Telemachus at Menelaus in Sparta (Book IV)

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Telemachus and Pisistratus arrived at Menelaus’ home on the same day that he was celebrating the wedding of his two children: those of his daughter Hermione with Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, according to the promise made in Troad, and those of his bastard but beloved son Megapenthes with Alector’s daughter. The latter was indeed born from a slave, for the gods had denied him a second child from Helen. Eteoneus, servant of Menelaus, alerted him of their arrival.

In the palace, they were dazzled by a burst of sun or moon falling from the heights. After purification and refreshments, they listened to Menelaus who reported his adventures, telling them that he did not know what happened to Odysseus (Ulysses).

Then Helen appeared, looking like Artemis. Just like Menelaus before her, she recognized in Telemachus the son of Odysseus (Ulysses) because he resembled his father. Pisistratus confirmed and Menelaus sang the glory of his friend Odysseus (Ulysses). As all cried over his fate, Helen threw into the drink a drug that appeased pain and resentment and dissolved all evils. It was Polydamna of Egypt, Thon’s wife, who gave it to her. For Egypt was the land of the most learned doctors, all sons of Paeon, doctor of the gods.

Then Helena, daughter of Zeus, recounted that she had recognized and questioned Odysseus (Ulysses) when, covered in rags and playing the beggar, went inside the walls and killed many Trojans. When he revealed the plan of the Achaeans she rejoiced because she knew his return was close.

Menelaus in turn recounted the episode of the wooden horse and the valour of Odysseus (Ulysses) who held back many Achaeans ready to respond to Helen’s voice. She shouted their names, no doubt pushed by some god wanting to give the Trojans “a chance of glory.”

The next morning, Menelaus told Telemachus who questioned him about his father, his adventures in Egypt. While being held on the island of Pharos, Idotheus told him to question his father Proteus, an old man of the sea (see the beginning of this chapter). The latter had sent him back to the river Aegyptus to offer sacrifices to the gods, which he had failed to do before his departure. Proteus also informed him of the death of Ajax, that of Agamemnon killed by Aegisthus and the stranding of Odysseus (Ulysses) held by the nymph Calypso, with no boat or sailors to leave the island. Finally, Proteus told him that he would stay at the Elysian Fields with the blond Rhadamanthus where he would be considered Zeus’s son-in-law.

Then Menelaus proposed to Telemachus to delay his departure by eleven or twelve days and offered him his finest cup, a chariot and horses. Impatient to return, Telemachus declined the offer and refused the horses that could not live on Ithaca which was “an island for goats”. Menelaus then exchanged the cup he had originally offered with an even more beautiful one, made by Hephaestus.  

At the same time, the suitors Antinoos and Eurymachos “with the face of a God” learned from the mouth of Noemon that Telemachus, to whom he had lent his boat, had gone to Pylos, home of Menelaus. Antinoos, furious, summoned the suitors and was given a boat and twenty men to ambush Telemachus.

Medon immediately warned Penelope of Telemachus’ journey and the criminal plans of the suitors. The queen, devastated upon hearing this news, wanted to alert Laertes. But her servant Euryclia told her that she had helped to prepare the departure and that Athena was watching over Telemachus. Then Penelope prayed to the goddess who heard her. She created a ghost, gave him the features of Iphthime (the sister of Penelope married to Eumelos who resided in Pylos) and sent her to Penelope’s bedside while she was sleeping. The ghost assured her of the return of her son, who was under Athena’s protection, but did not want to say anything about the fate of Odysseus (Ulysses).

Meanwhile, Antinoos silenced the young suitors who could make their plans public and launched the boat. Having sailed for a time, he laid in ambush at the pass between the islands of Samos and Ithaca, where there was a rocky islet, the small Asteris which had a harbour on either side.

The “future yoga” cannot really begin until the necessary elements described by the “returns” and associated events, such as the death of Aegisthus killed by Orestes, are brought together.

Therefore, “the new struggles” in the depths of the vital and the consciousness of minute details find their raison d’être in the “evolution of the overmind” resulting from the aspiration for full liberation: Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, king of the Myrmidons, marries Hermione, daughter of Menelaus.

Similarly, the “great suffering” is reoriented in a direction that escapes us, for Megapenthes “great pain” unites with the daughter of Alector, a “virgin” who is not named.

What works towards a “real evolution” in the service of “the being in search of liberation” warns that the junction is about to be realized with the future yoga (Eteoneus informs Menelaus of the arrival of Telemachus and Pisistratus). The seeker perceives a “new light” but cannot recognize its provenance (like Odysseus (Ulysses) in Alcinous’ place, Telemachus can observe a burst of sun or moon under the high ceilings).

Although he has not yet gathered the results of the various yoga movements that he has followed in parallel, the seeker’s aspiration for freedom recognizes, because of their identity of nature, the emerging manifestations of the new yoga (although Menelaus ignores the fate of Odysseus (Ulysses), he and Helen recognize Telemachus because he looks like his father).

