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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 50

III. But the destroyer Ulysses destroys destruction, and so becomes positive; in the last two Books he is shown as the restorer of the institutional order which the Suitors had assailed and were undermining. He restores the Family (Book XXIII), and the State (Book XXIV). This is, then, the end of the Return, indeed the end of the grand disruption caused by the Trojan War, to which Ulysses set out from Ithaca twenty years before. The absence of the husband and ruler from home and country gave the opportunity for the license of the Suitors. But the Return has harmonized the distracted condition of the land; institutions, Family and State, are freed of their conflict; even the Gods, Zeus and Pallas (authority and wisdom) enforce the new order, bringing peace and concord.

Still, despite the bloody death of the Suitors, there runs through this portion of the Odyssey (the last eight Books) a vein of charity, of humanity, sometimes even of sentiment, which seems to link the poem with our own age. Yet the other side is present also; there is little pity for the unrighteous, and justice is capable of becoming cruel. The Suitors and their set of servants are represented as unfeeling and inhuman; Penelope and the whole loyal household on the other hand show sympathy with poverty and misfortune. Such, indeed, has been their discipline, that of adversity, which softens the heart toward the victims of hard luck.

The disguise of Ulysses is continued, and also the craft of Penelope. The moral questioning which these two characters have always roused does not diminish. The hardest practical problem of life comes to the front in their case. Both are willing to meet unjust violence with dissimulation, till they get the power to act openly. They put down a dishonest world with dishonesty, and then proceed to live honestly. It is another phase of that subtle play of the Negative, with which Ulysses had to grapple repeatedly in Fableland, and of which the Odyssey is full. Every situation seems to have its intricate ethical problem, which the reader has to solve as he solves such questions in actual life. Our opinion upon this element in the poem we have already given, and need not repeat it here.

We must note that Ulysses still keeps up his romancing in order to explain his presence in Ithaca and his beggarly appearance. He introduces a kind of story, which we have called the Novelette in distinction from the Fairy Tale. The scene is usually thrown back eastward to Crete, the Trojan War furnishes the background, the famous Cretan hero Idomeneus is usually in some way connected with the stranger who is speaking. No less than five such Novelettes are found in the last twelve Books—some long, some brief. He tells one to Pallas (XIII. 256), to Eumaeus the longest one (XIV. 199), to Antinous a short interrupted one (XVII. 425), to Penelope (XIX. 172), finally one to his father Laertes (XXIV. 304), in which the scene seems to be changed to the West from the mention of Sicania.


For the reader who may wish to follow out in detail these eight Books, we append a general survey of each, in which the thought and the structure are suggested, yet by no means elaborated. We have in the preceding pages given quite fully what we deem the main points of the Odyssey; there remains only this winding-up of the work in a rapid summary.

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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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