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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 67


In concluding these lengthy studies of the Iliad and the Odyssey, we shall try to grasp each of the poems as a whole, and then the two together is one great totality sprung of one people and of one consciousness. The central fact out of which both poems arise, to which and from which both poems move, is the Trojan War. This War, whether mythical or historical, is certainly the most famous, and probably the most significant that ever took place on the earth.

As to the Odyssey, the first thing to be seized is the complete career of its Hero Ulysses. This career has naturally two parts: the going to Troy from Ithaca, and the coming back from Troy to Ithaca. Every Greek hero had a similar career, wholly or in part; many, of coarse, never returned. The two parts together constitute a total movement which begins at a certain point and returns to the same; hence it may be called a cycle, and its two parts may be designated in a general way as the Separation and the Return.

The Odyssey has as its theme the second half of the cycle, though, of course, it presupposes the first half, namely the going to Troy and the stay there. The poem, accordingly, does not give the entire life of Ulysses; what may be called the Trojan half must be looked for elsewhere, mainly in the Iliad. Of course there are in the Odyssey many allusions to incidents which belong to the first half of this career.

The Ulysses of the Iliad is one of the great leaders and one of the great heroes, but he is neither the chief leader nor the chief hero. Already he appears in Book First as a member of the Council, and an epithet is applied to him which suggests his wisdom. Thus at the start of the Iliad he is designated as the man of thought, of intelligence, of many resources. But in the Second Book he shines with full glory, he is indeed the pivot of the whole Book. On account of a speech made by Agamemnon, their leader, the Greeks start at once for home, they are ready to give up the great enterprise of the restoration of Helen, they act as if they would abandon their cause. It is Ulysses who calls them back to themselves and restores order; he shows himself to be the only man in the whole army who knows what to do in a critical emergency. He suppresses Thersites, he exhorts the chieftains, he uses force on the common people. He finally makes a speech to the entire body of Greeks in the Assembly, which recalls the great national purpose of the War, and is the true word for the time. Nestor follows him in a similar vein, and the Greek host again takes its place in line of battle and prepares for the onset upon Troy. Here we have a typical action of Ulysses, showing his essential character, and revealing the germ out of which the Odyssey may well have sprouted.

Other matters may also be noticed. Pallas, the Goddess of Wisdom, appears to him in the midst of the tumult, and gives him her suggestion. She will remain with him ever afterwards, manifesting herself to him in like emergencies till the end of the Odyssey. Telemachus is mentioned in this Book of the Iliad. The distinction between Ulysses and the aged Nestor is drawn: the latter has appreciative wisdom, that of experience, while Ulysses has creative wisdom, that of immediate divine insight, coming directly from Pallas. This distinction also will show itself in the Odyssey. Ulysses is the real hero of the Second Book of the Iliad; he appears in other Books with the same general character, but never so prominently again.

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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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