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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 77

Accordingly we have in line three women, Calypso, Nausicaa, Arete, through whose spheres Ulysses has passed on his way to his own female counterpart, Penelope. We may see in them phases of man's development out of a sensuous into an institutional life. Nor is the suggestion too remote that we may trace in this movement certain outlines in the progress of mankind toward civilization.

In the mythical history of Phaeacia which is also here given, we can observe the same development suggested with greater distinctness. Already in the previous Book it was stated that the Phaeacians at first "dwelt near the insolent Cyclops," from whom they had to make the removal to their present island on account of violence done them by their neighbors. But now we hear that both Alcinous and Arete are descended on one side from the daughter of King Eurymedon, "who ruled over the arrogant race of Giants," all of whom, both king and "wicked people," had perished. On the other side the royal pair had the sea-god Neptune as their progenitor who was also the father of the Cyclops Polyphemus. It is impossible to mistake the meaning of this genealogy and the reason of its introduction at the present conjuncture. The Phaeacians likewise were sprung of the wild men of nature, and had been at one time savages; but they had changed, had separated from their primitive kindred and begun the march of civilization. The poet has manifestly before his mind this question: why does one branch of the same people develop, and another branch lag behind; why, of two brothers, does one become civilized and the other remain savage? Of this dualism Greece would furnish many striking illustrations, whereof the difference between Athena and Sparta is the best known. Here the change from the locality of the Cyclops, implying also the change in spirit, is made by a hero-king, "the large-souled Nausithous," evidently a very important man to the Phaeacians. Then this respect given to the woman has often been noted as both the sign and the cause of a higher development of a people. At any rate the Phaeacians have made the great transition from savagery to civilization, and thus reveal the inherent possibilities of the race.

We now begin to catch a hint of the sweep of the poem in these portions. Ulysses who has lapsed or at least has become separated from his institutional life, must travel back to the same through the whole rise of society; he has to see its becoming in his own experience, and to a degree create it over again in his own soul, having lost it. Hence the evolution of the social organism passes before his eyes, embodied in a series of persons and places.

In this Seventh Book, therefore, Ulysses is to make the transition to Family and State as shown in Phaeacia, and as represented by Arete and Alcinous. We shall mark three leading divisions:—

I. Ulysses enters the city in the dark, when he is met by Pallas and receives her instructions. The divine principle again comes down and directs.

II. The external side of this Phaeacian world is shown in the city, garden, and palace of the king; nature is transformed and made beautiful for man. All this Ulysses now beholds.

III. The internal side of this Phaeacian world, its spiritual essence, is shown in the domestic and civil life of the rulers and nobles; of this also Ulysses is the spectator, recognizing and appropriating.

Thus we see in the Book the movement from the divine to the human, which we have so often before noticed in Homer. The three parts we may well put together into a whole: the Goddess of Intelligence informs the mind of man, which then transforms nature and builds institutions. Here Pallas simply directs Ulysses, who, however, is now to witness the works of mind done in Phaeacia, to recognize them and to take them up into his spirit.

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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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