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In Search of Manners and Mentors: Telemachus and Enkidu's Journey to Adulthood

This paper is about transformations. In particular, I will be discussing Telemachus in the Odyssey and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh . They begin as youths in disorderly environments without father figures to act as older warriors and give them education. After learning the knowledge they lack, they become younger companions to these now discovered father figures. I will look at how they relate to their older warrior companions, and how and what they learn before becoming adults.

The lack of the warrior is what leads to the disorder they find themselves in, it is this disorder and chaos that prompts them to search for the older warrior. There are two models of disorder, the disorder caused by the presence of men, and the disorder caused by the absence of men. Order is the mark of civilization, chaos can exist within the city or household through the lack of a well behaved lord, or it can exist outside of the city or household as wilderness.

It is through the learning of etiquette and proper behavior that chaos of either type can be made into order. But to learn etiquette, the youth must leave his disordered environment to experience order. It is only after this is done, and his education is received, that the youth can encounter the older warrior and his education be completed.

The household of Telemachus at the beginning of the Odyssey is a state of great disorder. It lacks its lord, Odysseus, and is over run by Suitors of Penelope who behave disreputably. It is quite clear that Telemachus is in need of a mentor, his only male examples are the Suitors who are negative examples of older men. They do not help with his upbringing, instead they take advantage of the absence of Odysseus by living at his expense. It is no accident that it is with this name, first Mentes, then Mentor, that Athena appears to lead Telemachus through the psychological transformation he undergoes as he learns proper manners during his journey in search of news of his father.

Indeed, we learn exactly how ill mannered the Suitors are through Athena herself:

She found the insolent Suitors sitting in front of the door on the hides of oxen they themselves had slaughtered, and playing draughts, while their squires and pages were busy round them, the squires blending wine and water in mixing bowls, and the pages carving meat in lavish portions or washing the tables with sponges before they set them ready.

As we shall see later, feasting can be a sign of a well run household. However, a disordered and drunken feast clearly portrays the extent to which the household is ill run. That Athena describes the Suitors as insolent shows how ill behaved they are. When speaking with Telemachus she expresses disgust at their actions. This distaste emphasizes their lack of manners as it is from a divine perspective that they are ill viewed.

The Suitors ignore all of the proper points of the etiquette of feasts, they lounge decadently ad show no manners. Not once during the course of their feast do they think it proper to offer sacrifice to the gods, something that no well run feast would start without. In fact they are so caught up in their pleasures that they do not notice the entrance of a guest, and they ignore Mentes during their feasting. It is only Telemachus who notices her, and he apologizes for their behavior. Their behavior ignores one of the basic rules of Homeric etiquette; the postponement of serious talk until after the guest has been properly fed. Telemachus knows that something is wrong and he wants to put it right, but he lacks force of personality and can only dream of how things would be if his father were there. He requires the motivation of Athena as he himself does not know how to accomplish this goal.

Growing up without his father and with only the example of the Suitors means that Telemachus is unable to solve the problems that plague his house. The external disorder of his environment has led to this lack of knowledge. Telemachus lacks force of personality, rhetorical skill, and etiquette. At the prompting of Mentes, he attempts to solve his difficulties by calling an Assembly. There, he denounces the Suitors and attempts to send them home, but at the end of his speech the superior rhetoric of Antinous and Eurymachus is revealed. Telemachus accomplishes nothing, throws his scepter on the ground and falls into tears.

Telemachus is correct in his
wish to send the Suitors away, but his lack of rhetoric gives them the upper hand. At the end of Telemachus’ speech, Antinous skillfully turns the debate around. Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, he turns the fault to Penelope. Her faithfulness to her husband becomes a fault rather than a virtue within his speech. Even though Telemachus knows he is right, and Athena’s approval gives him divine justification, his inability to continue to force the issue of his attempt to rid the house of Suitors defeats him.

With this attempt, he is beginning to mature and reach adulthood, but without the training and attention of an older warrior he lacks the experience and knowledge required to complete the action he has started. His speech is unsuccessful, and until he gains knowledge and experience of etiquette and speech making, his attempts to set his household right will remain frustrated. Telemachus recognizes this; when Antinous attempts to prevent him from journeying in search of his father, Telemachus insults him saying that he is no longer a child and needs to start learning from others so that he can send them from his house.

