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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 39

Thus it appears that the Greeks have lost their Aryan connection, and have become the heirs of a Semitic civilization. Homer does not seem to know his Indo-European kinship, but he does connect Hellas with Phoenicia and Egypt in many a spiritual tie. These ties take, for the most part, a mythical form, still they must have been a great fact, else they could not have influenced the mythology of the Greek race. So the present tale through the fiction of the myth-maker, hints the chief social fact of the time.

The fiction in the previous Book, which Ulysses began to tell to Pallas, also started in Crete, looked back at the Trojan war, and connected with Idomeneus, the great hero of Cretan legend in the affair of Troy. The Phoenican trader in his ship comes in there too. But that tale is cut short by the Goddess, who knows the disguise. In the present case, however, the swineherd makes no such discovery. The next Book will also have its corresponding tale.

Ulysses has thus told all about himself to the swineherd, has even hinted in one place his disguise. He speaks of Ulysses having gone to Dodona to consult the sacred oracle "whether he should return to Ithaca openly or secretly, after so long an absence." He runs along the very edge of discovering himself. But the swineherd will not believe; "the Gods all hate my master" is still his view. Already a lying Ætolian had deceived him with a similar tale, which also introduced Idomeneus and the Cretans. Ulysses has before himself a new picture of doubt, and its blindness; quite a lesson it must have been to the skeptical man.

The story, in its deepest suggestion, hints the manner of providential working, as seen by the old bard. Eumaeus has already had his prayers for the return of his master fulfilled, though he does not know it, and believes that they never will be fulfilled. Still he never gives up his divine loyalty and turns atheist. By his charity and piety he has helped, indeed has brought about the return of Ulysses unwittingly. The man, if he follow the law, is always helping, though he may not see that he is, may even think that he is not. This ethical order of the world underlies the tale, and is what the ancient listener must have felt so that Homer's poems became a bible to him. Providence in disguise is its title, here represented by the Hero in disguise.

III. The supper and its preparation are quite fully described; it is the second meal of pork in this Book. This we may pass over, to note the stratagem of Ulysses to obtain a cloak from the swineherd. The stranger tells his stratagem once upon a time at Troy for the same purpose; whereat the swineherd takes the hint and says: "Thou shalt not lack for a garment or anything else which is befitting a suppliant." Thus Ulysses obtained his cloak, and slept warm by the hearth.

But the other hint the swineherd did not take, the hint of the disguise. He sees the artifice of his guest to obtain the cloak, but never thinks in his own mind: This is Ulyssess himself, the man of wiles trying to get the cloak again tonight. Yet Ulysses has gone far toward telling him just that. The swineherd cannot suspect, it is foreign to his nature; this is just his beauty of character and its limitation.

But Ulysses has to disguise in order to do his work. He is in his own land, on his own territory, yet he dares not appear as he is. This is not his fault. His whole object is to get rid of this necessity of disguise, so that he may be himself. The time will not permit candor, hence his call is to correct the time. Violence is met by disguise, as it always is; fraud destroys itself; the negation negates itself. Such is the process which we are now beholding.

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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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