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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 72

(a) Leaving Troy for home. This means a complete facing about and a going the other way, not only in geography, but also in conduct. The Greeks must now quit destruction and become constructive.

(b) It is no wonder that the journey home was very difficult. Quarrels arose at the start (see Nestor's account Book III., and that of Menelaus Book IV.). Many perished on the way; some were lost in a storm at sea, Agamemnon was slain on the threshold of his own palace.

(c) Those who reached home, the successful returners, were of three main kinds, represented by Nestor, by Menelaus, and by Ulysses. These were restored to home and family, and brought peace and harmony. Such is the positive outcome of the Trojan War, and the completion of its cycle.

II. But this rounding-off of the Trojan cycle is, on the other hand, a final separation from the Orient; the scission is now unfolded, explicit, quite conscious. When Ulysses comes back to Ithaca, and re-establishes Family and State, Greek life is independent, distinct, self-determined. The Hellenic world rises and fulfills its destiny in its own way; it creates the Fine Arts, Literature, Science; it is the beginning of the Occident.

Still the thought must come up that the Orient is also a part of the grand movement of the World's History, whose cycle embraces both Occident and Orient. The Odyssey has many glimpses of this higher view. The first 12 books move westward and have their outlook in that direction, the last 12 books have their outlook eastward toward Egypt, Phoenicia, and the Oriental borderland. The earlier fairy tales of Ulysses have their scene in the West, while the later romances or novelettes interwoven in the last 12 Books have their scene in the East, with one exception possibly.

The main fact, however, of the Trojan cycle is the great separation, deepest in history, between Orient and Occident, through the instrumentality of Greece. The civilization of Europe and the West is the offspring of that separation, which is still going on, is a living fact, and is the source of the vexed Eastern question of European politics.

III. We are living to-day in that separation; our art, science, education, poetic forms, our secular life largely come from ancient Greece. Oriental art, customs, domestic life, government, we do not as a rule fraternize with; the Greek diremption is in us still; only in one way, in our religious life, do we keep a connection with an Oriental people. But is this separation never to be overcome? Is there to be no return to the East and completion of the world's cycle?

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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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