Short summary - The Adventures of Telemachus, the Son of Ulysses - François Fénelon - François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Adventures of Telemachus, the Son of Ulysses
François Fénelon - François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon

The educator of the heir to the throne of the Duke of Burgundy, the grandson of King Louis XIV, Fenelon wrote for his young student the philosophical and utopian novel "The Adventures of Telemachus" about what a real sovereign should be and how to govern the people and the state.
The novel takes place in ancient times. Telemac goes in search of his father Ulysses (Odysseus), who did not return home after the victory of the Greeks over the Trojans. During their wanderings, Telemach and his mentor Mentor were thrown by a storm on the island of the nymph Calypso, with whom the ulysses once visited. She offers Telemak to stay with her and gain immortality. He refuses. To detain him, Calypso asks to tell about his wanderings. Telemach begins a story about how he visited different countries and saw different kingdoms and kings, and about what a wise sovereign should be in order to intelligently rule the people and not use power to harm himself and others.
Telemac tells about Egypt, where Sezostris reigns, a wise sovereign who loves the people like his children. All are happy to obey him, to give their lives for him, all have one thought - "not to be free from his power, but to be eternally under his rule." Sesostris daily accepts complaints from his subjects and adjudicates judgment, but he does so with patience, reason and rightness. Such a king is not afraid of his subjects. However, even the wisest sovereigns are subject to dangers, for "deceit and greed are always at the foot of the throne." Evil and cunning courtiers are ready to please the sovereign for their own benefit, and woe to the tsar if he becomes a "playboy of evil deceit", if he does not drive "flattery from himself and does not love those who tell him the truth in a bold voice." According to the slander of one of these courtiers, Telemac is sent along with the slaves to graze herds of cows.
After the death of Sezostris, Telemac on a Phoenician ship sails to Phenicia, where Pygmalion reigns. This is a greedy and envious ruler, from whom neither the people nor the state benefit. From avarice, he is distrustful, suspicious and bloodthirsty, drives the rich, fears the poor, everyone hates him. Violent death threatens him both in his "impenetrable palaces" and in the midst of all his bodyguards. "Good Sezostris, on the other hand," says Telemach, "was safe in the midst of countless people, like a father in a house with a kind family."
After many adventures, Telemak ends up on the island of Crete and learns from his mentor Mentor what laws King Minos established there. Children learn to live a simple and active lifestyle. Three vices - ingratitude, pretense and avarice, are tolerated in other places, punished in Crete. Splendor and luxury are unknown, everyone is working, but no one "wants to get rich." "Precious utensils, magnificent garments, gilded houses, luxurious feasts" are prohibited. Magnificent architecture is not banished, but "provided for temples dedicated to Gods." People do not dare to build for themselves houses like the dwellings of the immortals.
The tsar has complete power over his subjects here, but he himself is "under the law." His power is unlimited in everything that is aimed at the good of the people, but his hands are tied when they turn to evil. The laws require that the sovereign's wisdom and meekness contribute to the prosperity of many, and not vice versa - that thousands "nourish the pride and luxury of one, themselves groveling in poverty and slavery." The first tsar is obliged to “precede by his own example in strict moderation, in contempt for luxury, pomp, vanity. It should be distinguished not by the brilliance of wealth and not by the coolness of bliss, but by wisdom, valor, and glory. From the outside, he must be the protector of the kingdom, the leader of the rati; inside - the judge of the people and to assert its happiness, to enlighten the minds, to guide the morals. The gods entrust him with the rod of government not for him, but for the people: the people own all their time, all their labors, all the love of their heart, and they are worthy of power only to the extent that they forget themselves, as they sacrifice themselves to the common good. "
Cretans choose the king from the most intelligent and worthy, and Telemac becomes one of the contenders for the throne. The sages ask him the question: who is the most unhappy? He replies that the most unfortunate of all is the sovereign, lulled in imaginary prosperity, while the people groan under his yoke. "In the blinding, he is especially unhappy: not knowing the disease, he cannot be cured ... The truth does not reach him through the crowd of carers." Telemach is chosen king, but he refuses and says: “You must choose as king not the one who judges the laws better than others, but the one who obeys them ... life would be the fulfillment of the law. "
Telemac and his mentor manage to escape from the nymph Calypso. They meet at sea with the Phoenicians. And they learn from them about the amazing country of Betika. It is believed that "there are still all the amenities of the golden age": the climate is warm, there is plenty of gold and silver, the harvest is harvested twice a year. Those people have no money, they do not trade with anyone. Plows and other tools are made of gold and silver. There are no palaces and no luxury, because it is believed to interfere with living there. The inhabitants of Betika have no property - “without dividing land among themselves, they live together,” they have neither theft nor envy. All property is common and everything is in abundance. The main thing is to cultivate the land, for it brings "false wealth, faithful food." They consider it foolish to look for gold and silver in the mines in the sweat of their brows, since this "can neither constitute happiness, nor satisfy any true need."
