Alberto Manguel

Voyage Round My Father

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son and an Epic


William Collins 306pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

According to the Greek scholar Apollodorus, when Odysseus, in order to avoid joining the Greek expedition against Troy, feigns madness by sowing salt in the fields, clever Palamedes places his infant son, Telemachus, in his way so that Odysseus would be forced to divert the plough, thereby proving that he isn’t mad. Being rescued from death is Telemachus’s first memorable encounter with his father. The second occurs twenty long years later, when Odysseus returns to Ithaca disguised as a beggar, after spending ten years at the siege of Troy and a further ten at sea, pursued by Poseidon’s wrath. In both cases Odysseus (who during his wanderings says to the Cyclops that his name is Nobody) pretends to be someone he is not. Joseph Brodsky suggested that to owe one’s life to a man whose identity is elusive might perhaps be a salutary experience, and imagined the senile king recognising the possible advantage of his long absence to his son’s development.

Grow up, then, my Telemachus, grow strong.
Only the gods know if we’ll see each other
again. You’ve long since ceased to be that babe
before whom I reined in the plowing bullocks.
Had it not been for Palamedes’ trick
we two would still be living in one household.
But maybe he was right; away from me
you are quite safe from all Oedipal passions,
and your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Circumspect, slyly reticent, and oleaginously smooth' From the Archive: John Banville reviews Andrew Motion's mys… ,
    • With our February issue about to go to press, enjoy a slice of LR history - Hilary Mantel on Joan Haslip's biograph… ,
    • What did London look like in the 6th Century? Rory Naismith's 'Citadel of the Saxons' tries to answer that questi… ,
    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,