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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]

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Page 21

One cannot help feeling that the poet in this description has a conscious meaning underneath, it is more or less allegorical. The will of Ulysses was paralyzed in the Island of the Sun, he is helplessly carried forward on the sea, till the yawning gulf of Charybdis (Despair) threatens to swallow him, when he puts forth a mighty effort of will, represented in his clinging to the branches of the fig tree, which extends Hope to him, and thus he rescues himself. Now he rows his raft "with both his hands," it is indeed time to exert anew his volition. Charybdis could not take him, on account of a saving germ in him still; she has to let him pass. Whither?

Naturally the next station rearward is that of the Sirens, and this in a general way is what Ulysses reaches in his relapse. He comes to the realm of the senses, for the fact is that this was the source of the great trouble in the Island of the Sun. The companions, pressed by appetite and the needs of the body, yielded up their conviction, their intelligence; they had not reached that strength of the spirit which prefers the death of the body to a surrender of the soul. Ulysses at last acquiesced, the problem was too great for him and so he also is cast out of the Island of the Sun back into the region of the senses. But it is a new region of the senses, not that of the Sirens, not that of Circe, both of which he has transcended by an effort of will-power; it is the realm of Calypso, the Concealer, which has been reached through the collapse of the will after the sin against light. There is unquestionably an affinity between Circe, the Sirens, and Calypso, yet there is also such a difference between them that the poet has assigned to them distinct domains, It is plain, too, that Ulysses in his present paralysis will remain long with Calypso, not at once will he recover his power after such a negation. He is hidden, as it were, in her Dark Island Ogygia after that undoing of light; he passes from the sun-world of Reason to its opposite. Calypso, therefore, is reached through the grand Relapse, not through the progressive movement, which we have seen him going through hitherto.

Still Ulysses has in him the germ of betterment, of salvation. He longs to reach home and country, to return to his institutional world; that spark of aspiration has a saving power; it will not be extinguished even in the sensuous delights of Calypso's bower.

Observations. In looking back at the Twelfth Book and thinking it over as a Whole, the reader will always feel that he has not fully sounded its depths. It has not exercised so great an influence upon mankind as the Eleventh Book, but it is probably profounder. It lures specially the thinker and the psychologist, it seems not only to set forth thought but the thought of thought. Very difficult is the poetic problem in such a case, the imaginative form really is driven to its utmost limit in order to express the content.

I. The first thing to be fully grasped and thoroughly studied is the structure of the Book. For structure is the primordial fact of any work, and especially of any great work, structure has always its own meaning and far-reaching suggestiveness, and it points directly to what the Book signifies, being its inner vital organism. In the Twelfth Book we shall ponder a little the three essential facts of its structure.

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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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