Summary of Odyssey Book IV

What Happens in the Fourth Book of Homer's Odyssey

Trojan War Heroes
Trojan War Heroes. Clipart.com

Odyssey Study Guide Contents

Telemachus and Pisistratus arrive at the court of Menelaus and Helen where they are welcomed, bathed, oiled, dressed, and feasted even though the royal couple is making their children's wedding preparations. After they eat Menelaus hazards a guess that they are the sons of kings. He says that few among mortals have as much wealth as he although he has also lost much, including men; the one whose loss he most laments is Odysseus.

He doesn't know whether Odysseus is dead or alive but when he sees how moved Telemachus is, he silently deduces that he is the son Odysseus left in Ithaca as a baby. Helen comes in and voices Menelaus' suspicion. More stories bring more tears until Helen doses the wine with a pharmacopeia from magical Egypt.

Helen talks about how Odysseus disguised himself to get inside Troy where only Helen recognized him. Helen helped him and said that she regretfully longed to be with the Greeks.

Then Menelaus tells about Odysseus' work with the wooden horse and how Helen almost undid it all by tempting the men inside to call out to her.

Telemachus says it's time to sleep, so he and Pisistratus sleep outside in the colonnade while the royal couple goes to their indoor bedroom.

At dawn, Menelaus sits beside Telemachus. Menelaus asks why Telemachus came to Lacedaemon. Telemachus tells him about the suitors, which Menelaus says is shameful and Odysseus would do something about if he were there.

Menelaus then tells Telemachus what he knows about Odysseus' fate, which involves the story of meeting Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, at Pharos. Proteus' daughter, Eidothea, tells Menelaus to take 3 men (whom she covers with sheep skin) and wait until her father has finished counting his seals and fallen asleep.

Then Menelaus is to grab Proteus and hold on regardless of whether Proteus becomes a lion, a boar, water, or fire. Only when Proteus stops morphing and starts asking questions should Menelaus let go and ask him how he can get out of Egypt. After gaining the necessary information about sacrifices and doubling back down the Nile, from Proteus, Menelaus inquires about Odysseus and learns he is being held by Calypso.

Menelaus asks Telemachus to stay a while so he can gather together gifts. Telemachus says he wants to get going on his quest, but appreciates the gift offers. There's only one problem, Ithaca is ill-suited to horses, so could he please exchange the kind offer of horses for something else? Menelaus agrees and thinks well of him for asking.

Back in Ithaca, the man who lent the ship to Telemachus wants it back and asks the suitors if they know when it will return. This is the first the suitors know that Telemachus is gone. Penelope also hears about it for the first time and is distraught. She questions Eurycleia who dissuades Penelope from notifying old Laertes about his grandson's departure. The suitors plan to ambush and murder Telemachus on his return. They sail out to wait in a cove.

Penelope is comforted by a dream phantom of her sister, Iphthime, to reassure her of Telemachus' divine protection.

Book III Summary|Book V

Read a Public Domain translation of Odyssey Book IV.

Odyssey Study Guide Contents

This book suggests that Helen may have gone willingly to Troy and then later regretted her decision. Menelaus may not have entirely forgiven her. He changes the topic from her helpfulness towards the Greeks in her narrative about Odysseus to the related one of the men inside the horse who are tempted by her voice to call out to her.

It is not clear why it matters whether Menelaus makes it back before Orestes does to kill Aegisthus, murderer of Agamemnon.

Proteus tells Menelaus that because he is the husband of Helen, who is the daughter of Zeus, he will end up in a good spot in the afterlife, in the Elysian Fields.

Telemachus had told his nurse Eurycleia about his plan but hadn't wanted his mother to know for fear she let on too soon. He had good reason as her tearful behavior shows. Had the suitors known any earlier, they might have killed him before he had accomplished anything.

Mentor was recognized in the ship in which Telemachus set sail, but he was also seen in town. This doesn't present a problem. It is simply assumed that one, presumably the one with Telemachus, is a god in Mentor-disguise.

Telemachus didn't turn down a present but asked if he could have something else instead because the present was unsuitable. I don't think we do that very much today because we are afraid of hurting feelings, but perhaps people today would react as Menelaus did -- perfectly amenable to replacing it with another.

Near the start of the book, the familiar theme of hospitality creeps up. Menelaus is prepping for weddings, but when he hears there are strangers on his shore, he insists that they be properly entertained, and all, of course, before he questions his visitors.

Odyssey in English

Odyssey Study Guide Contents

  • Telemachus - Son of Odysseus who was left as a baby when Odysseus went off 20 years earlier to fight in the Trojan War.
  • Menelaus - king of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon. When Menelaus married Helen, a promise was extracted from all the rejected suitor-princes that they would come to the aid of Menelaus should anyone try to abduct her.
  • Helen - daughter of Zeus and wife of Menelaus. Paris took her to Troy and the Greeks came to take her back, fighting the Trojan War over her. On her return, she and her husband Menelaus are long delayed in Egypt where Helen learns some of the magical properties of herbs.
  • Pisistratus - Youngest son of Nestor. Younger brother of Trojan War fighters Antilochus and Thrasymedes. Pisistratos accompanies Telemachus on his journey.
  • Proteus - the Old Man of the Sea. He herds seals and can change into any form. Menelaus has to hold onto him no matter what shape he changes into. His daughter is Eidothea, who not only helps Menelaus against her father, but slaughters four seals in order to provide covering for the men.
  • Penelope - the faithful wife of Odysseus who has been keeping the suitors at bay.
  • Iphthime - sister of Penelope, daughter of Lord Icarius and bride of Eumulus. A phantom of her is sent to comfort Penelope.
  • Eurycleia - the old faithful servant who kept Telemachus' secret when he left Ithaca and didn't want his mother to let on to the suitors.
  • Antinous - The ringleader suitor who is approached for information about the ship Telemachus borrowed. He gathers together the suitors chosen to ambush and murder Telemachus.

    Profiles of Some of the Major Olympian Gods Involved in the Trojan War

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    Gill, N.S. "Summary of Odyssey Book IV." ThoughtCo, Jun. 29, 2017, thoughtco.com/summary-of-odyssey-book-iv-121339. Gill, N.S. (2017, June 29). Summary of Odyssey Book IV. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/summary-of-odyssey-book-iv-121339 Gill, N.S. "Summary of Odyssey Book IV." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/summary-of-odyssey-book-iv-121339 (accessed May 26, 2018).