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date: 20 September 2020


  • Dale E. Monson


Libretto subject popular in the 18th century. The story of Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope, is recounted in the first four books of Homer’s Odyssey, in which Telemachus learns from Menelaus that his father is a prisoner of Calypso on a distant island; Odysseus later returns and they are reunited. The Telemachus legend takes various forms; it is frequently held that he later married Circe, and from this union Latinus was born. François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon’s version of the myth, in his novel Aventures de Télémaque (1699), aroused considerable controversy during the 18th century. Often parodied and criticized, the work became a political pawn in the dispute between Fénelon (Archbishop of Cambrai and champion of an anti-cartesian Christianity) and Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux. A didactic novel, it was designed to demonstrate to Fénelon’s pupil, the Duke of Burgundy (heir apparent to the French throne), the right way to govern. Fénelon expanded on the classical account, passing Telemachus through dozens of adventures and trials as he sought his father. In the seventh book, Telemachus is shipwrecked on the island of the goddess Calypso, who falls in love with him, though he is enamoured of a shepherdess, Eucharis. Calypso, jealous, tries to detain him and his tutor (Minerva in disguise) by burning the ship that is to provide their escape; at the last moment the tutor pushes Telemachus into the sea from a rock and together they swim to a passing ship....

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