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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 8

Not without significance is this statement put into the mouth of Zeus and made his first emphatic declaration. We may read therein how the poet would have us look at his poem and the intervention of the Gods. We may also infer what is the Homeric view concerning the place of divinity in the workings of the world.

Such being the command of Zeus, the interpreter has nothing to do but to obey. No longer shall we say that the Gods in this Odyssey destroy human freedom, but that they are deeply consistent with it; the divine interference when it takes place is not some external agency beyond the man altogether, but is in some way his own nature, veritably the essence of his own will. Such is truly the thing to be seen; the poem is a poem of freedom, and yet a poem of providence; for do we not hear providence at the very start declaring man's free-will, and hence his responsibility? The God, then, is not to destroy but to secure human liberty in action, and to assert it on proper occasions. Thus Zeus himself has laid down the law, the fundamental principle of Homer's religion as well as of his poem.

Have the Gods, then, nothing to do in this world? Certainly they have, and this is the next point upon which we shall hear our supreme authority, Zeus. He has in mind the case of Aegisthus whom the Gods warned not to do the wicked deed; still he did it in spite of the warning, and there followed the penalty. So the Gods admonish the wrong-doer, sending down their bright-flashing messenger Hermes, and declaring through him the great law of justice: the deed will return unto the doer. Zeus has now given expression to the law which governs the world; it is truly his law, above all caprice. Moreover, the God gives a warning to the sinner; a divine mercy he shows even in the heathen world.

The case of Aegisthus, which Zeus has in mind, is indeed a striking example of a supreme justice which smites the most exalted and successful criminal. It made a profound impression upon the Greek world, and took final shape in the sublime tragedy of Aeschylus. Throughout the Odyssey the fateful story peeps from the background, and strongly hints what is to become of the suitors of Penelope, who are seeking to do to Ulysses what Aegisthus did to Agamemnon. They will perish, is the decree; thus we behold at the beginning of the poem an image which foreshadows the end. That is the image of Aegisthus, upon whom vengeance came for the wrongful deed.

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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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