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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 51

Book Seventeenth. We now pass from the country and the hut of the swineherd to the town and the palace of the king. This is an important transition, and evidently marks a turning-point in the last twelve Books of the Odyssey. The change of location brings us to the scene of the forthcoming deed, and into the presence of the two conflicting sides. The structure of the Book moves about two centers, Telemachus and Ulysses.

I. Telemachus is first to start for the city, where he arrives, and is received with great joy by the household. The mother asks him whether he has obtained any tidings from his father. But he shuns her question, bids her make fresh vows to the Gods, and goes off to look after his guest, the prophet Theoclymenus. The Suitors throng about him, but do him no harm; a number of his friends are near at hand, and the Suitors are divided among themselves.

After his return to the palace, Telemachus tells his mother the story of his journey. First he went to Pylos and "saw Nestor there," and held intercourse with the wise old man of the Greeks, which was certainly a memorable event in the life of the youth. But Nestor could tell him nothing about the present condition or dwelling-place of Ulysses, so the son was sent onwards to Sparta, to Menelaus, where "I saw Argive Helen, for whose sake the Greeks and Trojans suffered many evils by will of the Gods." Menelaus tells Telemachus the words of Proteus concerning his father Ulysses, gently touching the story of the nymph Calypso, whereat the queen was deeply moved. His news is that his father cannot return.

At this point the prophet comes in with his prophecy. "I declare that Ulysses in his own land again, sitting or creeping about in secret; he is taking note of these evil deeds just now, and plans destruction for the Suitors." The response of Penelope shows her mind. "May thy prophetic word be fulfilled!" It is well to note the art with which this prophet has been brought to the palace of Ulysses to foreshadow the coming event.

Moreover this whole passage connects with the Third and Fourth Books, which recounted the Journey of Telemachus to Pylos and Sparta. Of course the school of dissectors have sought to show the entire narrative here to be an interpolation by a later hand. One says that the brief allusion to the trip is tiresome to the reader. As if Homer composed for readers! But what reader ever found these few lines tiresome? The whole account of the son to the mother is one of the links which bind the Odyssey into unity, hence the wrath against it in certain quarters.

II. The second part of the present Book gives the movements of Ulysses, and is more important and more fully elaborated than the preceding part. The hero is in disguise, he is to take his first glimpse of the state of affairs in his palace. He will experience in his own person the wrongs of the Suitors and their adherents; he will apply a test to bring out their character. This test is that of humanity, of charity toward a beggar; how will the Suitors behave toward him?

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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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