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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 85


We observe a decided change in the present Book; it has a character of its own quite distinct from the preceding Books. Yet it is on a line of development with them, we note a further spiritual evolution which must be looked into with some attention. In general, Phaeacia is now seen as an art-world, in true correspondence with Hellas, of which it is a kind of ideal prototype. In the two previous Books we saw portrayed chiefly institutional life in Family and in State. But in this Book institutional life, though present and active, is withdrawn into the background, and becomes the setting for the picture, yet also is the spirit which secretly calls forth the picture. A poetic art-world now passes before us in entrancing outlines, a world filled with song, dance, games, with all the poetry of existence.

Such an artistic development follows from what has gone before. Man, having attained culture, civilization, and a certain freedom from the necessity of working for his daily bread, begins to turn back and look at his career; he observes the past and measures how far he has come. The image of himself in his unfolding he beholds in art, specially in the poetic art, whose essence must at last be just this institutional life which has been described in Phaeacia. He attains it and then steps back and portrays his attaining of it; having done the heroic deed, he must see himself doing it forever, in the strains of the bard. Art is thus the mirror of life and of institutions; it reflects the grand conflict of the times and the people; it seizes upon the supreme national event, and holds it up in living portraiture along with its heroes.

Now the great event which lies back of Phaeacia at the present time, in fact lies back of all Greece for all ages, perchance lies back of all Europe, is the Trojan War. It was the first emphatic, triumphant assertion of the Greek and indeed of the European world against the Orient. The fight before Troy was not a mere local and temporary conflict between two quarrelsome borderers, but it cuts to the very marrow of the World's History, the grand struggle between East and West. Family and State are most deeply concerned in it, the restoration of the wife is the main object of the Trojan War, which the chieftains of Greece must conclude victoriously or perish. A new world was being born on this side of the Aegean, and the Greeks were its first shapers and its earliest defenders. This occidental world, whose birth is the real thing announced at Troy in that marvelous cradle-song of Europe, called the Iliad, has already begun its career, and shows its earliest period in Phaeacia. It is no wonder, then, that the Phaeacian people wish to hear the Trojan song, and it alone, and that the Phaeacian poet wishes to sing the Trojan song, and it alone.

Thus we behold in the present Book a quiet idyllic folk on their island home out in the West listening to the mighty struggle of their race, with dim far-off anticipations of all that it involved. Nor were the women indifferent. Arete, the wife and center of the Family, is not henceforth to be exposed to the fate of Helen; think what would Phaeacia be without her, or she without Phaeacia; think what she would be in Troy, for instance. Strong emotions must rise in the breasts of all the people at hearing such a song.

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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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