In book 3 of The Odyssey, Athena says this to Telemachus after he says that he will never gain her favor (in Robert Fagles' translation):

Pallas Athena broke in sharply, her eyes afire—
“What’s this nonsense slipping through your teeth?
It’s light work for a willing god to save a mortal
even half the world away. Myself, I’d rather
sail through years of trouble and labor home
and see that blessed day, than hurry home
to die at my own hearth like Agamemnon,
killed by Aegisthus’ cunning—by his own wife.

But the great leveler, Death: not even the gods
can defend a man, not even one they love, that day
when fate takes hold and lays him out at last.”

What does she mean by this? Is she making the comparison between Odysseus' and Agammemnon's lives, saying that Odysseus' turned out better?

1 Answer 1


This is as straightforward as it comes. Telemachus is disheartened and fears his father may not return.

Mentor/Athena chastises him on giving up. The two components are:

  1. The gods can do anything (so have hope in the gods' will);


  1. It could be worse! Agamemnon went home and was killed by Clytemnestra. Of the two fates after Troy, it's better to be alive at the end of it then die immediately upon return.

She can't say that Odysseus' fate turned out better, because at this point in the narrative, none of the mortals still knows whether Odysseus is even alive.

Her point is for Telemachus to stay heartened, probably because she needs him to help carry out plans when Odysseus returns.

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