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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 54

II. The real person for whose possession this whole contest is waged is now introduced—Penelope. She appears in all her beauty; Pallas interferes divinely in order to heighten the same, making her "more stately in form and fairer than the ivory just carved." She is indeed the embodiment of all that is beautiful and worthy in that Ithacan life; loyalty to husband, love of her child, devotion to family, the strongest institutional feeling she shows, with no small degree of artifice, of course. Just now she reproves her son for having permitted the recent fight: "thou hast allowed a stranger guest to be shamefully treated." Thus she shows her secret unconscious sympathy with her husband in disguise.

Then she turns her attention to the Suitors. She alludes to the parting words of her husband as he set out for Troy: "When thou seest thy son a bearded man, marry whom thou wilt and leave the house." The time has come when she has to endure this hateful marriage; how the thought weighs upon her heart! But we catch a glimpse of her deeper plan in the following: "The custom of Suitors in the olden time was not such as yours; they would bring along their own oxen and sheep and make a feast for the friends of the maiden whom they wooed, and give her splendid gifts; they consumed not other folk's property without recompense." What does all this mean?

One result takes place at once. The Suitors all hasten to bring her their presents, and thus conform to the good old time and to her opinion. Great was the hurry: "Each dispatched his herald to bring a gift." Does the poet hint through a side glance the real state of the case? Hear him: "Ulysses wad delighted when he saw her wheedling the Suitors out of their gifts and cajoling their mind with flattering speech, while her heart planned other things." Cunning indeed she has and boundless artifice; what shall we make of her? As already often said, craft is her sole woman's weapon against man's violence, and she uses it with effect for the defense of her home and her honor. Is she justified? Is such deception allowable under the circumstances? Thus the poem puts the test to the modern reader, and makes him ponder the moral problem of life.

One other point we should note in this speech of Penelope to the Suitors. She says that their method of wooing was not the accustomed way; they had no right to expect such entertainment for such a body of men. They had the right of suit, but it must be conducted in a lawful manner. Thus they are violating custom, or making it a pretext for doing injustice. But she meets violence with cunning, and rude force with craft.

III. Ulysses now takes note of another phase of the wrong done to his household by the Suitors; they debauch the female servants, of whom Melantho is an example. The seeming beggar wishes to stay all night by the fires kindled in the palace, and take care of them, instead of the maids who usually looked after them. This plan of his evidently interferes with an existing arrangement, hence the abusive words of Melantho toward him first, and then the scoffing speech of Eurynomus, her lover, who lets fly at him a footstool which hits the cupbearer. General confusion results, in the midst of which Telemachus commands order which is seconded by Amphinomus. After a cup of wine, all retire to their homes. But Ulysses has got an inkling of what is transpiring between the Suitors and some of the maid-servants. Hereafter we shall see that both share in the punishment.

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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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