The adventurer has then the opportunity to achieve by some yoga practice perfect equality over a limited period of time, an equality described by Sri Aurobindo in ‘The Yoga of Self Perfection’ (The Synthesis of Yogas, The Yoga of Self Perfection, Chapter: The Action of Equality): “Perfect and consistent equality, which is not only an equality of soul, but the state of immutable peace, invariable, spontaneous, effortless, with regard to all events and circumstances”. (Helen poured in the drink a wonderful preparation suspending pain and anger, and all memory of evil; he who mixes it in his cup does not shed tears for a whole day; no, even when his father or mother perish; even when his beloved brother or son would be pierced by brass, and he would see it with his own eyes.) This realisation has already been acquired at the time of ancient Egypt by a work of extensive mastery (Polydamna “she who achieved many kinds of masteries”, is the wife of Thon “the inner consciousness turned towards the body). Homer asserts that Egypt had a civilization of great “healing initiates” whose art came from this perfect equality that prevails in the Overmind (for Egypt was the land of the most learned doctors, all sons of Paeon “the one who heals”, doctors of the gods).

The adventurer then remembers a fleeting understanding that occurred during the phase of the great reversal: although the process was barely recognizable, the path to full liberation passed through the spirit-matter union (Helen was thrilled by her encounter with Odysseus (Ulysses), whom she recognized although he was unrecognizable under his rags).

He also understands that the powers of the mind wanted to develop to their extreme limit the experience of refusing the incarnation (Helen, pushed by some god, called by their names the warriors hidden in the horse, thus offering the Trojans “a chance of glory”). This explains why Menelaus never made the slightest reproach to Helen “this daughter of Zeus, divine among women.”

At this point in the yoga, the seeker integrates the usefulness for the new yoga of his journey to rediscover the ancient knowledge of “the times of Intuition” and their accomplishments (Menelaus describes in detail to Telemachus his adventures in Egypt. See the beginning of this chapter).

He also incorporates into the new yoga the understanding of the events obtained by diving into the depths of the vital during this quest for the origins (Menelaus relates the words of Proteus to Telemachus):

– The end of the development of the “highest consciousness” resulting from the work for receptivity in the body (the death of the great Ajax, son of Telamon). This development ends when priority and the means of purification are given to the process of spirit-matter union (Ajax committed suicide when Achilles weapons were given to Odysseus (Ulysses)).

– The end of the “powerful aspiration” for the improvement of man that had been necessary for the great reversal (the death of Agamemnon, husband of Clytemnestra)

– The impression of stagnation in the process of spirit-matter union (confinement of Odysseus (Ulysses) at Calypso).

– Also the understanding that the aspiration for freedom is the most “just” (the announced stay of Menelaus on the Elysian Fields with the blond Rhadamanthus).

He confirms that vital force can no longer be an active element of the future yoga that will be supported only by the aspiration in the body (Telemachus refuses the horses offered by Menelaus because they could not live on Ithaca which was “an island for goats” with steep reliefs).

On the other hand, this new yoga accepts a more perfect capacity for joy generated by the force forging new forms (Telemachus receives as a gift from Menelaus the rarest and most beautiful of cups in his possession that had been manufactured by Hephaestus). (The cup was used to mix wine and water).

It was then that powerful oppositions rose to nip this new yoga in the bud (Antinoos, furious, summoned the suitors and was given a boat and twenty men to ambush Telemachus). These oppositions must be understood here as “the best of the old” and not as evil forces. Indeed, Antinoos is “a powerful spirit,” embodying the wisdom obtained by personal yoga, and Eurymachos “with the face like a god” the “accomplished warrior” of personal yoga embodying “holiness”. For, Mother tells us, it is always “the best of the old” that creates the strongest opposition to transformation. The realisations of ancient yogas have been brought to the pinnacle and instituted as the ultimate goal of evolution. Thus “liberation” and access to the Divine in spirit was considered (and still is today by many spiritual paths) as the only possibility of union with the Supreme.

For convenience, we will later refer to Antinoos as “wisdom” and Eurymachos as “holiness.”

The seeker then wants to mobilize the roots of the new yoga (Penelope wants Laertes, father of Odysseus (Ulysses) and therefore grandfather of Telemachus, to be warned) but “what nurtured” this yoga recommends him instead to trust his inner direction (… but Euryclia, who was first the nanny of Odysseus (Ulysses) before being that of Telemachus, deterred him, claiming that Athena was watching over Telemachus).

There is then a response from the inner master to encourage him in his movement and assure him that the future yoga is in good hands (Penelope understands that Athena watches over Telemachus).

The old realisations plan to trap the seeker by clinging to “the highest and most distant lights”, relatively small experiences, but susceptible to block evolution (the suitors are waiting for Telemachus on the rock islet called “the little Asteris (starry)” with a double harbour). The double harbour is the sign of a trap, of internal manipulations from which the seeker must escape.

But Telemachus will pass by a completely different place to reach Ithaca: the future yoga is no longer concerned with these luminous experiences in the mind.

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