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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 96

A step further we may carry the thought. Homer is not only not a Demodocus, but he very distinctly contrasts himself with Demodocus by his poetic procedure. If he is at such pains to show himself a world-builder, and then puts into his world a ballad-singer as a passing character, he certainly emphasizes the difference between himself and the latter. It is also to be noticed that Demodocus does not sing an Iliad, though he chants lays of Troy; the Iliad is an organized work, not a collection of ballads strung together. Everything about Demodocus indicates separate songs; everything about Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey) indicates unity of song. Hence with the separatists, dissectors, anatomizers, Demodocus is a greater favorite than Homer, indeed he has taken the place of Homer.

Moreover the poet has plainly marked another stage, a stage between himself and Demodocus. In the next Book Ulysses will begin singing and continue through four Books, giving his adventures in Fableland, which by itself possesses a certain completeness. Still it is but an organic part of the total Odyssey, whose poetical architect is Homer. Ulysses as singer is clearly higher than Demodocus; but Homer is above both, for he takes both of them up into his unity, which is the all-embracing poem.

Most emphatically, therefore, Homer shows himself not to be a Demodocus, not to be a ballad-singer, which is an essential point in the Wolfian argument. Homer himself refutes Wolf some 2,500 years beforehand, and his is still the best refutation. A careful study of this Eighth Book settles the relation between balladist and poet by a simple presentation of the facts in their proper co-ordination, and also puts the alert reader on the track of the genesis of the Wolfian Prolegomena. For there can hardly be a doubt that Wolf, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, derived his main conception of Homer from the present Book and from the part that Demodocus, the bard, plays in it. To be sure, the idea that Demodocus, in a general way, is Homer, is old, coming down from antiquity and suggesting itself to the modern reader, who very naturally thinks that Homer is giving some traits of himself in his picture of the blind singer. So much we may grant: some traits of himself, but not all by any means; Homer doubtless upon occasion could sing a short lay of Troy for the amusement of his audience, like Demodocus; but in such a part he is only a wee fragment of the author of those magnificent works, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The total Homer builds totalities, by the very necessity of his genius.

Who, then, according to the theory, put these ballads together? Wolf, fully possessed of the notion that Demodocus is Homer, starts to account for the present form of the poems, which he assigns to the shaping hand of Peisistratus and his college of editors, critics, and poetasters. That is, the grand marvel of Homeric poetry, the mighty constructive act thereof, he ascribes to a set of men essentially barren and uncreative, for all of which he cites some very dubious and inadequate ancient authority.

Here again we may be permitted to trace the Wolfian consciousness to its origin, for origin it has in time and circumstance. Wolf was a professor in a University, and his department was philology; his ideas on Homer are really drawn from his vocation and his surroundings. Why should he not make a philologer and a professor the author of the Homeric poems? So he came to imagine that the tyrant Peisistratus 500 B.C. had under his patronage a kind of German University, or at least a philological seminary, whose professors really constructed Homer as we now have him, having put him together out of antecedent ballads which the actual Homer and many others may have made ages before. Wolf, therefore, is the founder of two philological seminaries; one at the University of Berlin, and the other at the court of Peisistratus. Great is the professor in smelling out the professor anywhere; still we cannot help thinking that what Wolf ascribed to the old Greek seminary, was done only at his German seminary, namely, the patching together of Homer out of ballads.

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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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