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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 60

I. It is Pallas (not Apollo, the archer) who started in the mind of Penelope this scheme of testing the Suitors. Why a Goddess here? It is first a chance thought of the woman, but then it becomes an important link in the movement of divine nemesis; hence the poet, according to this custom, traces the inspiration of the idea to a deity. The history of the famous bow is given with an especial delight in details. Penelope herself goes to the room where the armor of the house was kept, gets the bow, and announces the contest to the Suitors.

The man who can bend the bow and send the arrow through the twelve rings, is to bear her away as his bride. The trial is made, no Suitor is able to bend the weapon. Interesting is the prophet among the Suitors, Leiodes, who tries his hand, yet gives the warning: "This bow upon this spot will take from many a prince the breath of life." He foresees and forewarns, but still acts the transgressor; he prophesies death to the Suitors, but remains himself a Suitor, and so perishes in accord with his own prophecy.

II. Ulysses, going to one side with the cowherd and swineherd (Philoetius and Eumaeus), whose loyalty has been so conspicuous, now discloses himself to them, and assigns their duties in the approaching conflict. "I know that you alone of the servants (men) have desired my return." He will give them wife and property if he conquers the Suitors, "and to me ye shall be as companions and brothers of Telemachus." Deserving to be adopted into the royal house of Ulysses they both are, being of this little army of four against more than a hundred enemies. Eumaeus is to put the bow into the hands of Ulysses, after the Suitors have tried the test; Philoetius is to fasten the gates that none escape.

III. After the Suitors have failed to bend the bow and a delay is proposed, Ulysses, the beggar, comes forward and asks to make the trial. Violent opposition rises on part of the Suitors, but Penelope in two speeches insists that he shall try. Here again we must ascribe to her unconscious nature some strong affinity with the ragged man before her. She praises the form of the stranger and notes his noble birth, though she denies the possibility of herself becoming his bride. Still she shows a deep attraction for him, which she cannot suppress.

Telemachus now takes the matter in hand, orders his mother out of the way somewhat abruptly (since the fight is soon to start), and bids the bow to be carried to Ulysses in face of the outcries of the Suitors. Eurycleia, the nurse, is commanded to fasten the doors of the house; now we see why Ulysses let her recognize him by the scar. Meanwhile Philoetius fastens the gates of the court. Apparently there is no escape for the Suitors; Ulysses has the bow; he has tested its quality and possesses a quiver full of arrows.

Such is the famous deed of Bending the Bow, which is a symbolic act pointing out and selecting the Hero. Ulysses is revealed by it to the Suitors even before he calls out his name and throws off his disguise; he performs the test, he shoots through the rings without missing, he has strength and skill for the emergency. If hitherto stress has been laid upon his mind and cunning, now his athletic side is brought to the front. But it required all his intelligence to reach the point at which his will is to act.

We have now gone through what may be called the first stage of this final part of the Odyssey. The Suitors have fully shown their destructive spirit, disregarding property, family, state, the Gods. Ulysses has seen and felt in person their wrongs; their negative career has reached its last deed, he has the bow in his hands and is ready for the work of retribution. Such is the general sweep of the last five Books; but now the destructive deeds of the Suitors are to meet with a still mightier destruction.

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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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