THE SNEEZE OF TELEMACHUS!
Here is one of the strangest and weirdest pieces of information we get from the Odyssey, since Penelope:
So he said, and Telemachus sneezed loudly, and the whole house
Fearfully echoed: Penelope then laughed,
And immediately to Eumeus fleeting words said:
“Go, invite the guest to come forth here:
Can’t you see that the son sneezes at all my words?
So would the death of the suitors come true, of all”. (XVII, 541-546)
It seems that Homer wants us to know that Telemachus sneezes, so that the fact is also remarked by his mother the queen, but what can be so special a sneeze, to deserve to appear in an immortal work? For us moderns maybe nothing, but for the ancients such a gesture was considered good luck, so that even today when someone sneezes we exclaim joyfully: “Salute! (Health!)”or “God bless you!”. Which is in itself quite strange, since often a sneeze is a symptom of the arrival of a more serious and annoying disease, such as fever or allergy, otitis or worse. According to the ancients the sneeze had to be of divine origin, being produced by a sacred part of the body, the head. So we say “Salute” to imply “May the gods bring you health instead of sickness” or something similar. Perhaps not many people know that Giacomo Leopardi, in addition to sad and pessimistic poems that have plagued for generations students who had to learn by heart, was also the author of an “Essay on the popular errors of the ancients” that had an entire chapter dedicated to sneezing. For us, the attention should be shifted not on the sneeze, but on its author, that is Telemachus: Homer wants us to know that the destiny of the annihilation of the suitors will be sanctioned by the divine will and will be fulfilled by Telemachus, and not by Ulysses.