Telemachus sneezed

Telemachus Sneezed

Until I started listening to Stanley Lombardo’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey, my primary association with the name Telemachus was from The Illuminatus! Trilogy, in which the Roberts Shea and Wilson make fun of Atlas Shrugged with a cult novel called Telemachus Sneezed. I thought that was a funny spoof title for the trippy spoof novel.

Imagine my surprise, a dozen years later, when I encounter this passage from the Odyssey, in which Penelope addresses a servant:

“As for the suitors, let them take their pleasure indoors or out as they will, for they have nothing to fret about. Their corn and wine remain unwasted in their houses with none but servants to consume them, while they keep hanging about our house day after day sacrificing our oxen, sheep, and fat goats for their banquets, and never giving so much as a thought to the quantity of wine they drink. No estate can stand such recklessness, for we have now no Odysseus to protect us. If he were to come again, he and his son would soon have their revenge.”

As she spoke Telemachus sneezed so loudly that the whole house resounded with it. Penelope laughed when she heard this, and said to Eumaeus, “Go and call the stranger; did you not hear how my son sneezed just as I was speaking? This can only mean that all the suitors are going to be killed, and that not one of them shall escape.

Apparently, the ancients considered a sneeze to be a good omen.

(And, apparently, the ancients considered mass murder to make a happy ending.)


One Response to Telemachus sneezed

  1. What is remarkable is that, even to modern Greeks, sneezing is a sign that the speaker tells the truth, millennia after Homer!

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