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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 126


The present Book is one of the most influential pieces of writing which man has produced. It has come down through the ages with a marvelous power of reproduction; in many ways poets have sought to create it over; indeed Time has imitated it in a series of fresh shapes. Virgil, not to speak of other attempts in ancient Greek epics, has re-written it in the Sixth Book of the Aeneid; from Virgil it passed to Dante who has made its thought the mould which shapes his entire poem—the Divine Comedy.

It is one phase of the great Mythus of the Apocalypse, or the uncovering of the Future State, which in some form belongs to all peoples, and which springs from the very nature of human spirit. Man must know the Beyond; especially the Hero, the spiritual Hero of his race, must extend his adventures, not only over the world, but into the other world, and bring back thence the news concerning those who have already departed.

This then is the supreme Return of the Hero, the Return from beyond life, still alive; he is to conquer not only the monster Polyphemus and the enchantress Circe, but also the greatest goblin of all, Death. Common mortals have to make the passage thither without returning; the Hero must be the grand exception, else he were no Hero. Transcendent must he be, rising above all limits, even the limit of life and death.

We have, therefore, in the present Book the Greek glance into immortality. This is the essence of it, hence its prodigious hold upon human kind. That the conscious individual persists after the dissolution of the physical body is here strongly affirmed; indeed the world beyond is organized, and its connection with the world on this side is unfolded, in a series of striking pictures for the imagination. It is thus a grand chapter in the history of the soul's consciousness of its eternal portion, is in fact the middle link between the Oriental and the Christian view of immortality.

Ulysses, as the wise man, or rather as the intellectual Hero of his age, must go through the experience in question; he cannot return to home and country, and be fully reconciled with his institutional life here and now, without having seen what is eternal and abiding in the soul. The wanderer must wander thither, the absolute necessity lies upon him—and he must fetch back word about what he saw, and thus be a mediator between the sensible and supersensible, between time and eternity. In that way he means something to his people, becomes, in fact, their Great Man, helping them vicariously in this life to rise beyond life. The complete Return, then, involves the descending to Hades, the beholding the shapes there, and the coming back with the report to the living. Perhaps we ought to consider just this to be the culmination of the whole journey, the grand adventure embracing all possible adventures.

The connection with the preceding Book can not be too strongly enforced. Circe points out the way to Ulysses; her nature is to point to the Beyond, to which she cannot herself pass. In her last phase, she was spirit, but still in the sensuous form; that spirit in her, as in all true art and even in the world, points to its pure realm, where it is freed from the trammels of the senses. This gives the main characteristic of Homeric Hades; it is the supersensible world, outside of Space and Time; or, rather with its own Space and Time, since it is still an image.

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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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