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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 33

Such is, then, the training which the young man, shaken by misfortune, obtains at the court of Nestor; the training to a belief in the rule of the Gods in a Divine Order of the World—which is the fundamental belief of the present poem. It is no wonder that Telemachus sees Pallas at last, sees that she has been with him, recognizing her presence. To be sure, she now disappears as a personal presence, having been found out; still she sends Telemachus on his journey to Sparta. Thus the Third Book has a distinctive character of its own, differing decidedly from the Book which goes before and from that which follows. Here is a religious world, idyllic, paradisaical in its immediate relation to the Gods, and in the primitive innocence of its people, who seem to be without a jar or inner scission. No doubt or dissonance has yet entered apparently; Pylos stands between Ithaca, the land of absolute discord, and Sparta, the land recently restored out of discord. The Book hears a relation to the whole Odyssey in its special theme, which is the Return, of which it represents in the ruler Nestor a particular phase. It prepares the way for the grand Return, which is that of Ulysses; it is a link connecting the whole poem into unity. Moreover it shadows forth one of the movements of Greek spirit, which seized upon this idea of a Return from Troy to express the soul's restoration from its warring, alienated, dualistic condition. It is well known that there were many poems on this subject; each hero along with his town or land had his Return, which became embodied in legend and song. All Hellas, in a certain stage of its spiritual movement, had a tendency to break out into the lay of the Return. One of the so-called cyclic poets, Hagias of Troezen, collected a number of these lays into one poem and called it the Nostoi or Returns, evidently an outgrowth of this Third Book in particular and of the Odyssey in general.

Thus Telemachus has witnessed and heard a good deal during his stay with Nestor. He has seen a religious world, a realm of faith in the Gods, which certainly has left its strong impression; he has been inspired by the example of his father, whose worth has been set forth, and whose place in the great Trojan movement has been indicated, by the aged Hero. Still further, Telemachus has been brought to share in the idea of the Return, the present underlying idea of the whole Greek consciousness; thus he must be led to believe in it and to work for it, applying it to his own case and his own land. Largely, from a negative, despairing state of mind due to his Ithacan environment, he has been led into glimpses of a positive believing one; this has sprung from his schooling with Nestor, who may be called his first schoolmaster, from whom he is now to pass to his second.

The reader must judge whether the preceding view be too introspective for Homer, who is usually declared to be the unconscious poet, quite unaware of his purpose or process. No one can carefully read the Third Book without feeling its religious purport; an atmosphere it has peculiar to itself in relation to the other Books of the Telemachiad. To be sure, we can read it as an adventure, a mere diverting story, without further meaning than the attempt to entertain vacant heads seeking to kill time. But really it is the record of the spirit's experience, and must so be interpreted. Again the question comes up: what is it to know Homer? His geography, his incidents, his grammar, his entire outer world have their right and must be studied—but let us proceed to the next Book.

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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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