Homer's Odyssey - A Commentary
by Denton J. Snider
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Homer's Odyssey.

A Commentary


Denton J. Snider

The Sigma Publishing Co. 10 Van Buren St., Chicago, Ill. 210 Pine St., St. Louis, Mo.






ULYSSIAD 121 (1) OCYGIA 129 (2) PHAEACIA 156 (3) FABLELAND 231


ITHAKEIAD 396 BOOKS 13-16 (PREPARATION) 407 BOOKS 17-24 (EXECUTION) 461 (1) WRONG (17-21) 468 (2) PUNISHMENT (22) 495 (3) RECONCILIATION (23-4) 500




The Odyssey starts by organizing itself; it maps out its own structure in what may be called a General Introduction. Herein lies a significant difference between it and the Iliad, which has simply an Invocation to the Muse, and then leaps into the thick of the action. The Iliad, accordingly, does not formulate its own organization, which fact has been one cause of the frequent assaults upon its unity. Still the architectonic principle is powerful in the Iliad, though more instinctive, and far less explicit than in the Odyssey. It is reasonable to suppose, therefore, that the poet has reached a profounder consciousness of his art in his later poem; he has come to a knowledge of his constructive principle, and he takes the trouble to unfold the same at the beginning. To be sure, certain critics have assailed just this structural fact as not Homeric; without good grounds, in our judgment.

The First Book, accordingly, opens with an Introduction which belongs to the entire poem, and which embraces 95 lines of the original text. This portion we shall look at separately in some detail, as it throws a number of gleams forward over the whole action, and, as before said, suggests the poetic organism. It has three divisions, the Invocation, the Statement of the Obstacles to the return of the Hero, and the Assembly of the Gods, who are represented as organizing the poem from Olympus. The Divine thus hovers over the poem from the first, starting with one grand, all-embracing providential act, which, however, is supplemented by many special interventions of deities, great and small.

The Invocation. The first line speaks of the man, Ulysses, and designates his main attribute by a word, which may be translated versatile or resourceful, though some grammarians construe it otherwise. Thus we are told at the start of the chief intellectual trait of the Hero, who "wandered much," and who, therefore, had many opportunities to exercise his gift. In the second line our attention is called to the real starting point of the poem, the taking of Troy, which is the background of the action of the Odyssey, and the great opening event of the Greek world, as here revealed. For this event was the mighty shake which roused the Hellenic people to a consciousness of their destiny; they show in it all the germs of their coming greatness. Often such a concussion is required to waken a nation to its full energy and send it on its future career.

Note that Ulysses is here stated to be the taker of Troy, and this view is implied throughout the Odyssey. Note Achilles is the final Greek hero; he perished without capturing the city, and in his hands alone the Greek cause would have been lost. The intellectual hero had to come forward ere the hostile town could be taken and Helen restored. Herein the Odyssey does not contradict the Iliad, but is clearly an advance beyond it.

But Troy is destroyed and now the second grand question of the Greeks arises: How shall we get back! Only one half of the cycle is completed by the conquest of the hostile city; the second half is the restoration. For this disjunction from Hellenic life, brought about by war, is not only physical but has become spiritual. The theme, therefore, deals with the wise man, who, through his intelligence, was able to take Troy, but who has now another and greater problem—the return out of the grand estrangement caused by the Trojan expedition. Spiritual restoration is the key-note of this Odyssey, as it is that of all the great Books of Literature.

Here at the start we note two things coupled together which hint the nature of the whole poem: "He saw the cities of many men and knew their mind." Not alone the outer habitations of people Ulysses beheld, but also their inner essence, their consciousness. This last faculty indeed is the very vision of the sage; he looks through the external sensuous appearances of men into their character, into their very soul. The poem will describe many incidents, wanderings, tempests, calamities; but in them the poetic glance is to behold a great spiritual experience. The reader of the Odyssey must himself be a Ulysses, to a degree, and not only "see the cities of many men," but also he must "know their mind." Then he, too, is heroic in his reading of this book.

