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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 46

(2) Herewith occurs a divine intervention, hinting the importance of the present moment. Pallas appears to Ulysses, "but Telemachus beheld her not;" Why? "For not by any means are the Gods manifest to all men." As already stated, Ulysses has the key of the situation, and sees what is now to be done; Telemachus does not see and will not see till his father's disguise be removed. So again the Goddess Pallas appears to the wise man and addresses him because the two are one in thought; no other person not in this oneness of the human and divine can see her. In like manner Pallas appears to Achilles, "seen by him alone," in the First Book of the Iliad; similar too is the case of Telemachus when Pallas comes to him among the Suitors under the form of Mentes in the First Book of this Odyssey (see p. 26).

But just here is added a fact in strangest contrast with the foregoing view; "The dogs (as well as Ulysses) saw the Goddess; they barked not, but ran off whining through the gate in the opposite direction." In the old Teutonic faith (and probably Aryan) the dog can see a ghost, hence his unaccountable whine at times. The lower animals and even the elements recognize the approaching deity by some unusual commotion. But mark the contrast: the dogs ran in terror from the presence of the Goddess; Ulysses, observing her, "went out of the house and stood before her alongside the wall of the court." The rational man, beholding, must commune with the deity present, and not run off like a dog. If he does not see the Goddess, as in the case with Telemachus here, he is simply outside of her influence.

Pallas gives to Ulysses the strong promise of help, reflecting his own internal condition. She transforms him, he appears a new man, nay a God to his son, "some divinity whose home is the broad heaven." Then the recognition follows, with its various doubts and its emotional ups and downs. "In the breasts of both rose the desire of tears; they wept shrilly, and louder their screams than those of the eagle whose young have been stolen from its nest." Lamentation is a trait of the Homeric hero; in the present case it asserts its fullest right. But enough! let us pass from heroic tears to heroic deeds.

(3) Next comes the general plan of action. What have we to encounter? Telemachus gives a catalogue of the Suitors; they reach the surprising number of 108 persons plus 10 attendants, including the bard and the herald. We now begin to appreciate the greatness of the task. The Ithacan people are helpless or hostile, the Suitors have friends and relatives everywhere, yet they must be punished, they cannot be allowed to escape. But the aid for such an enterprise—whence? asks Telemachus, and also the reader. Listen to the answer of Ulysses: "I shall tell thee, and thou bear it well in mind; think whether Pallas with her father Zeus be not sufficient for us, or shall I look about for some other defender?" Such a believer has the skeptic become; he now has faith in the Gods, and in a World Order. It is also a lofty expression of belief in his divine mission; the spirit of Eumaeus, which dwells in that humble hut, has entered the heart of the hero. Such are the two allies: Pallas, wisdom, and Zeus, fountain of the world's justice, which had been deeply violated by the Suitors. Telemachus in response, assents to his father's words, and acknowledges the supremacy of the Gods. He also lays aside his doubt and shows himself in a spiritual harmony with his father, which must be antecedent to the deed.

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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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