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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 62

(3) This is the third stage of the battle. A large majority of the Suitors, probably 80 or more out of the 108 plus 10 attendants are still alive, though without weapons and completely paralyzed with terror. "Pallas held from the roof her man-destroying aegis, their hearts trembled with fear, they fled through the palace like a drove of cattle." The four men now use their swords upon the terrified, defenseless crowd, and cut them down. Leiodes, the soothsayer of the Suitors, begs for mercy and recounts his attempts to restrain their violent deeds; vain is his prayer, he perishes with his company of brigands, "for if thou wert their soothsayer, thou must often in my palace have prayed the Gods against my return" and for the Suitors. Thus the priestly man too is involved in the net, he knew the wrong, yet remained the chaplain of that godless company.

Two, however, are saved, the guiltless. The bard, who "sings for Gods and men" is spared, because he sang "by necessity for the Suitors, and not for sake of gain;" also Telemachus intercedes for the herald Medon, who "took care of me as a child," a beautiful gleam on this ghastly scene. From Ulysses, however, we hear the moral of the event proclaimed, which the reader may take unto himself: "From this thou mayst know and tell to another how much better well-doing is than evil-doing." So speaks the slayer over these corpses, which utterance we may at least regard as an attempt of the poet once more to enforce the ethical purpose of his work. Not a single living Suitor or attendant can be found skulking anywhere, and none have escaped.

II. Having completed his task in regard to the guilty men, Ulysses now turns his attention toward the guilty women of his household. For this purpose Eurycleia is called, and is brought to him; when she sees the deadly work, she shouts for joy. Ulysses restrains her: "It is an unholy thing to exult over the slain." Here again the ethical nature of this act is emphasized: "The decree of the Gods and their own evil deeds overwhelmed these men; they paid respect to no human being, high or low, who approached them." Yet there are modern writers who can see no ethical purpose in the Odyssey.

Eurycleia gives her report: out of fifty serving maids in the palace, "twelve have mounted the car of shamelessness." These latter are now called, are compelled to carry out the dead (among whom are their lovers), and to make clean the place of slaughter. Then they are led out and hung: such was the ancient fate of the prostitute in the household.

A still harsher and more ignoble punishment awaits the goatherd Melanthius, a cruel mutilation is inflicted upon him, horrible to the last degree, but it grades his punishment according to his offense. A fumigation with sulphur we find here, as old as Homer. Then all the rest of the handmaids are summoned along with Penelope, to witness the deed and to see the hero.

Such is this terrible Book in which destruction is fully meted out to destroyers. According to our count 129 people are here dead, all of them guilty. A doomsday spectacle for that household, and for all readers and hearers since; it shows the return of the deed negatively upon the negative doer. But Ulysses, the hero sitting amid these corpses, is simply the Destroyer, the very picture and embodiment thereof. Is there to be no positive result of such bloody work? Yes; that is the next thing to be shown forth in the two following Books; Ulysses is also the restorer, wherewith his career and this poem will terminate.

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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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