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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

D. Snider
A Commentary on the Odyssey of Homer - Part I

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 103


Ulysses is now called for by Alcinous, and he is to be the singer. At first he naturally pays a compliment to his predecessor Demodocus: "A pleasant thing to hear a bard such as this," with a voice like unto that of the Gods. Then he gives a delicate touch of commendation to the whole people "sitting in a row and listening to the singer" who is chanting the famous deeds of the aforetime. But when Ulysses praises the tables laden with bread and meat, and the cupbearer filling the wine-cups of the guests, saying, "This seems to me the best thing," strong opposition has been aroused, shown even in antiquity by the sharp protest of Plato and Lucian. Still this Phaeacian enjoyment is innocent enough; not ascetic is the trait, yet not sensual; to-day good people usually eat and drink without the song of bard or other spiritual entertainment accompanying the material one of gustation.

Now comes the change, Ulysses is to give a song, he is to sing his own deeds, the story of his trials, "which will wake fresh sorrow in me." Clearly this will be a different song from the preceding one of Demodocus; not now an heroic tale of Troy, but an account of the Return therefrom; a tale in which endurance is the theme rather than action. The hero is more the sufferer than the doer; he is to meet the hostile blows of Fate and to master it by his ability to bear as well as by his ability to act. A new poetic form will gradually rise out of the theme and in harmony with the same; the present movement runs counter to the Trojan story both in space and in spirit.

The first act of Ulysses in this novel procedure is to be duly noted: he declares who he is, gives his father's name and utters a hint of his own character. Very great surprise must the announcement have created among those Phaeacians—a veritable sensation, as we say in these times; for Ulysses had been the real hero of the songs of Demodocus just sung; behold, that hero himself is present and has been listening all the while. The dramatic disguise, in which the interest of the hearer has centered hitherto, is thrown off, the concealed man shows himself.

Still deeper must we look into this act of self-revelation. "I am Ulysses," says the bard now, proposing to sing of Ulysses. I am myself, I know what I have done and I am the man to tell it. Really here is a statement of self-consciousness; the singer is no longer a Demodocus singing of another man, of Ulysses, at Troy, but it is Ulysses himself, now singing of himself, of his profoundest experiences, which none other but he can tell. His internal life opens, not that active heroic one; the trials of his spirit are the theme, therewith must follow a new manner of utterance, a poetic form which can express what is within and still remain in the domain of the imagination. A self-conscious art we must now be prepared for, which seeks to express just the self-consciousness of the poet going through his inner experiences, with the counterstroke from the outer world.

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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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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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