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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

D. Snider
A Commentary on the Odyssey of Homer - Part II

From, Homer's Odyssey: A commentary
[Please note that the Table of Contents here published, is created by Elpenor and is not to be found in the print version]

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Page 34

3. This deed has been often mentioned before—the purification of Ithaca, chiefly by the slaughter of the Suitors, "the shameless set, who usurp thy house and woo thy wife." Sitting on the roots of the sacred olive, the two, the man and the deity, plan destruction to the guilty. Verily those double elements, the human and the divine, must co-operate if the great action be performed. The eternal principle of right, the moral order of the world, must unite with the free agency of the individual in bringing about the regeneration of the land. Thus after their complete recognition and harmony, which takes place out of separation, Ulysses and Pallas look forward to the impending deed, which is their unity realized and standing forth as a fact in the world.

4. Finally we have the manner of doing the deed, the plan is laid before us. Pallas tells Ulysses that he must again assume his disguise, both in the hut of the swineherd and in the palace at Ithaca. She does not propose to do his work for him; on the contrary it must be his own spontaneous energy. In fact, Pallas is in him making this suggestion, yet outside of him, too, speaking the voice of the situation.

The scheme shows the structure of these four Books (XIII-XVI), organized of course by Pallas. Ulysses is to go to the swineherd who is loyal, and will give shelter. Telemachus is to be brought to the same place by Pallas, not externally, as we shall see, but through the free act of Telemachus himself. Thus the three chosen men are gathered together in their unsuspected fortress. Two things we must note in regard to these movements: they are wholly voluntary on part of the persons making them, yet they belong in the Divine Order, and thus are the work of the deity. Free-Will and Providence do not trammel each other, but harmoniously co-operate to the same end. So carefully and completely is this thought elaborated that we may consider it fundamental in the creed of the poet.

In such manner the weak, finite Ulysses is brought into communion with the immortal Goddess. Yet he, the poor frail mortal, drops for a moment even here. When Pallas speaks of Telemachus having gone to Sparta, to learn about his father, Ulysses petulantly asks: "Why did not you, who know all things, tell that to him" without the peril of such a journey? The answer of Pallas is clear; I sent him in order that he might be a man among men, and have the good fame of his action. Telemachus, too, must be a free man; that is the education of Pallas. The Goddess will help him only when he helps himself. Divinity is not to sap human volition, but to enforce it; she would unmake Telemachus, if she allowed him to stay at home and do nothing, tied to his mother's apron strings.

And here we cannot help noting an observation on Homer's poetry. It must be in the reader ere he can see it in the book. Unless he be ready for its spirit, it will not appear, certainly it will not speak. There must be a rise into the vision of Homeric poetry on the part of the reader, as there is a rise into the vision of the Goddess on the part of Ulysses. The two sides, the human and the divine, or the Terrestrial and the Olympian, must meet and commune; thus the reader, too, in perusing Homer, must become heroic and behold the Gods.

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Cf. Pharr, Homer and the study of Greek * Odyssey Complete Text
Iliad Complete Text * Homer Bilingual Anthology and Resources * Livingstone, On the Ancient Greek Literature
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