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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 35


The Book begins with another transition in place; Ulysses passes from the sea-shore, with its haven, grot, and olive-tree up into the mountain, to the hut of Eumaeus. We have quite a full description of the latter's abode; there is a lodge surrounded by a court and a wall; within this inclosure are the sties, and the droves of swine over which he is the keeper, with four assistants. Nor must we omit the fierce dogs, savage as wild beasts. Such is the new environment which Ulysses enters, and which has at its center a human being who gives character to this little world. Again we catch a clear quick glimpse of the Greek landscape in one of its phases.

The spiritual transition is, however, the main thing. Ulysses passes from Pallas, the deity of pure wisdom, to Eumaeus, the humblest of mortals in his vocation. Yet this poor man too has the divine in him, and manifests it in a supreme degree, not, however, in the form of reflective wisdom, but in the form of piety, of an immediate faith in the Gods. Still this faith has its sore trial. Such is the contrast between the two men. Ulysses has brought with him the Goddess of Wisdom, whose words he has heard, and with whom he has held communion. Hardly does Eumaeus know Pallas, he has not the internal gift of seeing her in her own shape. Thus both these men share in the divine, but in very different ways.

From this difference in the two men spring both the character and the matter of the Book. It is a play, a disguise; a play between Wisdom and Faith, in which the former must be in disguise to the latter, yet both have the same substance at bottom. For Faith is Faith because it cannot take the form of Intelligence, yet may have in its simple immediate form all the content of Intelligence.

Eumaeus has an open single-hearted piety; he cannot play a disguise, he hates it for he has been deceived by it when assumed by lying fablers. For this reason he is not intrusted with the secret of his master's return till the last moment, he would have to dissemble, to violate his own nature, and then perhaps he would not have succeeded in his attempt. So Ulysses with a true regard for his man withholds the great secret, and has to play under cover in order to get the needful information.

Accordingly the present Book has a decided tinge of comedy. There is, on the one hand, the disguise, external and internal—in garments and in identity; on the other hand, there is the error which takes one person for another, and produces the comic situation. Thus the Book is prophetic of a great branch of Literature, and may be considered as a starting-point of Greek Comedy, yes, as one of the origins of Shakespeare. To be sure, it is not mere fun or amusement; it is the Comedy of Providence, who often is in disguise bringing his blessing. Eumaeus in his piety has just that which he thinks he has not; his loyalty has brought to him just that which he most desired; his mistake is in reality no mistake, but a mere appearance which will vanish in the end.

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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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