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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 115


At the first glance we can observe a certain similarity between this Book and the last one. There are in each three distinct portions or adventures, two very short and simple, and one very long and intricate. Each Book culminates in a fabulous being with whom the Hero has a wrestle for supremacy, and in both cases he comes out victorious. We are still in Wonderland, we have to reach into the ideal realm in order to find out what these strange incidents mean. The two central figures are Polyphemus and Circe, respectively, each of whom imparts the dominating thought to the Book in which he or she appears.

The first thing we ask for is the connection, the inner thread which joins these Books together. It was stated that Polyphemus was the negation of the institutional world, he was individualistic, he belonged to neither Family nor State. No laws, no councils, no civil polity; he is a huge man of violence, hostile specially to man's social life. Circe on the contrary, is the woman hostile to woman's domestic world, the Family, first of all; she is the grand enchantress, representing the power and seductiveness of the senses; she is the enemy of what we call morals. To be sure, we shall find in her something more, whereof the full unfolding will be given hereafter.

Ulysses is the one who is to meet those negative forces and put them down. His companions give him special trouble in the present Book, they seem to represent the weaker phases of man, possibly of Ulysses himself. Already he has suppressed Polyphemus, or the institutional negation; now he is to subordinate Circe or the moral negation. The latter is a woman because she must have sensuous beauty and all the charm of passionate enticement; the former is a man because he must show strength and violence rather than the allurement of pleasure.

Nor should we forget that these forms are in Ulysses himself, and were really generated out of his Trojan life; that spirit of his, shown at the start by the attack on the Ciconians, has all these phases in its process. He is traveling through an Inferno, seeing its entire demonic brood, which he has begotten, and which he has to fight and subject. At the same time these fantastic shapes are typical, and shadow forth the universal experience of man, belonging to all countries and all ages.

As already stated, there are three different localities to which Ulysses is brought. Three islands, bounded, yet in a boundless sea, through which he moves on his ships; such is the outermost setting of nature, suggestive of much. No tempest occurs in this Book; the stress is upon the three fixed places in the unfixed aqueous element.

I. First is the island where dwells Aeolus with his Family; hither Ulysses comes after putting down Polyphemus who was hostile to domestic life. In this spot the bag of winds is given into the possession of the navigator, whose companions, however, release them, and he is driven to the starting-point, with the winds at large. Aeolus refuses to receive him the second time.

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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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