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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 49

What will the Suitors do? The most audacious one, Antinous, is ready with a proposal. The boy will prove a pest, we must waylay him on his return and murder him. Such is their final act of wrong, which is now accepted by all, and the proposer gets ready to carry out his plan. Hitherto it may be said the Suitors had a certain right, the right of suit, which, however, becomes doubtful through the uncertainty about the death of the husband, and through the unwillingness of the wife. But now their guilt is brought out in strong colors, there can be no question about it. They man a boat and lie in wait for their prey on a little island which the youth has to pass in coming home.

2. The mother Penelope hears of the daring act of her boy, done without her consent or knowledge. The news is brought to her, just as she is recounting the goodness of Ulysses and the wrongs of the Suitors. This new misfortune, for so it seemed to her, is quite too great a burden to bear; she breaks out into lamentations find recites her woes: a husband lost and now a son in the greatest danger. But she is to get both human and divine consolation. Eurycleia, the old nurse, confesses to her part in the affair, and advises the queen "to put on fresh garments and to pray to Pallas, ascending to the upper chamber."

Pallas sends to the distressed mother a refreshing sleep and a consoling dream, which we may consider to have been suggested by the words of Eurycleia. Her sister who dwelt far away, appears to her and says that her son, guided by Pallas, will surely return. Doubtless we see here an expression of the deepest instinct of Penelope; the outer suggestion of the nurse and her own unconscious faith fuse together and form the phantom and give to the same an utterance. The youth who can plan and carry out such an expedition will probably be able to take care of himself. Penelope of course has some doubt, since the good Ulysses has had to suffer so much from the Gods. About him, too, she will know and so inquires of the phantom. Doth he live? But the shadowy image can tell nothing, the act of Ulysses lies not in its field of vision, it declines to speak further and vanishes.

Thus Telemachus has broken through the two restraints which held him in bondage at his Ithacan home, both keeping down his manly endeavor. The first comes from the Suitors and is the restraint of hate, which would give him no opportunity in the world of action, and in addition is destroying his possessions. The second restraint springs from love, and yet is injurious. The solicitude of the mother keeps him back from every enterprise; having lost her husband, as she deems, by his too adventuresome spirit, she is afraid of losing her boy for the same reason, and is in danger of losing him anyhow, by making him a cipher. Such are the two obstacles in Ithaca which Telemachus is shown surmounting and asserting therein his freedom and manhood. The whole is a flash of his father's mettle, he is already the unconscious Ulysses; no wonder that he inquires after his parent in Pylos and Sparta. The poet will now carry him forward to the point where he will actually meet and know Ulysses himself; the son is to advance to direct communion with his great father.

Here the Fourth Book, or rather the Telemachiad, reaches out and connects with the Ithakeiad, which begins in the Thirteenth Book. Ulysses returns to Ithaca and steals to the hut of the swineherd Eumaeus; Telemachus comes back from Sparta, and, avoiding the ambush of the Suitors, seeks the same faithful servant. Thus father and son are brought together, and prepare themselves for their heroic task.

But before this task can be accomplished, the grand experience of Ulysses is to be told in the eight following Books (V-XII); that is, we are now to have the Ulyssiad, just as we have had the Telemachiad. Father and son are now separated from home and country; both are to return through a common deed of heroism.

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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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