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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 41

I. In the departure of Telemachus from Sparta, we witness the divine and human elements again in co-operation. The former is represented by Pallas who came down to Sparta to "remind the son of Ulysses of his Return(nostos)." She appears to him in the night as he lies awake full of care; he is ready to see her plan and so she appears on the spot and tells it, not in the form of a dream. In the first place, he is to hasten home in order to save his substance, which is threatened with new loss through the possible marriage of Penelope with one of the suitors, Eurymachus. The son (through the mouth of Pallas) here shows some bitter feeling toward his mother, whose mind be manifestly does not understand; she is altogether too subtle for her own boy, who has not seen through her disguises. In the second place Pallas warns him against the ambush of the Suitors, which was no doubt his own forecast of the situation. In the third place, the Goddess sends him to the hut of the faithful swineherd, whose character he must have already known. In this speech of Pallas we feel everywhere the subjective element; she is certainly the voice of Telemachus, yet also the voice of the situation; the divine and human side easily come together, with a stronger tinge of the human than is usual in Homer. Still we must not forget that Pallas, Goddess of Intelligence, suggests the processes of mind more directly than any other deity. Thus we again see that Pallas is the organizer of the poem; she brings its threads together through her foresight; she sends Telemachus where he unites with Ulysses and Eumaeus.

The separation from Menelaus and Helen is told in the style of lofty hospitality. Menelaus brings as his present a wine-bowl wrought by divine skill, "the work of Vulcan," which was given him by the king of the Sidonians—another glance back to Phoenicia and its art. Helen gives a garment of her own making, which thou shalt preserve as "a keepsake of Helen" till the day of thy marriage, "when thy bride shall wear it." A most beautiful motive, worthy indeed of Helen and of Helen's art; Telemachus is to transfer to his bride, and to her alone, his "keepsake of Helen," his memory of her, his ideal gotten during this journey. Finally Helen appears as prophetess and foretells the total destruction of the Suitors at the hands of returning Ulysses. Such is the last appearance of Helen to Telemachus, giving strong encouragement, suggesting in her two acts a new outlook for the youth both upon Family and State. No wonder his words to her rise into adoration: "Zeus so ordering, there at home I shall pray unto thee as unto a God."

Telemachus in his return will not pass through Pylos lest he be delayed by the importunate hospitality of good old Nestor. And indeed what can he gain thereby? He has already seen and heard the Pylian sage. So he sends the latter's son home while he himself goes aboard his ship. But just before he sets sail, there comes "a stranger, a seer, a fugitive, having slain a man." Theoclymenus it is, of the prophetic race of Melampus, the history of which is here given. The victim of a fateful deed now beseeches Telemachus for protection and receives it; the prophet hereafter will give his forewarnings to the Suitors. Yet he could not save himself from his own fate in spite of his foresight; so all the seers of the family of Melampus have a strain of fatality in them; they foreknow, but cannot master their destiny.

II. The scene shifts (l. 301) to the hut of the swineherd, which is the present destination of Telemachus. The reader beholds a further unfolding of the character of Eumaeus, in fact this portion of the Book might be called his discipline or preparation to take part in the impending enterprise.

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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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