The prompting of Mentor causes Telemachus to set off in search of his father, and he journeys to the house of Nestor, and the house of Menelaus and Helen. There, he not only learns news of his father, but also proper etiquette of feasting and hospitality, and the art of rhetoric and speech making. The first step of this learning is when he admits that he does not have knowledge of how to behave.

At the house of Nestor, he admits to Mentor that he lacks knowledge. When Mentor asked him to approach Nestor, he at first refuses, claiming a lack of knowledge of making speeches and is therefore wary. He knows that it is this lack of rhetoric which cost him the debate in Ithaca and is reluctant to reveal the same fault to Nestor. Further learning is impossible when one does not acknowledge or realize that learning needs to be done. This recognition of one’s limits is often the first step towards regaining control.

Nester and Menelaus are the means of teaching manners to Telemachus. They must not only have proper etiquette, but highlight their manners so that Telemachus can see what he must learn. Throughout the Odyssey, Telemachus is shown what he must learn, then he receives an explanation of what he is seeing. After the demonstration is reinforced the mentor vanishes, leaving Telemachus with the knowledge he sought. At the house of Nestor Telemachus sees a proper feast and prayer. Here he listens to good speech making, and first hears an example of the virtue of youths who seek to correct their disordered homes; Nestor tells him that he must be as brave as Orestes, the youth who avenged the murder of his father. With Menelaus and Helen he encounters proper marriages and gains experience of speech making and rhetoric.

In contrast to the disreputable behavior of the Suitors at their feast, Nestor and his people are well ordered. They are in organized groups, each group offering sacrificial bulls. As Telemachus and Mentor approach, they all move to approach them and invite them to the feast. Each one of Nestor’s people knows the correct courtesy of a feast, and, though they are busy with their sacrifice, they each notice the approach of newcomers. Here Telemachus encounters a companion his own age who explains the proper rituals of a feast. He describes proper behavior regarding sacrifice and prayer with a tact that so delights Athena that she prays to Poseidon on everyone’s behalf. At the end of Telemachus’ stay, he attends another sacrifice, this time there from the beginning to see the entire process.

After the sacrifices are over, Telemachus approaches Nestor, who explains his manners. He waits until Telemachus and Mentor have finished, then speaks:

Now that our visitors have regaled themselves, it will be no breach of manners to put some questions to them and inquire who they might be.

As Nestor is in the role of teacher here, he must ensure that Telemachus notices what proper manners are.

Menelaus does the same thing when Telemachus visits him. When Lord Eteones inquires what to do with the visitors, Menelaus points out that proper hospitality requires inviting the strangers to their feast. He rebukes him for this lapse, and reminds him that there may be gods in disguise and this breach of manners will not be well viewed. Then he addresses Telemachus “After you’ve dined we shall inquire who you may be.”

Instead of being presented with a feast, here Telemachus approaches a double wedding. Menelaus had promised his daughter Hermione to the son of Achilles, and his son Megapenthes was marrying a Spartan. Menelaus and Helen portray a marriage in its later years. Prior to his journey Telemachus hadn’t seen examples of marriage, now he has heard of the possibilities of a failed marriage and his role as a son if that happens, and is presented with the example of a prospering marriage that is successful in spite of its past difficulties.

At the house of Nestor the conversation was dominated by Nestor’s story of how he came home and his telling of Orestes. Here in the house of Menelaus, the conversation serves its purpose by giving Telemachus news of his father, but it is more of a discussion, and gives him a more in depth example of rhetoric. The stories of Menelaus and Helen illustrate the difference a speech can make when presenting something; Menelaus describes Helen as a cunning women in the service of the enemy , but she describes herself as helping the Achaeans by not disclosing the identity of Odysseus. Telemachus participates in the conversation this time, he questions Menelaus about Orestes, learning more about the virtue of a son and contrasting Penelope to Clytemnestra.

