Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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

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]

Table of Contents \ Odyssey Complete Text \ Greek Fonts \ More Greek Resources













Page 14


Ulysses flees from the Underworld, there is something down there which he feels he cannot master, something which he has not seen but of which he has a vague presentiment. The Gorgon stands for much, dimly foreshadowing a Hades beyond or below the Greek Hades, with which, however, it is not his call to grapple. Hence the poet puts upon his Hero a limitation at this point, strangely prophetic, and sends him in haste back to the terrestrial Upperworld. The bark crossed the stream of the "river Oceanus," then it entered "the wide-wayed Sea" in which lay the island of Circe, "where are the houses of the Dawn, and her dances, and the risings of the Sun." Verily the Hero has got back to the beginning of the world of light, in which he is now to have a new span of existence after his experience in the supersensible realm.

From the brief geographical glances which we catch up from the voyage, as well as from a number of hints scattered throughout the Odyssey (for instance, from what is said of the Ethiopians in the First Book), we are inclined to believe that Homer held the earth to be round. We like to think of the old Poet seeing this fact, not as a deduction of science, not even as a misty tradition from some other land, but as an immediate act of poetic insight, which beholds the law of the physical world rising out of the spiritual by the original creative fiat; the Poet witnesses the necessity by which nature conforms to mind. Homer knew the spiritual Return, this whole Odyssey is such a Return, whereby the soul is rounded off to completeness, and becomes a true totality. Why should he not apply the same law to nature, to the whole Earth, and behold it, not indefinitely extended as it appears to the senses, but returning into itself, whereby the line becomes a circle and the plain a globe? Some such need lay deep in his poetic soul, to which he had to harmonize the entire universe, visible as well as invisible. Not science is this, but an immediate vision of the true, always prophetic, which observes the impress of spirit everywhere upon the realm of matter. The old Greek sages seem to have known not merely of the rotundity of the Earth, but also of its movement round the Sun and upon its own axis, both movements being circular, returns, which image mind. Did they get their knowledge from Egypt or Chaldea? Questionable; if they looked inwardly deep enough, they could find it all there. Indeed the sages of Egypt and Chaldea saw the fact in their souls ere they saw it or could see it in the skies.

So these Homeric glimpses into the realm of what is to become science are not to be neglected or despised, in spite of their mythical, ambiguous vesture. Moreover they are in profound harmony with the present poem, to which they furnish remote, but very suggestive parallels, making the physical universe correspond to the spiritual unfolding of the Hero.

Ulysses, accordingly, comes back to the sensible world and there he finds Circe again. Indeed whom else ought he to find? She is the bright Greek realm of the senses reposing in sunlight; she has been subordinated to the rational, she is no longer the indulgence of appetite which turns men to swine, nor is she, on the other hand, the rigid ascetic. Hence we need not be surprised at her bringing good things to eat and drink: "bread and many kinds of meat and sparkling red wine." Moreover, she is still prophetic, she still has the outlook upon the Beyond, being spirit in the senses. Her present prophecies, however, will be different from her former one, she will point to the supersensible, not in Hades, for that is now past, but in the Upperworld of life and experience. Such is the return of the Hero to Circe, the fair, the terrestrial, who makes existence beautiful if she be properly held in restraint; beautiful as sunlit Hellas with its plastic forms she can become, in striking contrast to the dark shapes of the sunless Underworld which leads to the Gorgon, the realm of spooks, shades, fiends, in general of romanticism.

Previous Page / First / Next

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
More OnLine Resources on Greek History, Places, Texts, Language

The Greek Word Library

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Greek Literature - Ancient, Medieval, Modern

Learned Freeware

Reference address :