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 31

Aged Nestor manifestly does not belong to the new epoch, he seems to have no sense of the deep spiritual struggle involved. He instinctively went home, shunning the conflict; the others could not. In the Iliad the relation between the two wise men, Nestor and Ulysses, is subtly yet clearly drawn; the one—the younger man—has creative intelligence, the other—the older man—has appreciative intelligence. In the Odyssey, the relation is plainly evolved out of that described in the Iliad; the one is the boundless striver, the other rests in the established order of things.

Nestor, therefore, cannot tell much about Ulysses, who lies quite out of his horizon, at least in the Odyssey. He can only give hope that the man of wisdom will yet return. This Telemachus doubts, dropping into one of his low human moods, even in the presence of Pallas, who rebukes him sharply. It is, indeed, the great lesson; he must have faith in the reality of the Gods, this is the basis of all his future progress, the chief attainment of wisdom. The young man must not fall away into denial, he must be taught that there is a divine order in the world. Old Homer, too, had his notions about religion in education, and the Goddess herself is here introduced giving a lesson.

Nestor, though unable himself to give much information about the Return, can point to the second grand Returner, Menelaus, who has lately come from a distant land, and may have something to say. In fact Menelaus was the last to separate from Nestor, Ulysses had separated long before.

One other story Nestor tells with great sympathy, that of Agamemnon, who represents a still different form of the Return. The great leader of the Greeks can master the Trojan difficulty, can even get back to home and country, but these are ultimately lost to him by his faithless spouse. Still, after the father's death, the son Orestes restores Family and State. Therein Telemachus sees an image of himself, the son, who is to slay his mother's suitors; he sees, too, the possible fate of his father. Ulysses has essentially the same problem as Agamemnon, though he has not the faithless wife in addition; Telemachus beholds his duty in the deed of Orestes, according to Greek consciousness. We shall see hereafter how Ulysses takes due precaution not to be slain in his own land, as Agamemnon was. In disguise he will go to his own palace and carefully note the situation in advance, and then strike the blow of deliverance.

Several times Homer repeats in the Odyssey the tragic story of Agamemnon, the great Leader of the Greeks at Troy. An awe-inspiring tale of destiny; out of it Aeschylus will develop his great tragedy, the Oresteia. Indeed the epos develops into tragedy with the full mythical unfolding of this story. Aeschylus will deepen the motives into internal collisions; he will show the right and the wrong in Agamemnon, and even in Clytemnestra. Orestes, however beneficent his deed in avenging his father, will not escape the counterstroke; Aeschylus will send after him the Furies for the guilt of having murdered his mother. Thus the double nature of the deed, its reward and its penalty, unfolds out of Homer into Aeschylus, and creates the Greek drama as we know it at present.

Nestor has now told what lay in the immediate circle of his experience: the Return direct through Hellas. Again he mentions the last separation; it was that of himself from Menelaus, when the latter was swept beyond the limit of Hellas into Egypt, from which he has now returned. What next? Evidently the young man must be sent to him at Sparta in order to share in this larger circle of experience, extending to the Orient. So Greece points to the East in many ways; Nestor, the purely Hellenic soul, knows of that wider knowledge, though it be not his, and he knows that it should be possessed.

In this Book as elsewhere in the Odyssey the grand background is the Trojan war. The incidents of the Iliad are hardly alluded to, but are certainly taken for granted; the Post-Iliad is the field of interest, for in it the Returns take place. Thus the two great poems of Homer join together and show themselves as complements of each other.

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 :