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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 48

Though Telemachus is not told that his father is returning, still he may draw such an inference from the story of Menelaus, who was also detained on an island longing to get home. If the Gods, being duly recognized, will give their help in the one case, they will in the other; they too, will come to the aid of Ulysses, when he has placed himself in harmony with them. This is what is about to happen.

As already set forth, there are three divisions of this first part of the Fourth Book: the simple idyllic Present at Sparta, the disrupted strifeful Past at Troy, the movement out of the latter by way of Egypt. Taking the three divisions together, we note that they form the total sweep of one great Return, that of Menelaus, from unity through separation back to harmony. Thus Menelaus and also Helen are shown to have solved their problem.

But there remains the harder and deeper problem of Ithaca, which is that of Ulysses. Here enemies have possession of the man's home, and he brings back no help, only himself. It is therefore, a natural transition to introduce at this point the Ithacan condition which is seen to be more difficult than the Spartan one, for Menelaus seems to have had no enemies in his house to dispute his Return, as Agamemnon had and also Ulysses has. But Agamemnon perished, Ulysses will not.


Accordingly the affairs of Ithaca are introduced, as they happened after the departure of Telemachus. This thread is picked up from the Second Book, where he had his final conference with the Suitors and told them his mind. We must recall that Ithaca is the abode of conflict and disorder; the Suitors and Household of Penelope are the two antagonistic elements; upon both the secret departure of Telemachus explodes like a bomb, and brings the characters of each side to the surface.

Telemachus stands in relation to the Suitors as well as to his mother; both are putting their restraints upon him which he has broken through and asserted his freedom, his new manhood. One, however, is the restraint of hate, the other is the restraint of love; both stand in the way of his development. He must get his great education in defiance of Suitors and of mother. The attitudes of these two parties are described, and form the two divisions of this second part of the Fourth Book.

1. The Suitors, when they hear of the deed of Telemachus, are not only surprised but startled, and they at once recognise that a new power has risen which threatens to punish their misdeeds. The youth has plainly become a man, a man showing the skill and courage of his father, and with the sense of wrong burning in his breast. Already he has declared that he would wreak vengeance upon them, the day of reckoning seems to have dawned. Previously they despised his warnings as the helpless babble of a mere boy; now they have to meet him, returning, possibly, with help from his father's friends.

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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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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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