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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 65

Book Twenty-fourth. This is another Book over which there has been much critical discussion. Its thought, whatever may be said about its execution, is absolutely necessary to bring the Odyssey to an organic conclusion, and make the poem a well-rounded totality. There is the political trouble generally, and specially the blood feud caused by the slaying of the Suitors, which has to be harmonized. Repeatedly hitherto we have had hints of this coming difficulty; Ulysses thought of it, and made his plan concerning it before the slaughter took place. (XX. 41.)

In fact the complete restoration of Ulysses is both to Family and State, the two great institutions which form the substructure of the Odyssey. His country was quite as deeply distracted and perverted as his household; both had to undergo the process of purification. In Book Twenty-third we had the restoration of Ulysses to Family, in Book Twenty-fourth we are to have essentially his restoration to State; then he will truly have returned to prudent Penelope and to sunny Ithaca, and the poem can end. Moreover his restoration to Family and State involves the restoration of Family and State; the rightful husband and the rightful ruler heals the shattered institutions.

But it is undeniable that this Book is the most poorly constructed of any Book in the Odyssey. There is undue repetition of previous matters, yet certainly with important additions; there is unnecessary expansion in the earlier parts of the Book, and too great compression and hurry at the end. In general, the subject-matter of the Book is completely valid and necessary to the poem, but the execution falls below the Homeric level, specially in its constructive feature. Still we see ino reason why it may not be Homer's; he too has his best and worst Books.

Of the present Book there are two parts: the Underworld and the Upperworld.

I. The Suitors have been sent down to the realm where Ulysses in the Eleventh Book found the souls of the Trojan Heroes, Agamemnon, Achilles, Ajax. These three again are introduced with some others. The death of Achilles is described quite fully, when the souls of the Suitors arrive, and one of them, Amphimedon, recapitulates the story of the Odyssey. It tells of the craft and fidelity of Penelope, and of the return of Ulysses and his destruction of the Suitors. The words of Agamemnon recognize the pair, Ulysses and Penelope, as the supreme Greek man and woman, as those who have mastered the greatest difficulties of their epoch. The Trojan cycle is now complete, the separation caused by the war is bridged over, both Family and State are restored after the long disruption. In striking contrast was the case of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, both of whom perished without restoration. Thus by means of the ghosts of the Suitors, the famous careers of Ulysses and Penelope are taken up into the realm of the Supersensible, of ideal forms, whose fame is to last forever.

This part of the Book (the so-called second Nekyia) in which Hades appears the second time, has been sharply questioned both by ancient and modern critics on a number of grounds. These we shall not discuss, only stating that they are by no means conclusive against the genuineness of the whole passage. The general idea of it belongs here; the dead Suitors represent the grand end of the Trojan movement, and its reception into the Hades of famous deeds done and past, and very significantly Agamemnon voices the praise of Ulysses and Penelope, the great winners in the long struggle. Still the repetitions of previous portions of the Odyssey are to our mind unnecessary and prolix, though the literary skill manifested just herein has been highly lauded by Saint Beuve and Lang.

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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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