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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 48


The time has arrived for this exposition of the Odyssey to be brought to a close with some degree of rapidity. It has already expanded itself beyond its original purpose; it, too, like Ulysses, has asserted itself as limit-transcending. We shall try to indicate the general character of these remaining eight Books, to find their place in the total organism of the poem, and then give a brief outline of each Book separately.

It has already often been stated that the Odyssey is a Return, an outer, but specially an inner Return from the Trojan War and from the alienation and disruption produced by the same. This Return, narrated in the twenty-four Books of the poem, divides itself into two equal halves, each containing twelve Books. The first half moves about two centers, Telemachus and Ulysses; the former is to be trained out of his ignorance, the latter is to be disciplined out of his negative attitude toward institutional life, and thus be prepared to rescue institutional life. The first twelve Books are, therefore, the getting rid of the destructive results caused by the Trojan War and all war, in the human soul.

Still Ulysses, with Telemachus, is to do a deed of destruction, he is to destroy the Suitors, who are themselves destructive of institutional order in Ithaca. In a general way they are like the Trojans, they are assailing the domestic and political life of the Greek world; they too must be put down at home by the hero, as Troy was put down abroad by him. But at Troy he became negative through the long training of a ten years' war, the spirit of which he must get rid of before he can slay the Suitors, for he is too much like them to be their rightful destroyer. This, then, is the discipline of the first twelve Books: through the experience of life to get internally free of that destructive Trojan spirit, to overcome the negative within, and then proceed to overcome it without.

Now this overcoming of the negative without (embodied in the Suitors) is just the work of the last twelve Books of the Odyssey, which we have called the Ithakeiad, as the scene is laid wholly in Ithaca. Internally both Ulysses and Telemachus are ready; they have now externally to make their world conform to their Idea. The trend of the poem is henceforth toward the deed which destroys the outer negation, as hitherto the trend was toward the deed which overcame the inner negation. To be sure, the destruction of the Suitors has hovered before the poem from the beginning; but in the second half it is explicit, is the immediate end of the action.

This second half divides itself into two distinct portions. It being the direct movement toward the deed shows in the first portion the preparation of the instruments, which takes place at the hut of the swineherd. Ulysses is alone, he must find out upon whose aid he can rely; his helpers must show not only strength of limb, but strength of conviction. Two persons appear—his son and his swineherd; they believe themselves to be the bearers of a Divine Order as against the Suitors; they are the army of three to whom the cowherd is to be hereafter added on manifesting his loyalty. This part of the poem has been unfolded in the preceding four Books.

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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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