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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 35

What did not Telemachus see and hear at Sparta? That was, indeed, an education. He saw the two great returned ones, the woman and the man. Helen he saw, who had passed through her long alienation and was now restored to home and country after the Trojan discipline. In her, the most beautiful woman, the human cycle was complete—the fall, the repentance, the restoration. Then the eager youth saw Menelaus, and heard his story of the Return; he is the man who seeks the treasures of the East, and brings them to Hellas in the Hellenic way. He finds them, too, after much suffering, never losing them again in the tempests of his voyage, for does he not spread them out before us in his talk? Both the man and the woman, after the greatest human trials, have reached serenity—an institutional and an intellectual harmony. The young man sees it and feels it and takes it away in his head and heart.

The present Book falls easily into two distinct portions. The first is the visit of Telemachus to Sparta and what he experiences there. Sparta is at peace and in order; the youth to a degree beholds in it the ideal land to which he must help transform his own disordered country. The second portion of the Book goes back to Ithaca (line 625 of the Greek text). Here we are suddenly plunged again into the wrongful deeds of the suitors, done to the House of Ulysses. They are plotting the death of Telemachus, the bearing of whose new career has dawned upon them. Ithaca is truly the realm of discord in contrast to the harmony of Sparta and the House of Menelaus, which has also had sore trials. Hence Sparta may be considered a prophecy of the redemption of Ithaca.

Following out these structural suggestions, we designate the organism of the Book in this manner:—

I. The visit of Telemachus at Sparta in which he beholds and converses with two chief Returners from Troy, those who came back by way of the East, Menelaus and Helen. This part embraces the greater portion of the Book and falls into three divisions.

1. The arrival and recognition of the son of Ulysses by Menelaus and Helen who are in a mood of reminiscence, speaking of and in the Present with many a glance back into the Past. The Oriental journey to Cyprus, Phoenicia, and specially Egypt, plays into their conversation, making the whole a Domestic Tale of real life with an ideal background lying beyond Hellas.

2. When the son is duly recognized and received, the father Ulysses comes in for reminiscence; with him the background shifts from the Orient to Troy, where he was the hero of so many deeds of cunning and valor, and where both Menelaus and Helen were chief actors. The literary form passes out of the Domestic Tale of the Present into the Heroic Tale of the Past, from sorrowful retrospection to bracing description of daring deeds. Helen and Menelaus, each in turn, tell stories of Ulysses at Troy to the son, who thus learns much about his father. As already said, the background of this portion is the Trojan war which was the grand Hellenic separation from the Orient. The Iliad, and specially the Post-Iliad are here presupposed by the Odyssey.

3. The Return of Menelaus is now told to Telemachus, which Return reaches behind the Trojan war into the East and beyond the limits of the real Hellas into Egypt. Thus the spatial and temporal bounds of Greece are transcended, the actual both in the Present and Past goes over into the purely ideal, and the literary form becomes a Marvelous Tale—that of Proteus, which suggests not only Present and Past, but all 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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