To further emphasize good speech making, Peisistratus comments on the modesty of Telemachus because he wishes to hear the speech of Menelaus instead of pressing forward with his own words. Menelaus makes note of good speech making and well spoken sentiments; he praises Peisistratus for his tact and discretion when he asks of his brother Antilochus, he praises Helen for telling her tale well, and he compliments Telemachus when he asks Menelaus to forgive him for not staying longer. Rather than coming directly to where Odysseus was last seen, they spend the evening talking. It is not until the next morning, after Telemachus has had experience in speech, that he hears of Odysseus.

That both the men Telemachus visits for instruction emphasize proper manners shows that the reason for the journeys of Telemachus is to gain knowledge. He has learned hospitality, the etiquette of feasts and sacrifice, and rhetoric. Now, possessing manners and the knowledge of how to act in the world of men, he is able to meet with his father and accomplish that which he set out to do; free his house of the plague of unruly Suitors.

Though Telemachus now understands etiquette and hospitality, he is unable to offer it in his own home. This understanding of manners is proven twice before he meets Odysseus; when he welcomes Theoclymenus, and in the hut of Eumaus when faced with Odysseus in disguise. When Theoclymenus approaches and requests hospitality, Telemachus welcomes him aboard his ship, telling him he is welcome to the hospitality of Ithaca. When the arrive, Telemachus addresses his guest:

In other circumstances...I should invite you to our own house...however, there is a man to whom you might go, and I’ll give you his name - Eurymachus.

He knows that his house is unsuitable to offer proper hospitality, but he has learned etiquette well and finds his guest alternative housing. Thus he fulfills the dictates of hospitality although he is unable to offer it himself at his own home.

When Telemachus returns to Ithaca, he has seen well ordered and run households and has learned manners, so it is no longer necessary for proper etiquette to be pointed out to him. This is demonstrated when he welcomes Theoclymenus and finds housing for him, but it is further proven when he goes to the hut of Eumaus the swineherd. Eumaus welcomes him, but doesn’t mention etiquette or manners. In fact, the mention of manners is made by Telemachus himself. He is mortified when Eumaus presents him with his guest and Telemachus can not offer him proper hospitality. It is after demonstrating his manners to his father that he discovers the guest is really Odysseus in disguise.

Finally, having learned etiquette and rhetoric, and found his father at last, there is no need for an alternative mentor, and from this point on Athena appears as the protector of warriors. She shows herself to Odysseus, no longer appearing as the mentor of Telemachus.

It is at this point that Telemachus takes his place at the side of his father. First, he proves that he is almost the equal of Odysseus; when Penelope says that she will marry the man who can string the bow of Odysseus he is the only one who bends it, and might have succeeded had Odysseus not shaken his head no. Then he takes the weapons from the dining hall and helps his father kill the Suitors.

While not the biological son of Gilgamesh, like Telemachus to Odysseus, Enkidu is his younger companion. After the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh is wandering the steppes, and he claims to Siduri the Ale Wife and to UtNapishtim the Far-Away that he mourns for “Enkidu, my friend who was younger than me.” Enkidu is more than a friend to Gilgamesh however, he is his younger son in spirit. Enkidu is created in response to the actions of Gilgamesh; he is tormenting his people, ravishing the women of Uruk and fighting with the men.

All young men gone - defeated by Gilgamesh
And no son was left to his father!
All young girls made women by Gilgamesh,
His lusts are such, and no virgin left to her lover!
Not the daughter of a warrior!
Nor the wife of a noblemen!

Enkidu is created in the image of Gilgamesh as any son is created in the image of his father. He is the direct result of Gilgamesh’s ravishing of women of Uruk.

Anu hears the cries of the
people, and he commands the goddess Aruru to create Enkidu.

You created this Gilgamesh! Well create him his equal!
let him look as into mirrors - give a second self to him!
...give them each other to fight
Leaving Uruk in peace!

Although he commands Aruru to create the equal of Gilgamesh, she does not. Enkidu is created in the image of Gilgamesh, with the intent to settle him down and answer the prayers of Uruk, but Gilgamesh is the stronger. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight in the market, Gilgamesh defeats Enkidu, then ceases terrorizing the city.

