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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 7

Such, then, are the two obstacles, both connected far back with mythical beings of the sea, wherein we may note the marine character of the Odyssey, which is a sea-poem, in contrast with the Iliad, which is a land-poem. The physical environment, in which each of these songs has its primary setting, is in deep accord with their respective themes—the one being more objective, singing of the deed, the other being more subjective, singing of the soul.

And even in the two present obstacles we may note that the one, Neptune, seems more external—that of the physical sea; while the other, Calypso, seems more internal—that of the soul held in the charms of the senses.

The Assembly of the Gods. The two obstacles to the return of Ulysses are now to be considered by the Gods in council assembled. This is, indeed, the matter of first import; no great action, no great poem is possible outside of the divine order. This order now appears, having a voice; the supreme authority of the world is to utter its decree concerning the work. The poet at the start summons before us the governing principle of the universe in the persons of the Olympian deities. On the other hand, note the solitary individual Ulysses, in a lonely island, with his aspiration for home and country, with his plan—will it be realized? The two sides must come together somehow; the plan of the individual must fit into the plan of the Gods; only in the cooperation of the human and divine is the deed, especially the great deed, possible. Accordingly we are now to behold far in advance the sweep of the poem, showing whether the man's purpose and hope be in harmony with the government of the Gods.

Zeus is the supreme divinity, and he first speaks: "How sorely mortals blame the Gods!" It is indeed an alienated discordant time like the primal fall in Eden. But why this blame? "For they say that evils come from us, the Gods; whereas they, through their own follies, have sorrows beyond what is ordained." The first words of the highest God concern the highest problem of the poem and of human life. It is a wrong theology, at least a wrong Homeric theology, to hold that the Gods are the cause of human ills; these are the consequences of man's own actions. Furthermore, the cause is not a blind impersonal power outside of the individual, it is not Fate but man himself. What a lofty utterance! We hear from the supreme tribunal the final decision in regard to individual free-will and divine government.

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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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