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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 71

I. In the prehistoric time before Homer, there was an Orient, but no Occident; the spiritual day of the latter had not yet dawned. Very early began the movement toward separation, which had one of its greatest epochs in the Trojan War.

1. Greece in those old ages was full of the throes of birth, but was not yet born. It was still essentially Oriental, it had no independent development of its own, though it was moving toward independence. The earliest objects dug out of the long buried cities of Greece show an Oriental connection; the famous sculptured lions over the gate of Mycenae last to this day as a reminder of the early Hellenic connection of European Greece with the Orient, not to speak of Cyprus, Crete, and the lesser islands of the Ægean.

2. Then came the great separation of Greece from the Orient, which is the fundamental fact of the Trojan War, and of which the Homeric poems are the mighty announcement to the future. Troy, an Orientalizing Hellenic city in Asia, seizes and keeps Greek Helen, who is of Europe; it tears her away from home and country, and through its deed destroys Family and State. Greek Europe restores her, must restore her, if its people be true to their institutional principles; hence their great word is restoration, first of their ideal Helen, and secondly of themselves.

So all the Greeks, in order to make the separation from the Orient and restore Helen, have to march forth to war and thus be separated themselves from home and country, till they bring back Helen to home and country. The deed done to Helen strikes every Greek man till he undoes it. The stages of this movement may be set down separately.

(a) The leaving home for Troy—Achilles, Agamemnon, Ulysses; all the heroes had their special story of departure. Ulysses had to quit a young wife, Penelope, and an infant son, Telemachus. For if Helen can be abducted, no Greek family is safe.

(b) Stay at Troy for 10 years. This is also a long training to destruction. Ulysses is an important man, but not the hero. Here lies the sphere of the Iliad.

(c) Destruction of the city and the restoration of Helen to her husband, both of which are not told in the Iliad but are given subordinately in the Odyssey. Thus is the separation from the Orient completed on its negative side, that is, as far as destruction can complete it.

3. The return to Greece of the survivors. The question is, How can they truly get back after so long a period of violence? The Odyssey has this as its theme, and will give an account of all the returns. Here, too, we observe various stages.

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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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