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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 56

First, he must give some account of himself, of his lineage and of his connections. Here he employs his old fiction, he feigns a tale, putting the scene into Crete, and allying himself with the famous stock of Minos, as well as with the well-known Cretan hero Idomeneus so often celebrated in the Iliad, whose brother he claimed to be. "There I saw Ulysses and entertained him." This story of his life has an analogy to what he told Eumaeus (Book XIV. 199) and Antinous (Book XVII. 425). All three differ in details, being adjusted to the person and the occasion; still all are cast into the same general mould, with the scene placed in the East on the borderland toward Phenicia and with the Trojan war in the background. It is another Homeric novelette suggesting a life of adventure on sea and land, and showing sparks of that enterprising Greek spirit, of which the Odyssey is the best record. But the poet adds: "So he went on fabricating lies like truth;" which indicates that he told more than is in the text and completed his story.

In the second place, Penelope applies her test, for she is not so credulous as to believe every wandering story-teller: "Describe me the garments he had on." Truly a woman's test. It is needless to say that Ulysses responds with great precision. She, however, had no suspicion, which might arise from such a complete account. It is no wonder that Penelope proposed to entertain this beggar guest, one who has been so hospitable to her husband, of whom she declares in an outburst of despair: "I never shall behold him returning home."

At this point the disguised Ulysses makes his third and principal speech to his wife, imparting to her the hope that Ulysses will return. This completes his story, introducing the Thesprotians again (as in other tales) and the oracle of Dodona. He almost lets the secret out: "He is alive and will soon be here; not far off is he now, I swear it." Not much further could disguise be carried. Still Penelope remains skeptical: "I must think he will not come home." Her hard lot, however, has not hardened her heart, but softened it rather; she reveals her native character in the words here spoken (Bryant's Translation):—

Short is the life of man, and whoso bears

A cruel heart, devising cruel things,

On him men call down evil from the gods

While living, and pursue him when he dies,

With scoffs. But whoso is of generous heart,

And harbors generous aims, his guests proclaim

His praises far and wide to all mankind,

And numberless are they who call him good.

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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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