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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 24

(4) Here, however, we must note a distinction. In all four Books of Fableland, Ulysses is the poet himself in a sense, he is singing his own adventures to the Court of Phaeacia, he is well aware of what he has passed through and to what he has come.

He is not a Demodocus chanting heroic strains of the Trojan Past; he is Ulysses telling his own spiritual experiences after the taking of Troy. It has been already unfolded (p. 246-7) that he was in a negative, alienated condition; he had fallen out with and was separated from his Hellenic world, whereof this Fableland is the record. But he arrives at Phaeacia, an harmonious institutional realm, then he becomes fully conscious of his negative condition and projects it out of himself in these Tales or Songs. So all Fableland shows this consciousness in the man; but the Twelfth Book shows him conscious not only of his negative state, but of his mental process, conscious of his consciousness, we may say; he is not only Thought, but is Thought thinking Thought, or at least imaging the same; that is, Thought has itself as its own object or content. So much we are inclined to find hinted in this duplication of the movement in the Twelfth Book.

At this point we hear the cry of dissent: You make Homer too introspective, you make him a self-introverted, self-torturing nineteenth century man, whereas he is the most unreflective, unconscious of poets. Very natural is such a protest, my good reader; this sort of thing may be carried too far, and become fantastic. Still it is a great mistake to think that Homer never takes a glance at his own mind and its workings. He must have looked within in order to see his world; where else was it to be found in any such completeness? He has built it, and he must have taken some interest in the architect and in his processes. Homer himself is a greater wonder than any wonder he has created, and he probably knew it.

It is by no means the purpose to affirm in the preceding remarks that Homer intended to make an allegorical psychology. He simply had a mind, and the essence of mind is to be able to look at mind. So Homer saw himself and his own process, and set it forth in an imaginative form. Very similar is the plan of Shakespeare in the Tempest. Prospero is the poet, not only as poet, but the poet making his drama in the drama. There is also a significant duplication both of structure and character: Prospero is at one time magician, that is, poet, and commands the elements and the spirits, especially Ariel; at another time he assumes his ordinary relations as parent and as king, and is as limited as other mortals. Shakespeare made many dramas, then he saw himself making dramas, then he put into a drama himself making dramas. That is, he in the end (Tempest is usually held to be the last of Shakespeare's plays) took up his own poetic process into a poem, and thus completed the arch of his great career.

So much for the psychological aspect of these Books of Fableland. It must be stated again that abstract terms, so necessary for an exact science of mind, had not been elaborated to any extent in Homer's day. Reflective language is a later product of Greek spirit. Still the philosopher is anticipated and prophesied in the poet, and it certainly cannot be amiss to trace vague premonitions and promises of the coming Plato and Aristotle in the old poet. Homer has in him the germ of the whole Greek world, and for that matter, much of the modern world also; the best commentary upon him is the 2500 years since his time.

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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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