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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 74

(3) The third phase of this little play is the bringing of Ulysses to the city and home of Nausicaa. He, having satisfied his hunger, and being ready to start, receives some advice from the maiden, who seeks to conduct him at once to the center of the home. They will pass first through the outlying country, which shows cultivation; then they will go up into the city, with its lofty tower and double harbor; the seafaring character of the people is especially set forth by Nausicaa, whose name is derived from the Greek word for a ship. Particularly we must notice her fear of gossip, which also existed in Phaeacia, ideal though the land was. She must not be seen with Ulysses; men with evil tongues would say: "What stranger is this following Nausicaa? Now she will have a husband." The sharp eye of Goethe detected in this passage the true motive; it is love, always having the tendency to deny itself, which dictates so carefully this avoidance of public report; the thing must not be said just because there is good reason for saying it. Her solicitude betrays her feeling. In pure simplicity of heart she pays the supreme compliment to Ulysses, likening him indirectly to "a God called down from Heaven by her prayers, to live with her all her days." Still further she intimates in the same passage, that "many noble suitors woo her, but she treats them with disdain, they are Phaeacians." To be sure she puts these words into the mouth of a gossipy and somewhat disgruntled countryman, but they come round to their mark like a boomerang. Does she not thus announce to the much-enduring man that she is free, though under a good deal of pressure? All this is done in such an artless way, that it becomes the highest art—something which she does not intend but cannot help. Surely such a speech from such a source ought to repay him for suffering shipwreck and for ten years' wandering.

We cannot, therefore, think of calling this passage spurious, with some critics both ancient and modern. The complaint against it is that the young Phaeacian lady shows here too much reflection, in conjunction with a tendency to sarcasm foreign to her life. But we find it eminently unreflective and naive; the very point of the passage is that she unconsciously reveals the deepest hidden thought and purpose of her heart to Ulysses. With all her being she must move toward the Family, she would not be herself unless she did; yet how completely she preserves modesty and simple-heartedness! Nor is the sarcastic tinge foreign to young girls. So we shall have to set aside the objections of Aristarchus the old Greek, and Faesi the modern German, commentator.

But the final instruction of Nausicaa is the most interesting; the suppliant is not to go to the father but to the mother. Nay, he is to "pass by my father's throne and clasp my mother's knees," in token of supplication; then he may see the day of return. Herein we may behold in general, the honored place of the mother as the center of the Family, its heart, as it were, full of the tender feelings of compassion and mercy. In the father and king, on the other hand, is the man of the State with its inflexible justice, often putting aside sympathy and commiseration with misfortune. The woman's heart may indeed be called the heart of the world, recognized here by the old poet and his Phaeacians.

This mother, however, is in herself a great character; she is next to have a Book of her own, which will more fully set forth her position.

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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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