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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 6

The Obstacles. Two of these are mentioned and carried back to their mythical sources. All the returning heroes are home from Troy except the chief one, Ulysses, whom Calypso detains in her grot, "wishing him to be her husband;" she, the unmarried, keeps him, the married, from family and country, though he longs to go back to both. She is the daughter of "the evil-minded Atlas," a hoary gigantesque shape of primitive legend, "who knows the depths of all the sea,"—a dark knowledge of an unseen region, from which come many fatalities, as shipwreck for the Greek sailor or earthquake for the volcanic Greek islands; hence he is imagined as "evil-minded" by the Greek mythical fancy, which also makes him the supporter of "the long columns which hold Heaven and Earth apart"—surely a hard task, enough to cause anybody to be in a state of protest and opposition against the happy Gods who have nothing to do but enjoy themselves on Olympus. Sometimes he refuses to hold the long columns for awhile, then comes the earthquake, in which what is below starts heavenward. Of this Atlas, Calypso is the offspring, and possibly her island, "the navel of the sea," is a product of one of his movements underneath the waters.

Here we touch a peculiar vein in the mythical treatment of the Odyssey. The fairy-tale, with its comprehensive but dark suggestiveness, is interwoven into the very fibre of the poem. This remote Atlas is the father of Calypso, "the hider," who has indeed hidden Ulysses in her island of pleasure which will hereafter be described. But in spite of his "concealment," Ulysses has aspiration, which calls down the help of the Gods for fulfillment. Such is the first obstacle, which, we can see, lies somewhere in the sensuous part of human nature.

The second obstacle is Neptune, whom we at once think of as the physical sea—certainly a great barrier. The wrath of Neptune is also set off with a tale of wonder, which gives the origin of Polyphemus, the Cyclops—a gigantic, monstrous birth of the sea, which produces so many strange and huge shapes of living things. But Neptune is now far away, outside of the Greek world, so to speak, among the Ethiopians. This implies a finite element in the Gods; they are here, there, and elsewhere; still they have the infinite characteristic also; they easily pass from somewhere into everywhere, and Ulysses will not escape Neptune.

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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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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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