But not merely knowledge the Hero is to acquire, though this be much; the counterpart to knowledge must also be his, namely, suffering. "Many things he suffered on the sea in his heart;" alas! that too belongs to the great experience. In addition to his title of wise man, he will also be called the much-enduring man. Sorrow is his lot and great tribulation; the mighty sea will rise up in wrath and swallow all, except that which is mightier, namely his heroic heart. Knowledge and suffering—are they not the two poles of the universal character? At any rate the old poet has mated them as counterparts in his hero; the thirst to know drives the latter to reach beyond, and then falls the avenging blow of powers unseen.

Furthermore, there is a third trait which is still higher, also mentioned here: he sought to save not only himself but also his companions. That wisdom of his was employed, and that suffering of his was endured, not for his own good merely, but for the good of others. He must think and suffer for his companions; a suggestion of vicariousness lies therein, a hint of self-offering, which has not yet flowered but is certainly budding far back in old Hellas. He must do for others what he does for himself, if he be truly the universal man, that is, if he be Hero. For is not the universal man all men—both himself and others in essence? So Ulysses tries to save his companions, quite as much he tries to save himself.

But he did not do it, he could not do it; herein lies his limitation and theirs also, in fact, the limitation of the entire Greek world. What did these companions do? "They perished by their own folly;" they would not obey the counsel of their wise man; they rejected their Hero, who could not, therefore, rescue them. A greater wisdom and a deeper suffering than that of Ulysses will be required for their salvation, whereof the time has not yet come. He would bring them home, but "they ate of the oxen of the sun;" they destroyed the attribute of light in some way and perished. The fact is certainly far-reaching in its suggestion; a deep glance it throws into that old heathen world, whose greatest poet in the most unconscious manner hints here the tragic limitation of his people and his epoch. It is a hint of which we, looking back through more than twenty-five centuries can see the full meaning, as that meaning has unfolded itself in the ages. Time is also a commentator on Homer and has written down, in that alphabet of his, called events, the true interpretation of the old poet. Still the letters of Time's alphabet have also to be learned and require not only eyesight but also insight.

The Invocation puts all its stress upon Ulysses and his attempt to save his companions. It says nothing of Telemachus and his youthful experience, nothing of the grand conflict with the suitors. Hence fault has been found with it in various ways. But it singles out the Hero and designates three most important matters concerning him: his knowledge, his suffering, his devotion to his companions. Enough; it has given a start, a light has been put into our hand which beams forward significantly upon the poem, and illumines the mazes of the Hero's character.

Mark again the emphatic word in this Invocation; it is the Return (nostos), the whole Odyssey is the Return, set forth in many gradations, from the shortest and simplest to the longest and profoundest. The idea of the Return dominates the poem from the start; into this idea is poured the total experience of Ulysses and his companions. The two points between which the Return hovers are also given: the capture of Troy and the Greek world. Not a mere book of travels or adventure is this; it contains an inner restoration corresponding to the outer Return, and the interpreter of the work, if he be true to his function, will trace the interior line of its movement, not neglecting the external side which has also a right to be.

The Obstacles. Two of these are mentioned and carried back to their mythical sources. All the returning heroes are home from Troy except the chief one, Ulysses, whom Calypso detains in her grot, "wishing him to be her husband;" she, the unmarried, keeps him, the married, from family and country, though he longs to go back to both. She is the daughter of "the evil-minded Atlas," a hoary gigantesque shape of primitive legend, "who knows the depths of all the sea,"—a dark knowledge of an unseen region, from which come many fatalities, as shipwreck for the Greek sailor or earthquake for the volcanic Greek islands; hence he is imagined as "evil-minded" by the Greek mythical fancy, which also makes him the supporter of "the long columns which hold Heaven and Earth apart"—surely a hard task, enough to cause anybody to be in a state of protest and opposition against the happy Gods who have nothing to do but enjoy themselves on Olympus. Sometimes he refuses to hold the long columns for awhile, then comes the earthquake, in which what is below starts heavenward. Of this Atlas, Calypso is the offspring, and possibly her island, "the navel of the sea," is a product of one of his movements underneath the waters.