Both Telemachus and Enkidu begin their journeys within chaotic environments, although the manner of the chaos they left had different origins. At the end of his adolescence, Telemachus finds himself within a chaos made by man; his house is overrun with Suitors who expect to live freely on the fruits of another mans labor and they do not bother to follow basic laws of etiquette.

Enkidu on the other hand, is set in the wilderness by a goddess. He is in a chaos that comes not from the hand of man, but instead from the lack of man. Civilization is the imposing of order on chaos. and the wilderness is outside of the bounds of that order. As he begins with a complete lack of knowledge of man, he begins from a position representing disorder and thus works against man.

She let it drop in the wilderness...
Thus Enkidu was innocent of mankind
He knew not the cultivated land.
Enkidu was in the hills
With the gazelles
They jostled each other
With all the herds
he too loved the water hole.

The wilderness is the embodiment of disorder. There civilization does not exist, and the beasts run wild. The wilderness, by its very definition, lies outside the structure of human order and is untouched by civilization.

In the midst of wilderness, and lacking an older warrior to teach him, Enkidu is unaware of men and how to act around them. He is so far from civilization that he works against the sole representative of order that comes within his reach. After three days of meeting Enkidu, the trapper exclaims to his father:

I fear him, stay far away.
He fills in my pits
Tears up my game traps
helps the beasts escape;

He possesses no knowledge of etiquette or proper behavior, he in fact shows no awareness at all. He runs with the animals through the wilderness, jostling at the water hole with no thoughts at all. His only action showing that he is more than a beast is filling in the pits of the trapper to free the game. The trapper represents order and civilization, he is the man catching game and taming nature for men. By terrorizing him and defeating his attempts to catch game, Enkidu is revealing the extent to which he is ignorant of order and how to properly act around men.

The hunter, terrified, goes to ask Gilgamesh for a temple hierodule to seduce Enkidu and turn him into a man. He recognizes the need of chastity in the wilderness, and combats it with sex. Burkert says justly that the youth in the wilderness must be pure. The wilderness is the domain of Artemis, a virgin goddess. her servant Hippolytus spends his time in the wilderness perfectly chaste and shunning sex. It is not until he encounters Aphrodite that he leaves the wilderness and is killed. Sex does have a bit of wildness to it, but it is a carefully contained wildness, taking place either in the marriage bed, in ritual or after a battle. However, as seen with Hippolytus, following Artemis seems to predestine one to rape.

The hunter leads the hierodule to the hills in search of Enkidu. When they see him, he bids her to disrobe and seduce Enkidu, which she does.

Six days and seven nights,
That time lying together,
Enkidu had forgotten his home
had forgotten the hills
After that time he was satisfied.
Then he went back to the wild beasts-
But the gazelles saw him and ran.
Enkidu would follow, but weak,
His strength gone through woman;
Wisdom was in him,
Thoughts in his heart - a man’s.
So he returned to the priestess.
At her feet he listened intently
“You have wisdom Enkidu.
Now you are a god.

This is the most important stage of learning for Enkidu. First he learns sex, and is separated from the beasts and the wilderness. After sexual intercourse his previous companions, the gazelles, flee.

It is here also that Enkidu undergoes a more important change; he gains wisdom and intellect. Before this point, Enkidu ran with the beasts, he conversed with no on, and was content to drink with the gazelles at the water hole. But after sex, he sits at the feet of the hierodule listening to her words. Sex has made him aware, for the first time he turns to a companion for fulfillment of something other than a physical need. Like Telemachus, he lacks knowledge and this is when he realizes he has to learn. Before this point is reached, the hierodule’s words would have meant nothing, but now he possesses the mind of a man and he wishes to learn more about this transformation.

