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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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

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 125

The domain of morals reveals the spiritual in action, the domain of true art reveals the spiritual in representation. What shall I do with this world of the senses? was a great question to the Greek, and still is to us. In conduct subordinate it; in nature transform it into an image of the higher. The work of art is a divine flash from above into a sensuous form; this flash we separate from its material, and pass into pure spirit; then we reach Tiresias, the mind embodied, not limited in Space and Time.

Circe thus indicates her own limitation, which belongs to morals and art. She is not the Infinite, but can point to it; she hints the rise from art to philosophy. Backwards and forwards runs the suggestion in her career; the Greek can lapse to the first Circe and die in a debauch of the senses, or he can rise to the prophetic Circe, and lay the deep foundation of all future thought. The Greek world, in fact, had just this double outcome.

Ulysses, then, has to go to Hades, the supersensible realm; his heart was wrung, "I wept sitting upon the couch, I wished no longer to live nor to see the light of the sun." But after such a fit, he is ready for action: "when I had enough of weeping and rolling about, I asked Circe: Who will guide me?" Then he receives his instructions, which have somewhat of the character of a mystic ritual, with offerings to the dead, who will come and speak. Messages from the spirit world he will get, but he must pass through the Ocean stream, to the groves of Proserpine. From that point, after mooring his ship, he is to go to the houses of Hades, where is a rock at the meeting of two loud-roaring rivers; "pour there a libation to the dead" with due ceremony. In all of which is the method of the later necromancy, or consultation of the departed for prophetic purposes. Very old is the faith that the souls of deceased persons can be made to appear and to foretell the future, after a proper rite and invocation; nor is such a belief unknown in our day.

Ulysses departs from Circe's palace and tells his companions concerning the new voyage: whereat another scene of lamentation. To the Greek the Underworld was a place of gloom and terror; he liked not the spirit disembodied, he needed the sensuous form for his thought, he was an artist by nature. The Homeric Greek in particular was the incarnation of the sunny Upperworld, he shuddered at the idea of separating from it and its fair shapes. But the thing must be done, as it lies in the path of development as well as in the movement of this poem.

Ulysses must therefore go below, inasmuch as this world with its moral life even, is not the finality. There is aught beyond, the limit of death we must surmount in the present existence still; a glimpse of futurity the mortal must have before going thither. So Homer makes the Hero transcend life as it were, during life; and extend his wanderings into the supersensible world.

The reader has now witnessed the three stages of this Tenth Book—Aeolus, the Laestrigonians, and Circe. The inner connection between these three stages has also been investigated and brought to the surface; at least such has been the persistent attempt. Especially has Circe been unfolded in the different phases which she shows—all of which have been traced back to a unity of character.

The intimate relation between the Ninth and Tenth Books has been set forth along with their differences. Both belong to the Upperworld of this Fableland; hence they stand in contrast with the Netherworld, which is now to follow.

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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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