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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 29


In general, we have in this Book the grand transition from Phaeacia to Ithaca, in both of its phases, physical and spiritual. The sea is crossed from land to land in a ship; the idyllic realm is left behind, and the real world with its terrible problem is encountered. Phaeacia was quite without conflict. Ithaca is just in the condition of conflict and discord. Phaeacia, moreover, was a land of looking back at the past, of reminiscence and retrospection; Ithaca is the land of looking directly into the face of the future, with the deed to follow at once; it is the field for action and not contemplation. Not only spatially, but also in thought we must regard this transition.

Ulysses has both these worlds in him; he is the man of thought and the man of action. Hitherto in his career the stress has been upon the former; henceforth it is to be upon the latter. In this Book, which is the overture marking the change in the key-note of the poem, we have three distinct facts brought out prominently and through them we can grasp the general structure. There is, first, the departure of Ulysses from Phaeacia and arrival at Ithaca; secondly, when this is finished, there is the glance backward, on the part of the poet, to the miraculous voyage and to Phaeacia itself, in which glance Neptune plays an important part; thirdly, there is the glance forward, which occupies most of the Book, taking in Ithaca and the future, in which glance Pallas, the Goddess of foresight, gives the chief direction, and Ulysses is her mortal counterpart. This is, accordingly, to a large extent a Book of divine suggestion; two deities appear, the Upper World plays into the Lower World, yet in very different manners. The God of the Sea seems to be an obstructionist, a reactionary, with look turned behind, an old divinity of Nature; while Pallas always has her look turned forward, and is furthering the great deed of purification, is wholly a divinity of Spirit. These three phases of the Book we shall note more fully.

I. We have a glimpse of the court at Phaeacia; Ulysses has ended the long account of his experience, the time of action has arrived. The formal yet hearty farewell is described; the gifts of the host are given, and the guest is sent on his way. Nor must we forget the bard Demodocus, still singing at the banquet, but the theme of his song is not now mentioned; evidently it was some tale of Troy, as before, and this stage of song has been far transcended by Ulysses. Very eager the Hero was to start; "often he turned his head toward the all-shining Sun" to see how far away the hour still remained. He wishes to listen to no more lays of the Past, sweet though they be, nor does he desire to tell any tales himself.

Moreover we hear the great longing of his heart: "May I, returning, find at home my blameless wife!" In like manner he wishes domestic joy to the king, as this whole Phaeacian world partakes more of the Family than of the State. Of course, he cannot leave without going to the heart and center of the Family, namely, Arete, wife, mother, and even judge of the people. So we hear from the lips of Ulysses a final salutation to her in her threefold character, "Within thy household rejoice in thy children, thy people and thy husband the king." She looks to the domestic part on the ship for Ulysses; she sends servants bearing bread, wine and garments for the passage. Nausicaa we feel to be present in the last interview, but not a word from her or from the departing guest to her; self-suppression is indeed the law for both, for is not Penelope the grand end of this voyage?

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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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