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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 86

But still stronger emotions well out of the heart of Ulysses. He is one of the heroes of the Trojan War not yet returned, a living image of its sacrifices. Of course, he is the main hero sung of by the bard in the present Book; such is the artistic adaptation of the Homeric work, clearly done with a conscious design. Ulysses has already passed through several stages—Calypso, Nausicaa, Arete; now he has reached the poet, Demodocus certainly, and perchance Homer himself, who is to sing not only of the Trojan War, but also of its consequences—this rise of man's spiritual hierarchy as here unfolded, from Nature, into Institutions, and thence into Art. After hearing Demodocus, Ulysses picks up the thread and becomes his own poet, narrating his adventures in Fairyland with the free full swing of the Homeric hexameter. Thus he acquires and applies in his own way the art of Phaeacia; the arch of his life spans over from the heroic fighter before Troy to the romantic singer before the Phaeacian court.

It is plain, therefore, that this Book is distinctively the Book of the Bard. In the experience of Ulysses, Demodocus is placed on a line with the three leading figures in the last three Books—they being women, while the singer must be a man. One reason is, possibly, that a Phaeacian woman could not be permitted to sing such a strain as the story of Venus and Mars. At any rate, he is fourth in the row of shapes, all of which are significant. We catch many touches of his personality; he is blind, though gifted with song; "evil and good" he has received, and is therein a typical man. It is in every way a beautiful loving picture, painted with strong deep undertones of sympathy; no wonder is it, therefore, that Demodocus in all ages has been taken as a portrait of Homer by himself, showing glimpses of the man, of his station in life, and of his vocation. Later on we shall consider this point in more detail.

The three songs of the bard furnish the main landmarks for the organism of the Book. All of them will be found more or less intimately connected with the great event of the immediate Past, the story of Troy. Phaeacia shows an intense interest in that story and the bard approves himself its worthy singer. Indeed the three songs stand in direct relation to the Iliad; the first deals with an event antecedent to the Iliad; the second has the theme of the Iliad, though in a changed form, inasmuch as the seducer, the wife and the husband are here Gods (Mars, Venus, Vulcan) instead of mortals (Paris, Helen, Menelaus); the third deals with an event subsequent to the Iliad. Yet the singer carefully avoids repeating anything in the Iliad. It is almost impossible not to think that he had not that poem in mind; or, rather, we are forced to conclude that the present author of the Odyssey knew the Iliad, and we naturally think that both were by the same man. Demodocus is the singer of the Trojan War, yet he shuns singing what has already been sung about it. Herein we may catch another faint reflection of Homer, the organizer, the transfigurer of old legends into his two poems. Note also that he hovers around the Iliad, before and after it, yet never into it, here and elsewhere in the Odyssey; specially in the Third Book have we observed the same fact.

In the present Book, however, is another strand; besides these songs of the bard belonging to the past are the doings in Phaeacia belonging to the present, which doings have a connection and a correspondence with the songs. Thus we observe three divisions in the Book, and two threads which run through these divisions. The following outline may serve to show the general structure:—

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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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