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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 61

Book Twenty-second. The final act of justice, the Day of Judgment, perchance the Crack of Doom; such conceptions have long been familiar to man and still are; in the present Book they find one of their most striking embodiments. That for which so long preparation has been made, is now realized: the vindication of the Ethical Order of the World. There is, however, little feeling for that charity and humanity before noticed; stern, inflexible, merciless justice is the mood and meaning of this piece of writing.

The Book has essentially two parts: the punishment of the guilty men (Suitors and Servants) with the sparing of the innocent, and the punishment of the guilty women (servants) with the sparing of the innocent. Thus in both parts there is the penalty, yet also the discrimination, according to the deed.

I. The first part is mainly a battle, an Homeric battle, and reminds the reader of many a combat in the Iliad. Of the conflict with the Suitors here described we can discern three stages, which are marked also by the use of different weapons, the bow, the spear, and the sword.

(1) The first stage of the battle opens with the slaying of Antinous, the ringleader of the band, who is pierced by an arrow from the bow of Ulysses. The crowd threatens Ulysses, who now utters to them what may be called their last judgment, announcing who he is, and his purpose to punish their crimes: "Dogs! you thought I would not come back from Troy, and therefore you devoured my substance, debauched my maid-servants; and wooed my wife while I was still alive. You feared not the Gods, nor the vengeance of man afterwards; now destruction hangs over you all." This may be taken as a statement of the ethical content of the poem from the mouth of Ulysses himself at the critical moment. The Suitors feared not the Gods, were violators of the Divine Order, for which violation man was to punish them. Again the two sides, the divine and human, are put together. In vain Eurymachus, a spokesman for the Suitors, offers amends, guilt cannot now buy itself free when caught. Ulysses answers: "If thou shouldst offer all that thou hast and all that thy father has, and other gifts, I would not desist." So Eurymachus, perishes by the second arrow and still another Suitor, Amphinomus is pierced by the spear of Telemachus. Thus three leaders are slain in this preliminary stage.

(2) The second stage of the conflict begins by Telemachus bringing a shield, two spears, and a helmet for his father, whose arrows are not enough for the enemies. Also he brings armor for the cowherd and swineherd, as well as for himself; thus the four men get themselves fully equipped.

But in order to make a fair fight, it is necessary that the Suitors be armed, in part at least. Melanthius, the goatherd, finds his way to the chamber where the arms are deposited. Arms for twelve he brings, and then goes for more, when he is caught. But now Pallas has to appear in the form of Mentor, in order to put courage into the heart of Ulysses. The first armed set of Suitors advance and throw their javelins without effect, while the four on the side of Ulysses kill four men. Four more Suitors are slain in a fresh onset, then two more; now their store of weapons is exhausted. Thirteen mentioned here by name have fallen beside those unnamed ones whom the arrows of Ulysses slew. The most prominent Suitors are weltering in their blood, there are no more weapons, the result is a panic.

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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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