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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 57

3. Having been brought so near to a discovery, we next come to an actual discovery by the nurse Eurycleia. She is commanded by Penelope to bathe the beggar's feet, which she does with no little sympathy and lamentation. The character of the nurse is in a certain sense the echo of that of Penelope, the echo in emotion, and in fidelity, if not in intelligence. She gives way to her feelings, she recalls the image of Ulysses, whom she nursed, and addresses him as present. She beholds in the stranger the resemblance at the start. "I have never yet seen any one so like Ulysses as thou art in body, voice and feet." We now observe that Ulysses really selects Eurycleia, "a certain old woman, discreet, who has endured as much as I have: she may touch my feet" (line 346). He sought for some confidant among the servants, one who might be needed for important duties before and during the fight; Eurycleia is chosen, since Ulysses knew that she would discover the scar on his foot and thus recognize him. All of which takes place, Ulysses exacts secrecy, and she replies, giving a hint of her character as well as the reason why she was chosen: "Thou knowest my firmness, I shall hold like the solid rock or iron."

There is a long narrative pertaining to the manner in which Ulysses received the wound which caused the scar. Much fault has been found with this story for various reasons, but it gives a certain relief as well as epical fullness to the movement of the Book. It is, however, one of those passages which may have been interpolated—or may not, and just there the argument stands. It traces the character of Ulysses back to his grandfather Antolycus, the most cunning of mortals, and also gives the etymology (fanciful probably) of the name of Ulysses. (Odysseus, the Greek form of Ulysses, is here derived from a Greek word meaning to be angry.)

4. After the bath Ulysses returns to the hearth where Penelope is still sitting. She tells her dream of the eagle which destroyed her geese, and which then spoke by way of interpretation: "The geese are the Suitors and I, once the eagle, am now thy husband." Such is the deep-lying presentiment of Penelope, indicated by the dream, which crops out in spite of her declared skepticism. Note that she dreams not only the dream but also dreams its interpretation; surely she is conscious of some hope now.

The legend at the end of the Book, which tells of the two Gates of Dreams, one of ivory and one of horn, has roused much curiosity among readers about its purport, and has inspired much imitation from later poets. Through the Gate of Horn (dimly transparent) comes the true dream; through the Gate of Ivory (polished on the outside, but letting no light through) comes the false dream. Such is the more common explanation, but Eustathius derives the whole story from two puns on Greek words for horn and ivory. At any rate there are the two sorts of dreams, one getting the impress of the future event, the other being merely subjective.

But Penelope has another suggestion, which is found widely scattered in folk-lore, the Bending of the Bow. This incident, however, is developed in a later Book. It is one of her schemes to defer the hated marriage, after the new hope given by the stranger. She will not yet give up.

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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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