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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 40


In contrast with the previous Book, the present Book has not so much disguise; Ulysses falls somewhat into the background, and several undisguised characters came forward. Still there are points in common, the most striking of which is the tale of Eumaeus, the correspondence of which with the tale of Ulysses in the Fourteenth Book impresses itself upon every careful reader.

But the main fact of the present Book is the bringing together of the various threads for the grand final enterprise, which is the punishment of the guilty Suitors. Ulysses and Eumaeus are already on hand; to them now Telemachus is to be added, who comes from Sparta, whither he had gone for the completion of his education. Thus the present Book goes back and connects with the Fourth Book in which we left Telemachus. Still further, the Ithakeiad is linked into and continues the Telemachiad (the first four Books), inasmuch as we now see the purpose of that famous journey of the son to the courts of Nestor and Menelaus. It was the training for a deed, a great deed which required knowledge, skill, and resolution, and which was to show the youth to be the son of his father.

Such is another organic link which binds the whole Odyssey together. The two threads, separately developed hitherto, are now united and interwoven with a third, that of Eumaeus. Telemachus has seen two Trojan heroes and heard their varied history, he has learned about his father whom he is prepared in spirit to support. So the son has his Return also, a small one, yet important, be returns to Ithaca after the experience at Pylos and Sparta and is joined to the great Return of his father.

But just here with these evident marks of unity in the poem, occurs a slip in chronology which has given the most solid comfort to those who wish to break up the Odyssey and assign its parts to different authors. In the Fourth Book (l. 594) Telemachus proposes to set out at once for home, he will not be detained even by the charm of Menelaus and Helen. That was the 6th day of the poem, whereas we find him here leaving Sparta on 36th day of the poem, according to the usual reckoning. Two inferences have been drawn from this discrepancy, if it be a discrepancy. The Wolfian School cries out in chorus: two different poets for the two different passages; it would have been impossible for old Homer singing without any written copy thus to forget himself, whatever a modern author might do with the manuscript or printed page before him. The other set of opinions will run just in the opposite direction: the connection between the Fourth and the Fifteenth Books is perfect, as far as thought, narrative, and incident are concerned; the ancient listener and even the modern reader could pay no attention to the intricate points of chronology in the poem, especially when these points lay more than ten Books or 5,000 lines apart from each other. There is no real sign of discrepant authorship, therefore, but rather a new indication of unity.

The general theme of the Book is, accordingly, the Return of Telemachus, and his uniting with his father and the swineherd, who are still further characterized in their relation. The structure of the Book falls easily into three portions: first is the separation of Telemachus from Menelaus and Helen till his departure on the ship; second is the end to which he is moving just now, the hut of Eumaeus, where are Ulysses and the swineherd, the latter of whom tells his tale of discipline and is seen to be a hero too in his sphere; the third part is the coming of Telemachus.

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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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