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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 26


Such is the designation which we have concluded to give to the last twelve Books of the Odyssey, inasmuch as a name is needed for this portion corresponding to the Telemachiad and the Ulyssiad. The scene is laid wholly in Ithaca, the characters of the poem are all brought together, and the main conflict takes place. It is the country which is to be cleansed of violence and guilt; that Divine Order which father and son have learned about, each in his own way, they must now make real in the world, especially in their own land. Manifestly Ithaca represents the realm of wrong, of hostility to the social system of man; the Suitors defy Law, Family, State, Gods.

But Ulysses, before he can reform his country, has had to reform himself. When he attacked the Ciconians, he was as negative to institutional order as the Suitors themselves; he was not the man to destroy them at that time, he was too like them to undo their work. Hence the long discipline in Fableland, which has been fully explained in the preceding comments; hence too he had to see Phaeacia, the ideal institutional life realized in Family and State, as well as in Industry and the Fine Arts. Let the reader note that he passes, not from Fableland, but from Phaeacia, to Ithaca; having that Phaeacian Idea in his soul, he can transform his own country. Thus he will truly save his companions, namely, the people, whom before he lost in Fableland.

Telemachus also in his training has seen much and brought back an ideal with him. He has heard the wise man Nestor and witnessed the religious life of Hellas in its highest manifestation. Pylos, Nestor's kingdom, is almost a Greek theocracy; the Gods appear visible at the feasts and hold communion with the people. Likewise at Sparta Telemachus saw a realm of peace and concord, in striking contrast with his own Ithaca; but chiefly he heard the Marvelous Tale of Proteus, after which he was eager to return home at once. Thus he too has had his experience of a social order, as well as his ideal instruction. Previous to his journey he had shown a tendency to despair, and to a denial of the Gods on account of the disorders of the Suitors in his house. Unquestionably he comes back to Ithaca with renewed courage and aspiration, and with an ideal in his soul, which makes him a meet companion for his father.

The third character is the swineherd Eumaeus who is the great addition in this portion of the Odyssey. He too has had his discipline, which is to be recounted here; he has been stolen as a child and sold into slavery; still the most terrible calamities to himself and his master and to the House of Ulysses, have not shaken his fealty to the Gods. Thus in common with Telemachus and Ulysses he has faith in the Divine Order, and can cooperate with them in realizing the same in Ithaca. Very different has been his discipline from that of the other two, both of whom became negative and had to be sent away from home for training, but Eumaeus has remained in his hut and never swerved in his fidelity to his sovereigns above and below, though he does not understand the providential reason for so much wrong and suffering.

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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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