

Telemachos-Odysseus-Laertes is the triple sun hero. Th.Jacobsen has shown (Mesopotamiske Urtidssagn) that the kingship-of-heaven motive, where a number of kings/gods come to power by killing their father and marrying their mother, is founded in the cosmic changes from winter to spring. We will also find this motif in the Odysseus-tradition: an oracle runs: ”O., your own son shall kill you”, and to avoid that, Telemachos chooses  exile, but later O. is killed by Telegonos (“born at the end” of the route of the sun), his son with Circe. Telegonos marries Penelope, and Telemachos marries Circe. This tradition is the reflection of a spring festival, where the goddess, the symbol of fruitfulness, is made pregnant by the young god. Odysseus is the heroic incarnation of Apollo coming with the power of spring and sun, taking over from the old weakened year (Laertes), and making an end to the period of carnival and chaos. His closeness to sun and fire is underlined by his red hair (like Jason´s).

The Cyclops is the son of the sea-god, Poseidon, and he is a shepherd. In the Greek tradition it is often some split off aspect of the high- and sea-god, Poseidon, who is killed in the cave on the world mountain. Medusa is pregnant with Poseidon when killed, and out of her neck jump the two divine brothers, Pegasus, and the “warrior with golden sword”.

Perseus has to hide the head in a bag, and when Humbaba is killed, his head is hid in an “arm-bag”. Medusa´s head is cut off with the curved sickle, the traditional weapon when primordial massive unity is cut up. Perseus comes into the cave “like a wild boar”. Also Hermes uses a curved sword to cut off the head of Argos guarding the goddess, Jo. The Cyclops is a variant of the Medusa-Humbaba motif. With his single eye in the forehead he represents mystic vision and petrified primordial matter and mountain. The cave of Medusa is guarded by three old women who have one eye in common, the only eye able to penetrate the eternal darkness of this place.

The hunter is here set in opposition to the single eye, the symbol of mystic vision. A mosaic from Hellenistic Antioch[15] shows the single eye attacked by all kinds of demonic animals belonging to the train of the hunter: raven, panther, snake, scorpion, dog, centipede, and even trident and orgiastic sexuality (the instruments in the hand of a naked man are castanets).          

The epos is about cosmos and chaos: Odysseus overcomes the Cyclops by making him drink the wine given him by the priest of Apollo, and “when Odysseus sets out for the cave of the Cyclops he is careful to emphasise his veneration for Apollo and the favour shown him by Apollo´s priest”[16]. The Cyclopes are described as wild and uncivilised people, living without any order of society. O. is followed by Polites (“citizen”) as the dearest of his friends[17].

After his visit to the anti-society of the Cyclops and his visit to the realm of death, O. comes to the ideal society, the land of the Phaeacians, described with a lot of close parallels to the later description of his arrival at Ithaka, his homeland:


O. comes to a land where cosmos rules.

O. comes to a land taken over by chaos.

In the palace an ideal prince, Alcinoos (“He who has a strong/ brave mind”),

In the palace a false prince, the leader of the suitors, Anti-noos. Outside the palace the old prince, Laertes, weak and old. His daughter in law weaving his shroud,

but it is the favour of the queen it is most important to gain.

but it is the favour of the queen it is most important to be sure of.

O. is offended by a man, Eurylaos, but they are reconciled.

O. is insulted by Eurymachos. Later he offers reconciliation, but O. refuses.

3 sons of kings compete in sports.

3 suitors are killed in the first clash.

O. performs the master-throw with a discos (instrument of Apollo).

O. has performed the master shot with the bow (the weapon of Apollo).

A council consisting of 12 kings pay their respects to O. by offering gifts.

12 suitors fight with O. and his helpers.

O. bathes and is clothed in precious clothes.

O. bathes and is clothed in precious clothes.

Dance, and a singer sings about the unfortunate hierogamy between Ares and Aphrodite.

Dance, and a simulated wedding to fool the relatives of the suitors.

O.gets important help from a young girl, Nausicaa, who is about to be initiated into the duties of a woman.

O.gets important help from the young prince Telemachos, who is made a warrior just before.

She drives off to wash her clothes.

He drives off in his war chariot.


Nausicaa is compared to Artemis in beauty and to a palmtree O. once saw on Delos, the holy island of Apollo and Artemis. A. & A. are the gods preceding over the initiation of the young men and girls (called bears). On the wall paintings from Mycenean Thera the young man approaching the island has “lion's hair”, and a woman is seen waiting in the harbour (the queen). O. is coming out of the thicket and approaching Nausicaa “as a lion”.

The wrestling of the primordial “twins" is found in the fight with Iros. They are normally guardians of the gate: O. suggests that they can share the threshold, but Iros thinks not. After his defeat he is put as guardian of the gate to scare off pigs and dogs XVIII. It seems that the epos is an old religious text, having as its ideal for the young men the Polymethis (“many sided wise”) O.

Calypso´s island is also called the Ogygian. The Ogygian mountain is the mythical mountain “in the north”. Also the snake, Ladon, is called Ogygios. Now, in the Bible we hear about king Og of Basan and Gog of Magog, and `Og is mentioned on a coffin from Byblos, acc. to J.Starcky[18]: if someone disturbs the remains of the deceased “may then ´Og, the strong one, seek me (jtbqsn)”.

Karl Oberhuber[19] has proved the links between Odysseus and the Mesopotamian hero of the flood, Utanapishtim. His name is shortened to Uta, in Greek to the name Utis (“nobody”), used by Odysseus in the cave of the Cyclops. This Mesopotamian hero is called Ullus in the Hittite fragments, cf. his Latin name, Ulyssus. Odysseus comes, acc. to Oberhuber, from Sumerian UD.ZI/ZI.UD = Xisuthros.



