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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 66

Yet if Ulysses doubts, he always overcomes his doubt in the end; he sees the positive element in the world to be deeper than the negative one, after a little access of weakness. Under his doubt is the deeper layer of faith, so he never gives up, but valiantly holds on and conquers. The Gods come to his aid when he believes and acts. His intellect is doubt, his will is faith: wherein we may trace important lines which unite him with Faust, the chief character in our last world-poem. Ulysses will complain, and having freed his mind, will go to work and conquer the obstacle. He struggles with the billow, clinging to the mast, though he had just said: "Now I shall die a miserable death."

Parallel to this human side runs the divine side, which we need not further describe here, with its three water-deities. A little attention we may give to the part of Pallas. At one time she seems to control the outer world for her favorite, sending the wind or stopping it; then she is said to inform his mind with forecast, that he may do the thing in spite of wind or other obstacle; finally he often does the deed without any divine suggestion, acting through himself. In these stages we can see a transition of the Mythus. The first stage is truly mythical, in which the deity is the mover, the second is less so, the Goddess having become almost wholly internal; in the third stage the mythical is lost. All these stages are in Homer and in this Book, though the first is still paramount.

Taking into view the general character of the mythical movement of this Fifth Book, we observe that there is a rise in it from a lower to a higher form; Calypso and Neptune are intimately blended with their physical environments, the island and the sea. Though elevated into persons, they are still sunk in Nature; it is the function of the Hero, especially the wise man, to subordinate both or to transcend both: which is just what Ulysses has done. His Mythus is, therefore, a higher one, telling the story of the subjection of nature and of her Gods. This story marks one phase of his career.

The reader will probably be impressed with the fact that in the present Book the stress is upon the discipline of the will. The inner reactions of complaint, doubt, or despair turn against the deed, to which Ulysses has to nerve himself by a supreme act of volition. The world of Calypso is that of self-indulgence, inactivity, will-lessness, to which Ulysses has sunk after his sin against the source of light, after his negation of all intelligence. It is not simply sensuous gratification with the mind still whole and capable of resolution, as was the case with Ulysses in the realm of Circe, in which he shows his will-power, though coupled with indulgence. Such is the difference between Calypso and Circe, which is always a problem with the reader. In this way, too, we see how the Fifth Book before us is a direct continuation and unfolding out of the Twelfth Book. Indeed the very movement of the poem is significant, which is a going backwards; so Ulysses drops far to the rear out of that light-loving Island of the Sun, against which is his violation, when he comes to Ogygia.

But Ulysses has now, after long discipline, transcended this sphere, and has reached a new land, of which the account is to follow next.

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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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