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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 25

Thus in general the Mythus shadows forth objective mind, not subjective; it springs from the imaginative Reason, and not from a cultivated Reflection. In our time the demand is to have these objective forms translated into subjective thoughts; then we can understand them better. But the Homeric man shows the opposite tendency: he had to translate his internal thoughts into the external shapes of the Mythus before he could grasp fully his own mind. His conception of the world was mythical; this form he understood and not that of abstract reflection. We may well exclaim: Happy Homeric man, to whom the world was ever present, not himself. Yet both sides belong to the full-grown soul, the mythical and the reflective; from Homer the one-sided modern mind can recover a part of its spiritual inheritance, which is in danger of being lost.

It is therefore, a significant fact that the education of the present time is seeking to restore the Mythus to its true place in the development of human spirit. The Imagination is recognized to have its right, and unless it be taken care of in the right way, it will turn a Fury, and wreak treble vengeance upon the age which makes it an outcast. Homer is undoubtedly the greatest of all mythologists, he seizes the pure mythical essence of the human mind and gives to it form and beauty. Hence from this point of view, specially, we shall study him.

In the present Book the fact is brought out strongly that little or nothing is to be expected from the Ithacan people toward rectifying the great wrong done to the House of Ulysses. In part they are the wrong-doers themselves, in part they are cowed into inactivity by the wrong-doers. Corruption has eaten into the spirit of the people; the result is, the great duty of deliverance is thrown back upon an individual. One man is to take the place of all, or a few men the place of the many, for the work must be done. The mightiness of the individual in the time of a great crisis is thus set forth in vivid reality; the one man with the Gods on his side is the majority. With truest instinct does the old poet show the Goddess Pallas directing Telemachus, who participates in the Divine and is carrying out its decree. This communion between man and deity is no mere mythologic sport, but the sincerest faith; verily it is the solidest fact in the government of the world, and the bard is its voice to all ages.

This Second Book has its import for the whole poem. It is now manifest that Ulysses, when he returns, is not to expect a grand popular reception; he must bring himself back to his own by his skill and prowess alone. The people will not help him slay the wrong-doers; rather the contrary will happen. Again the individual must work out the salvation of himself as well as of his family and his country. Telemachus has shown himself the worthy son of the heroic father; the present Book connects him intimately with the return of Ulysses, and binds the entire Odyssey into unity; especially does this Book look to and prepare for the last twelve Books, which bring father and son together in one great act of deliverance.

If in the previous Book we beheld the depravity of the Suitors, we now witness the imbecility of the People. Still the spark of hope flashes out brightly in this Ithacan night; something is at work to punish the guilty and to redeem the land.

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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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