19.a. The first to sail the sea


The tradition of the Argonauts is older than the epos of Homer and mentioned in Od. XII, 69. As a matter of fact, it has many similarities with the traditions collected by Philo of Byblos (I, 10, 14 + 20 + 38) & Nonnos (Dion 40) about the first attempts to sail the sea, resulting in the setting up of pillars, and the swimming rocks of Tyre becoming stationary, 40, 443ff cf. Pindar Pyth.Od. 4, 210f, where the same thing is told about the clashing rocks the Argos ship had to pass through). The Argonauts set out to reach the land of the sun.  Mimnernus (630 B.C.) calls it the land where the “beams of the rapid sun are resting in a golden chamber” (fragm. 4,5). Argos means “bright”, and Jason is the sun hero. His unshorn locks “flashed out over” his shoulders and down his back[20]. The heroes set out “to find the most beautiful remedy (pharmakon) against death”[21], here spiritualised as fame. Both the journey of the Argonauts and the journey of Odysseus has their background in old Orphic tradition, and in the story about the Argos it is the prophet Idmon who, in the land of king Lycos (“wolf”), has his thigh torn up by a wild boar (and dies). Apart from that the heroes are treated well by king Lycos. As the Argonauts (apart from Jason and Heracles) are most often named the two Dioscouri, two sons of Poseidon, 2 sons of Hermes, 2 sons of Boreas. But also Philo mentions the first to sail a ship as the sons of Sydyk = the Dioscouri = the Kabiroi = the Samothrachians = the Corybantes. “From these descend others who invented the use of herbs as remedies, and means against poisonous bites from animals and magic formulas” (cf. the meaning of the name of Jason, “healer”). They are cast ashore on the holy mountain, Mt. Kassios. They were the first to construct a ship and the first to invent agriculture. Cf. Jason´s task to plough with a pair of oxen with fiery breath. The story about the origin of the world was given by Taaut “to the seven sons of Sydyk and to their 8th brother Asclepios”[22]. Also the Argonauts are given instructions about the origin of the world in a song by Orpheus before going out on the journey.

Now, a lot of Mesopotamian seals show a sailing accomplished by two gods carrying horns on their heads, and one of them being one with the boat. It is the primordial sailing across the great ocean in the ship of the moon, and the highgod being one with the crescent moon. The other god is accompanied by scorpion and lion or sphinx, or has great beams of light coming out from his shoulders. He is the hunter, the god of the burning sun. But he also has a plough and on one picture (1496) he is the lion killing the gazelle of vegetation[23].

Phineus explains to Jason “in detail passages and signs (peirata & tekmar)”. This first sailing opens a way through the infinite impenetrable sea of chaos[24], but Phineus becomes guilty in revealing the secrets of the gods, and is punished in the most cruel manner. The secret knowledge is the same as the instructions found on the Orphic Golden Sheets found in South Italy with instructions about the road the soul has to take to reach the islands of eternal bliss.

 The book of Philostrat about the travels of Apollonios of Tyana, first to India in the sacred Orient, and then to Gades in the far west, shows us the wise man travelling in the course of the sun, and the satirical book of Lucian on Peregrinos (“the traveller”) shows us the Syrian cult of Heracles different from the Greek in so far that Heracles is seen as the philosopher, who, like Gilgamesh and Odysseus, travels in the route of the sun to gain wisdom. Peregrinus sometimes calls himself   Heracles, sometimes Proteus, where Proteus stands for the old cherubic-polymorphous high god. Proteus in Greek mythology is the old man in the sea, who can change himself into many different shapes and bodies and knows the road to paradise, the road of the sun over the far-reaching sea.

By following a road “that carries through all towns he who knows light” (the sun hero), Parmenides in the chariot with “immortal drivers”, escorted by the “maidens of the sun” (heliádes kourai), has arrived at the gate “that divides between the roads of the day and the night” (the journey in the chariot of the sun to the gate of the sun). By this experience Parmenides became a man that “learns everything”, cf. Odysseus who “saw the towns of many people” (astea, the same word used by Parmenides).

[1] XX 276ff., XXI 258f., 267, 338, 364

[2] XXII, 408

[3] Some Traces of the pre-Olympian World, 1966, pp.119f.)

[4] XXIII, 152ff.

[5] XXIV

[6] XVI, 207

[7] Trans. by Peter Jensen, Leitsätze und Tabellen zu einen Kolleg über Die babylonische Ursprünge der griechischen Heldensagen.

[8] Athenaeum, 7th Dec. 1872

[9] “Le Dieu Shamash dans l´ancienne Mesopotamie”, Eranos Jahrbuch X, 1943, pp.57ff.

[10] IX, 37ff

[11] CTA 4,VIII 5f.

[12] CTA 5 V, 18-23

[13] CTA 10, III, 30ff

[14] Zeus III, Appendix P

[15] Levi IV, c

[16] Butterworth, The Tree at the Navel, p.174. Od. IX 197ff.

[17] ibd, Od. X 224f.

[18] Melanges M.Dunand MUSJ 45, 1969, p.266

[19] “Odysseus - Utis in altorientalischer Sicht”, Festschrift für Leonhard C.Franz besorgt von O.Menghin & H.M.Olberg, 1965, pp.307ff.)

[20] Pyth. IV, 88ff.

[21] Pyth. IV, 184-9

[22] Philo I, 10, 38

[23] P.Amiet, 1405-48 & 1495-1506

[24] M.Detienne, Les Ruses de l´Intelligence, 1974, p.272