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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 70

II. Next let us glance at the individual. Ulysses, released from domestic life and civil order, gives himself up to destroying domestic life and civil order, though they be those of the enemy. For ten years he pays no respect to Property, Family and State in Troy; he is trained into their annihilation, and finally does annihilate them. Yet his object is to restore Helen, to vindicate Family and State, and even Property.

III. Troy is destroyed because it was itself destructive; it assailed the Greek domestic and civil institutions in the rape of Helen. So the destroying city itself is destroyed, but this leaves Ulysses a destroyer in deed and in spirit; home and country he is not only separated from but is destructive of—he is a negative man.

The previous three paragraphs contain the leading presuppositions of the Odyssey, and show the first half of the life of Ulysses. They indicate three phases of the working of the negative—in Ithaca, in Troy, and in Ulysses. But now that Troy is destroyed, how will Ulysses return to institutional life, which he has destroyed in Troy, in himself, and, through his absence, in Ithaca?

IV. The Return must in the first place be within himself, he must get rid of the destructive spirit begotten of war. For this purpose he has the grand training told in his adventures; he must put down the monsters of Fableland, Polyphemus, Circe, Charybdis; he must endure the long servitude under Calypso; he must see Phaeacia. When he is internally ready, he can go forth and destroy the Suitors, destroy them without becoming destructive himself, which was his outcome at Troy. For the destruction of Troy left him quite as negative as the Suitors, of which condition he is to rid himself ere he can rid Ithaca of the Suitors. This destruction thus becomes a great positive act, now he restores Family and State, and brings peace and harmony.

One result of separating from the Family is that the son Telemachus has not the training given by the father. But the son shows his blood; he goes forth and gets his own training, the best of the time. This is told in the Telemachiad. Thus he can co-operate with his father.

The movement overarching the Odyssey. The reader will note that in the preceding account we have tried to unfold the movement of the Odyssey as the return from the Trojan War. But as already stated, it is itself but a part of a larger movement, a segment of a great cycle, which cycle again suggests a still greater cycle, which last is the movement of the World's History. Recall, then, that the Odyssey by itself is a complete cycle as far as the experience of its hero is concerned; but as belonging to an epoch, it is but half of the total cycle of the Trojan War. Then again this Trojan War is but a fragment of a movement which is the total World's History. Now can this be set forth in a summary which will suggest the movement not of the Odyssey alone, but also the movement underlying and overlying the poem? Let us make the trial, for a world-poem must take its place in the World's History, which fact gives the final judgment of its worth.

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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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