She then tells Enkidu of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and civilization. Once more Enkidu realizes the extent of the change he has undergone, for he exclaims “Yes, I can change the order of what is!” Then, no longer content to remain with the beasts he wishes to find a friend. The hierodule does not seem to count as a friend. After fulfilling her role as sexual initiator and teacher, she leads Enkidu to Gilgamesh and then vanishes. Enkidu does not miss her, she is only mentioned once more, where she represents civilization and order. Enkidu is dying, and he curses her for bringing him to the land of men, but Shamash berates him for this and we see how important her teaching was, for Enkidu realizes she gave him his friendship with Gilgamesh and turns his curses to blessings.

On their way to Uruk, the hierodule leads Enkidu to a hut of shepherds, and there she completes her teaching of the world of men. Food and drink is set in front of Enkidu, but he, still not completely in the world of order and men, turns away.

Enkidu knows nothing of this,
he knows nothing of eating food,
What is this drink? This strong drink?
He has not been taught it.
bread was set before him - he knows it not.
beer was set before him - he knows it not.

Bread and beer are the marks of civilization; man alone of all the animals makes them. Although Enkidu has taken the first step towards the world of men, he still does not know everything he needs. He can neither return to the wilderness having had sex, nor can he move fully into the world of men until he has learned proper manners. His life before taught him nothing of the making of bread and wine. However, with the prompting of the hierodule, Enkidu does eat the bread and drink the wine. She tells him if he wishes to be like a man he should eat and drink.

To prove that he has learned how to act in the world of men, Enkidu eats the food, and rejoices.

He felt so free, he felt so happy
he rejoiced so in his heart!
...he anointed himself with oil
and thus became a man.

He then dons clothing and takes a spear to attack the lions that plague the shepherds. Having once been a part of the wilderness that works against man, Enkidu has learned the proper way to act in the world of men and now becomes its protector. He works for order, turning against the disorder of nature to better the lives of men. He has now made the full transition from wild man to hero and is ready to find his companion.

Now that he is a hero, Enkidu wishes to further prove that he is strong, and he sets out to fulfill his wish to find a friend and stop the depravations of Gilgamesh. Now that he has learned proper manners, he has no need to be led by the hierodule. She retreats to the back , and he leads the way to Uruk, where he immediately discovers where to find Gilgamesh, who is on his way to the house of a new bride. Enkidu steps in front of Gilgamesh, and the two wrestle in the streets.

Enkidu must now prove that he is the near equal of Gilgamesh. He blocks the door of the bride and Enkidu wrestles Gilgamesh to a standstill. He is, however, eventually defeated by Gilgamesh, who pins him to the ground. Proving this, Gilgamesh suggests they go out to kill Humbaba, the giant who guards the cedar forest. Enkidu questions the wisdom of this, but the two of them go to the forest to kill him. Enkidu proves his worth once again to Gilgamesh, as Enkidu leads him through the endless Cedar Forest.

Once they learn etiquette and behavior in the world of men, Telemachus and Enkidu take their place at the side of the older warrior. Although the disorder that they overcame from of different types, and the learning they underwent was of different form, the meaning behind these portions of the epics was the same and they have similar roles. Both are about the youth becoming an adult at the side of his father through the acquisition of courtesy and proper behavior. When Odysseus and Gilgamesh mention their goals; Odysseus ridding the house of Suitors and Gilgamesh killing Humbaba, both Telemachus and Enkidu question the wisdom of that goal, pointing out that they are few against such a large and strong enemy.

They are both necessary components to the success of the older warrior, Odysseus could not have rid his house of the Suitors without the help of Telemachus, nor could Gilgamesh have ultimately defeated Humbaba.

Aeschylus, Oresteia Trilogy

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Moyers, Jim. From Wildman to King: Another Look at Male Initiation. Berkely, Ca. 1996

Penglase, Charles. Greek Myths and Mesopotamia: Parallels and Influence in the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod. New York, NY; Routledge Press. 1994

Temple, Robert, Epic of Gilgamesh. London; Random Century Group Ltda. 1991

Thompson, R. Campbell. Gilgamesh: Text, Translation, and Notes. Oxford; Clarendon Press. 1930

Vidal-Naquet, P, trans. Austin, M.M. Economic and Social History of Ancient Greece: An Introduction. Berkeley, Ca; University of California Press. 1980

West, M.L. The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford; Oxford University Press. 1997

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