Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

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]

Table of Contents \ Odyssey Complete Text \ Greek Fonts \ More Greek Resources













Page 104

What new art-form, then, will Homer, the grand constructive poet, who seizes every object necessary for his temple of song, assign to Ulysses singing of himself? The Fairy Tale is taken with its strange supernatural shapes, which have no reality, and hence can only have an ideal meaning; we are ushered into the realm of the physically impossible, where we have to see the spiritually actual, if we see anything. Polyphemus is not a man, not an animal, not a direct product of nature; he is a creature of the mind made by the mind in order to express mind. Undoubtedly he has external shape, but that shape is meaningless till we catch the spirit creating him. The Fairy Tale removes the vision from an outer sensuous world, and compels an internal vision, which looks into the soul of things and there beholds the soul.

The Fairy Tale existed long before Homer, it is a genuine product of the people. The stories which here follow have been traced among the remotest races; they spring up of themselves out of the popular heart and imagination. Homer picks them up and puts them into their true place in his grand edifice, polishing, transforming them, by no means creating them; certainly he never created this art-form. His merit is that he saw where they belong and what phase of human experience they express; to this merit must be added his special power, that of poetic transfiguration. Not simply a redactor or putter together externally of odd scraps, but the true architect of the totality; thus he comes before us on the present and on all other occasions.

Ulysses, having told us who he is, proceeds to inform us of a second important fact: his soul's strongest aspiration. He longs to return to home and country. Ithaca, a small, rocky island, is the sweetest spot on earth to him; Circe and then Calypso tried to detain him, each wishing to keep him as husband; "but they could not shake the purpose of my heart." One thinks that he must, while saying this, have cast a sly glance at Arete, for whose approval it must have been intended, for she was no friend of Circe and Calypso.

It is a curious fact that Homer, in this short description, makes two mistakes in reference to the topography of Ithaca. The island can hardly be called low as here stated, nor does it lie westward of Cephallenia, but northeastward. A reasonable inference is that Homer was not an Ithacan, and did not know the island very well, though he may have seen it in a passing visit. Anaximander with his first map comes after Homer several hundred years.

The present Book has three plainly marked portions. First comes the wanton attack on the Ciconians, which connects immediately with the Trojan experience of Ulysses. Second is the country of the Lotus-eaters, to which he and his companions are driven by wind and storm. Third is the Land of the Cyclops, especially of Polyphemus, with whom he has his chief adventures. The first two portions are quite brief, are in fact introductory to the third, which takes up more than four-fifths of the Book, and is the Fairy Tale proper. We may observe the gradual transition: the Ciconians are a real people in geography and history; the Lotus-eaters are getting mythical, are but half-way historical; the Cyclops belong wholly to Fableland. Thus there is a movement out of the Trojan background of reality into the Fairy World.

Having marked the dividing lines, the next thing will be to find the connecting links between these three portions. They are not thrown together haphazard or externally joined into one Book; they have an internal thought which unifies them and which must be brought to light. The poet sees in images which are separate, but the thinker must unite these images by their inner necessity, and thus justify anew the poet.

Previous Page / First / Next

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
More OnLine Resources on Greek History, Places, Texts, Language

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Greek Literature - Ancient, Medieval, Modern

Learned Freeware

Reference address :