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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 45


This Book connects directly with the preceding Book, and brings about not only the external meeting and recognition of father and son, but their spiritual fusion in a common thought and purpose. The scene is still laid in the swineherd's hut, but the swineherd himself must be eliminated at this point. The question rises, Why does the poet hold it so necessary to keep the matter secret from Eumaeus? The care which Homer takes with this object in view, is noteworthy. Evidently the swineherd was not ready to participate, or would endanger the scheme. Yet of his fidelity there could be no question.

We have already stated our opinion on this subject. Various external reasons may be suggested but the real reason lay in the character of Eumaeus. He was too sincere, open-hearted, transparent for those wily Greeks; he might let out the great secret in pure simplicity of mind; he is their contrast just herein, he is not a Greek. The situation demanded disguise, dissimulation, possibly downright lying; Eumaeus was not the man for that. Such is his greatest honor, yet such is also his limit; if Ulysses and Telemachus were such as he, they would have all died nobly in their cause, but the Suitors would have triumphed, and the institutional world of Ithaca would have gone to the dogs. At least its rescue could not have taken place through them. Such is the moral contradiction which now rises, and will continue to rise more and more distinctly to view throughout the rest of the poem.

There are the two strands in the Book which are the main ones of the poem, that of the father and son, and that of the Suitors. Both are here put together and contrasted with new incidents, which are leading inevitably to the grand culmination. These two strands we shall now briefly follow out in order. There is also a third portion, the return of Eumaeus from the palace to the hut, which portion is short and unimportant.

I. Telemachus arrives at the hut of the swineherd, the dogs give him a friendly greeting in contrast to that which they give to Ulysses—a fact which shows that the youth must have been in times past a good deal with Eumaeus. Also the affectionate meeting of the two suggests the same thing. Herein we note a reason for Pallas sending him hither—the Goddess and the youth coincided. Of course the conversation soon turns toward the stranger present, the disguised Ulysses. Now occurs a subtle movement between father and son who are to be brought together.

(1) First they are in a state of separation, but the disguised Ulysses holds the bond of unification in his power. Eumaeus first tells to Telemachus the fictitious Cretan story concerning the stranger; then Ulysses gives a note of his true self: "Would that I were Ulysses' son or the hero himself!" What then? "I would be an evil to those Suitors." Thus the father secretly stirs the spirit of the son, in fact spiritually identifies himself. The son sends off the swineherd on an errand to Penelope, in order to announce his safe arrival from his journey to the mainland. In this way one obstacle is removed—the swineherd; now the second obstacle, the disguise is to be stripped away.

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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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