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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 68

The organism of the Book easily falls into two parts, one of which portrays Nausicaa at home, the other gives the meeting between her and Ulysses. Yet over this human movement hovers always the divine, Pallas is the active supernal power which brings these events to pass, introducing both the parts mentioned. She is the providence which the poet never permits to drop out. Most deeply does the old singer's sincerity herein move the reader, who must rise to the same elevation; Homer's loyalty is to faith, faith in the Divine Order of the World, for this is not suffered to go its way without a master spirit; the individual, especially in his pivotal action, is never left alone, but he fits in somewhere; the Whole takes him up and directs him, and adjusts him into the providential plan; not simply from without but through himself. Such is this poet's loyalty to his Idea; he has faith, deep, genuine faith, yet unostentatious, quite unconventional at times; a most refreshing, yes, edifying appearance to-day, even for religious people, though he be "an old heathen."

Such continual recurrence of the God's interference with the course of events—what does it mean? This is unquestionably the fundamental problem with the earnest student of Homer. Let us observe, then, first, that the poet's principle is not to allow a divine intervention to degenerate into a merely external mechanical act; himself full of the spirit of the God, he puts the divine influence inside the individual as well as outside, and thus preserves the latter's freedom in the providential order. The faithful reader will never let these movements of the deity drop into mere machinery; when he does, he has lost the essence of Homer. Doubtless it requires an alert activity of mind to hold the Gods always before the vision in their truth; they must be re-thought, or indeed re-created every time they appear. The somnolescent reader is only too ready to spare himself the poetic exaltation in which the old bard must be read, if we would really see the divinities, and grasp the spirit of their dealings with man. Speak not, then, of epical machinery in Homer, the word is misleading to the last degree, is indeed libellous, belieing the poet in the very soul of his art.

In the present Book there is not by any means as much divine intervention as in the preceding one; we pass from the lower realm of the water-gods to that of Pallas, the goddess of intelligence, who is the sole active divinity in this Book. She appears to Nausicaa at the beginning in the form of a dream, and bids the maiden look after some washing. Our first question is, why call in a goddess for such a purpose? The procedure seems trivial and unnecessary, and so it would be under ordinary circumstances. But through this humble and common-place duty Nausicaa is made a link in the grand chain of the Return of Ulysses, which is the divine plan underlying the whole poem, and is specially the work of Pallas. To be sure this had no place in Nausicaa's intention, but it does have a place in the providential scheme, which has, therefore, to be voiced by the Goddess. Yet that scheme does not conflict with the free-will of the maiden, which finds its fullest scope just in this household duty, and brings out her character. She reveals to Ulysses her nature, this is the occasion; she had to be free to represent what she truly was to the much-experienced man. An ordinary wash-day has little divinity in it, but this one is filled with the divine plan. Thus small events, otherwise immediately forgotten, may by a mighty co-incidence he elevated into the sphere of the World's History, and become ever memorable. That French soldier who threw a camp-kettle over the head of Mirabeau's ancestor and thus saved him from being trampled to death by a passing troop of cavalry, made himself a factor in the French Revolution, and was inspired by whom, demon or angel?

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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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