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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 49

The second portion of this second half of the poem, consisting of eight Books, we are next to consider. Ulysses has hitherto only heard of the excesses of the Suitors; he is now to see them directly and to experience their violence in his own person. He is in disguise and gets full possession of the fact before he proceeds to the deed. The insolent, destructive conduct of the Suitors is set forth in all fullness, as well as the subtle attempt of the wife to thwart them; then the blow falls which sweeps them and their deeds out of existence. Restoration follows after this terrible act of vengence; Ulysses, having done his great destructive work, is to show himself constructive, not simply the destroyer, but the healer and restorer.

How can we best see the sweep of these eight Books and their organic connection with the total Odyssey? No mere formal division will answer, nor any external separation into parts. The inner movement of the thought is to be found and shown as the organizing principle. On the whole the joints of the structure are not so manifest as in the Telemachiad and the Ulyssiad; still they exist. Already it has been often said that the essential character of the Suitors is that of destroyers; Ulysses is the destroyer of these destroyers; but in destroying destruction he is also the restorer. Now just these three stages of the movement of the inner thought are the three organic divisions of the last eight Books; that is, the thought organizes the poem. Let us look more closely.

I. The first five Books (XVII-XXI) are devoted to revealing the Suitors as destroyers to Ulysses in person, though he be disguised. Three strands are interwoven into the texture, which we may separate for the purpose of an examination.

1. The Suitors are destroying what may in general be called the institutional world in its three leading forms: (1) Property, (2) Family, (3) State. To these may be added their disregard and even open defiance of the Gods, who are the upholders, or rather the personified embodiment of all institutional life. Hence the statement may be made that the Suitors are, as far as their deeds go, the destroyers of the Divine Order of the World; they are spiritually negative.

2. The second strand is that of Ulysses (to whom Telemachus and the swineherd can be added) who is to behold with his own eyes, to experience in his own person, the character and acts of the Suitors; then he is also to plan and prepare for their destruction. As he has overcome his own negative condition inwardly, in the spirit, he must be able to overcome the same condition outwardly, in the world.

3. The third strand is that of Penelope, the wife, who is seeking to thwart the attempt of the Suitors to make her marry one of themselves; thus she is heroically preserving the Family. She, with the loyal part of her household, co-operates with Ulysses, though not aware who he is. Between the second and third strands are many interweavings, both being opposed to the Suitors. Penelope, to delay her marriage, proposes the Bending of the Bow, which gives the weapon and the opportunity to Ulysses. (Book XXI.)

II. The second stage of the grand movement is given in one Book (XXII). This is the single bloody Book of the poem, it makes up all deficiencies in the way of sanguinary grewsomeness. The destroying Suitors are themselves destroyed by Ulysses, who therein is destroyer. Hence the blood-letting character of the Book and of the deed; 116 men skin, 12 women hung, and one man mutilated unto death.

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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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