The head of the Phoenician ship promises to land Telemac on his native Ithaca, but the helmsman goes astray and the ship enters the city of Salent, where King Idomeneo rules. He made many mistakes during his reign - not caring about the people, he built luxurious palaces. Using his example, the Mentor teaches Telemach how to rule the country, and says that long-term and lasting peace, as well as "agriculture and the establishment of wise laws" should be the first duty of the ruler. And lust for power and vanity can lead the king to the edge of the abyss. “Power is a cruel test” for talents, says Mentor, “it exposes all weaknesses to their fullest extent,” because “the supreme dignity is like glass that magnifies objects. Vices in our eyes grow at that high level where even small deeds entail important consequences. " There are no sovereigns without flaws, therefore it is necessary to "excuse the sovereigns and regret their share." However, the weaknesses of kings are lost in the multitude of great virtues, if the rulers have them.
On the advice of the Mentor, Idomeneo divides all free people into seven "states" and assigns to each appropriate clothing and inexpensive insignia. Thus, the pernicious passion for luxury is eradicated. Accordingly, the food is established in moderation, for it is shameful to indulge in gluttony. Slaves, on the other hand, wear the same gray clothes. Also forbidden are "languid and lustful music" and violent celebrations in honor of Bacchus, which "overshadow reason no worse than wine, are shameless and frenzied." Music is allowed only for the glorification of Gods and heroes, while sculpture and painting, in which there should not be anything low, serve to glorify the memory of great men and deeds.
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In addition, Mentor teaches Idomeneo that "wine should never be an ordinary, common drink", that it is necessary to "destroy the vines when they multiply too much", because wine is the source of many evils. It should be preserved as a medicine or "as a rarity for solemn days and sacrifices."
Telemach, meanwhile, after many adventures and exploits, in which the goddess Minerva helped him, concludes from dreams that his father has died. Telemac descends into the kingdom of the dead Tartarus. There he sees many sinners: cruel kings, wives who killed their husbands, traitors, liars, "carers, praising vice, malicious slanderers, revolting virtue." All of them appear before King Minos, who after death became a judge in the kingdom of shadows. He determines the punishment for them. For example, kings convicted of abuse of power look in the mirror, where they see all the horrors of their vices. Many kings suffer not for the evil they have done, but for the good lost, for trusting people evil and insidious, for the evil done in their name.
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Then Telemac passes through the Champs Elysees, where good kings and heroes enjoy bliss. There he meets his great-grandfather Arcesius, who informs Telemac that the ulysses are alive and will soon return to Ithaca. Arcesius reminds Telemac that life is fleeting and one must think about the future - to prepare for oneself a place “in a happy land of peace”, following the path of virtue. Arcesius shows Telemacus wise kings, the heroes are separated from them by a light cloud, since they "received lesser glory": the reward for courage and feats of arms still cannot be compared with the reward "for a wise, just and beneficial reign."
Among the kings, Telemachus sees Cecrops, an Egyptian, the first king in Athens - a city dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and named after her. From Egypt, from where the sciences came to Greece, Cecrops brought useful laws to Attica, tamed morals, was philanthropic, left "the people in abundance, and his family in poverty and did not want to transfer power to children, considering others worthy."
Triptolemus, another Greek king, blessed for teaching the Greeks the art of cultivating the land, plowing it and fertilizing it, strengthening their kingdom. Telemachus should act in the same way, according to Arcesius, when he reigns - to turn the people to agriculture, not to tolerate idle people.
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Telemach leaves the kingdom of Pluto and after new adventures meets his father Ulysses on an unknown island, but does not recognize him. The goddess Minerva appears to Telemaku and says that he is now worthy to follow in the footsteps of his father and wisely rule the kingdom. She gives Telemak instructions: “When you are on the throne, strive for that glory only, in order to restore the golden age in your kingdom ... Love your people and spare nothing, to be mutually loved ... Do not forget that the king is not on the throne. for your own glory, but for the good of the people ... Fear the Gods, Telemac! The fear of God is the greatest treasure of the human heart. Will come to you with him and justice, and peace of mind, and joy, and pure pleasures, and happy abundance, and unshakable glory. "
Telemac returns to Ithaca and finds his father there.