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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 17

The most celebrated of these dissectors is probably the German Professor, Kirchhoff, some of whose opinions we shall cite in this appendix. His psychological tendency is that of analysis, separation, division; the very idea of unity seems a bugbear to him, a mighty delusion which he must demolish or die. Specially is his wrath directed against Book First, probably because it contains the three unities above mentioned, all of which he assails and rends to shreds in his own opinion.

The entire Introduction (lines 1-88) he tears from its present place and puts it before the Fifth Book, where it serves as the prelude to the Calypso tale. The rest of the Telemachiad is the work of another poet. Indeed the rest of the First Book (after the Introduction) is not by the same man who produced the Second Book. Then the Second Book is certainly older than the First, and ought somehow to be placed before it. The real truth is, however, that the First Book is only a hodge-podge made out of the Second Book by an inferior poet, who took thence fragments of sentences and of ideas and stitched them together. In the Invocation Kirchhoff cuts out the allusion to the oxen of the Sun (lines 6-9) as being inconsistent with his theory.

After disposing of the Introduction in this way, Kirchhoff takes up the remaining portion of the First Book, which he tears to pieces almost line by line. In about forty separate notes on different passages he marks points for skepticism, having in the main one procedure: he hunts both the Iliad and the Odyssey through, and if he finds a line or phrase, and even a word used elsewhere, which he has observed here, he at once is inclined to conclude that the same must have been taken thence and put here by a foreign hand. Every reader of Homer is familiar with his habit of repeating lines and even entire passages, when necessary. All such repetitions Kirchhoff seizes upon as signs of different authorship; the poet must have used the one, some redactor or imitator the other. To be sure we ought to have a criterion by which we can tell which is the original and which is the derived; but such a criterion Kirchhoff fails to furnish, we must accept his judgment as imperial and final. Once or twice, indeed, he seems to feel the faultiness of his procedure, and tries to bolster it, but as a rule he speaks thus: "The following verse is a formula (repetition), and hence not the property of the author." (Die Homerische Odyssee, p. 174.)

Now such repetitions are common in all old poetry, in the ballad, in the folk-song, in the Kalevala as well as in the Homeric poems. Messages sent are repeated naturally when delivered; the same event recurring, as when the boat is rowed, the banquet prepared, or the armor put on, is described in the same language. Such is usually felt to be a mark of epic simplicity, of the naive use of language, which will not vary a phrase merely for the sake of variety. But Kirchhoff and his followers will have it just the other way; the early poet never varies or repeats, only the later poet does that. So he seeks out a large number of passages in the rest of the Odyssey, and in the Iliad also, which have something in common with passages of this First Book, especially in the matter of words, and easily finds it to be a "cento," a mixed mass of borrowed phrases.

But who was the author of such work? Not the original Homer, but some later matcher and patcher, imitator or redactor. It is not easy to tell from Kirchhoff just how many persons may have had a hand in this making of the Odyssey, as it lies before us. In his dissertations we read of a motley multitude: original poet, continuator, interpolator, redactor, reconstructor, imitator, author of the older part, author of the newer part—not merely individuals, but apparently classes of men. Thus he anatomizes old Homer with a vengeance.

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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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