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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 67


We are now to make one of the chief transitions of the poem, we are going to pass from the Dark Island and the stormy sea to Phaeacia, a bright, sunlit land, where reign peace and harmony. Moreover, we move out of the realm of nature to that of institutions. Still more significant are the central figures of the two localities, both women; one of these we have seen, Calypso, who is now to give way to Nausicaa.

This Book may, therefore, be called Nausicaa's Book, as she is the leading character in it, imparting to it a marvelous mood of idyllic beauty and womanly purity. She is the person chosen by the poet to introduce the Hero into the new realm, Phaeacia, being in sharp contrast to Calypso, who detained Ulysses in dark Ogygia away from his family, and whose character was adverse to the domestic relation. But Nausicaa shows from the start the primal instinct of the true woman for the home. She is still young, but she has arrived at that age in which she longs with every throb of her heart to surrender her own separate existence, and to unite it with another. She manifests in all its attractiveness the primordial love of the woman for the Family, basis of all institutional life, as well as fountain of the deepest joys of our terrestrial sojourn.

On this account she represents the place of Phaeacia in the Greek world as well as in the present poem; perhaps we ought to add, in the whole movement of civilization. That land may be called the idyllic one, a land of peace and of freedom from all struggle; the borderland between the natural and the civilized spheres. Man has risen out of the grossness of mere sensuous individualism, such as we see in Polyphemus and in other shapes of Fairyland; but he has not yet reached the conflicts of higher forms of society resulting from a pursuit of wealth, from ambition, from war. Here is a quiet half-way house on the road from nature to civilization; a sweet reposeful realm, almost without any development of the negative forces of society; a temporary stopping-place for Ulysses in his all-embracing career, also for individuals and nations in their rush forward to reach the great end. The deep collisions of social life belong not to Phaeacia, nor to Nausicaa, its ideal image.

It is the virgin land, the virgin world, which now has a young virgin as its central character and representative, to mediate Ulysses with itself, the universal man who must also have the new experience. Still she is not all of Phaeacia, but its prelude, its introductory form; moreover, she is just the person to conduct Ulysses out of his present forlorn condition of mind and body into a young fresh hope, into a new world. The Calypso life is to be obliterated by the vision of the true woman and her instinctive devotion to the Family. We are aware that Ulysses has not been contented with the Dark Island and its nymph, he has had the longing to get away and has at last gotten away; but to what has he come? Lost the one and not attained the other, till he beholds Nausicaa, who grasps him by the hand, as it were, and delivers him wholly from Calypso, leading him forth to her home, where he is to witness the central phase of domestic life, the mother.

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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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