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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 69

We have above said that the Trojan War was a complete cycle, of which the two poems portray the two halves. Still further can the matter be carried. The Trojan cycle, complete in itself as a phase of Greek consciousness, is but a fragment, a half of a still larger cycle of human development. The Iliad and the Odyssey give the Greek half of the grand world-movement of the Trojan epoch; there is also an Oriental half which these poems presuppose and from which they separate. Thus the grand Homeric cycle, while a unit in itself, is really a separation from the East, a separation which rendered the Occident possible; the woes before Troy were the birth-pangs of the new-born child, Europe, now also grown a little old.

The reader naturally asks, will there be any return to the Orient after the grand Greek separation, first heralded on the plains of Ilium? It may be answered that Europe has often returned to the East in the course of history—Alexander, Rome, the Crusades; at present, western Europe seems bent on getting to the far East. But the true return of the Occident to the Orient will be round the globe, by way of America, and that will be complete. The recent war between Japan and China is really a stage of the great new epoch in the world-historical return to the Orient.

Such is the more external, the historical phase of the Iliad and Odyssey. But they have also a deep internal ethical phase, they show two sides of one grand process of the human soul which has been called self-alienation, the sacrifice of the immediate self in order to gain true self-hood. The Greeks had to immolate their dearest ties, those of home and country, in order to preserve home and country, which had been assailed to the very heart by the rape of Helen. They had to educate themselves to a life of violence, killing men, women, even children, destroying home and country. For Troy also has Family and State, though it be a complete contradiction of Family and State by supporting Paris. But when the Greeks had taken Troy, they were trained destroyers of home and country, they were destruction organized and victorious, yet their whole purpose was to save home and country. Thus their self-alienation has deepened into absolute self-contradiction, the complete scission of the soul.

Now this is the spiritual condition of which they are to get rid, out of which they are to return to home and country. As before said it may be deemed a harder problem than the taking of Troy, which was simply a negative act, the destroying the destroyers of home and country. But the great positive act of the Trojan heroes is the restoration, not merely the outer but the inner restoration, to home and country.

With these considerations before the mind of the reader, he is now ready to grasp the full sweep of the Odyssey and understand its conflict. It springs from the separation caused by a war, here the Trojan War. The man is removed from his institutional life and thrown into a world of violence and destruction. Let us summarize the leading points of the process.

I. The absence of Ulysses leaves his family without a head, his country without a ruler, and his property without an owner. All these relations begin to loosen and go to pieces; destructive forces assail the decaying organism; the Suitors appear, who consume his property, woo his queen, and seek to usurp his kingly authority. Such are the dissolving energies at work in Ithaca. Also his son Telemachus is left without paternal training.

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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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