Here we touch a peculiar vein in the mythical treatment of the Odyssey. The fairy-tale, with its comprehensive but dark suggestiveness, is interwoven into the very fibre of the poem. This remote Atlas is the father of Calypso, "the hider," who has indeed hidden Ulysses in her island of pleasure which will hereafter be described. But in spite of his "concealment," Ulysses has aspiration, which calls down the help of the Gods for fulfillment. Such is the first obstacle, which, we can see, lies somewhere in the sensuous part of human nature.

The second obstacle is Neptune, whom we at once think of as the physical sea—certainly a great barrier. The wrath of Neptune is also set off with a tale of wonder, which gives the origin of Polyphemus, the Cyclops—a gigantic, monstrous birth of the sea, which produces so many strange and huge shapes of living things. But Neptune is now far away, outside of the Greek world, so to speak, among the Ethiopians. This implies a finite element in the Gods; they are here, there, and elsewhere; still they have the infinite characteristic also; they easily pass from somewhere into everywhere, and Ulysses will not escape Neptune.

Such, then, are the two obstacles, both connected far back with mythical beings of the sea, wherein we may note the marine character of the Odyssey, which is a sea-poem, in contrast with the Iliad, which is a land-poem. The physical environment, in which each of these songs has its primary setting, is in deep accord with their respective themes—the one being more objective, singing of the deed, the other being more subjective, singing of the soul.

And even in the two present obstacles we may note that the one, Neptune, seems more external—that of the physical sea; while the other, Calypso, seems more internal—that of the soul held in the charms of the senses.

The Assembly of the Gods. The two obstacles to the return of Ulysses are now to be considered by the Gods in council assembled. This is, indeed, the matter of first import; no great action, no great poem is possible outside of the divine order. This order now appears, having a voice; the supreme authority of the world is to utter its decree concerning the work. The poet at the start summons before us the governing principle of the universe in the persons of the Olympian deities. On the other hand, note the solitary individual Ulysses, in a lonely island, with his aspiration for home and country, with his plan—will it be realized? The two sides must come together somehow; the plan of the individual must fit into the plan of the Gods; only in the cooperation of the human and divine is the deed, especially the great deed, possible. Accordingly we are now to behold far in advance the sweep of the poem, showing whether the man's purpose and hope be in harmony with the government of the Gods.

Zeus is the supreme divinity, and he first speaks: "How sorely mortals blame the Gods!" It is indeed an alienated discordant time like the primal fall in Eden. But why this blame? "For they say that evils come from us, the Gods; whereas they, through their own follies, have sorrows beyond what is ordained." The first words of the highest God concern the highest problem of the poem and of human life. It is a wrong theology, at least a wrong Homeric theology, to hold that the Gods are the cause of human ills; these are the consequences of man's own actions. Furthermore, the cause is not a blind impersonal power outside of the individual, it is not Fate but man himself. What a lofty utterance! We hear from the supreme tribunal the final decision in regard to individual free-will and divine government.

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.

The Gods, then, do really exist; they are the law and the voice of the law also, to which man may hearken if he will; but he can disobey, if he choose, and bring upon himself the consequences. The law exists as the first fact in the world, and will work itself out with the Gods as executors. Is not this a glorious starting-point for a poem which proposes to reveal the ways of providence unto men? The idea of the Homeric world-order is now before us, which we may sum up as follows: the Gods are in the man, in his reason and conscience, as we moderns say; but they are also outside of man, in the world, of which they are rulers. The two sides, divine and human, must be made one; the grand dualism between heaven and earth must be overcome in the deed of the hero, as well as in the thought of the reader. When the God appears, it is to raise man out of himself into the universal realm where lies his true being. Again, let it be affirmed that the deities are not an external fate, not freedom-destroying power, but freedom-fulfilling, since they burst the narrow limits of the mere individual and elevate him into unity and harmony with the divine order. There he is truly free.

Thus we hear Zeus in his first speech announcing from Olympus the two great laws which govern the world, as well as this poem—that of freedom and that of justice. The latter, indeed, springs from the former; if man be free, he must be held responsible and receive the penalty of the wicked deed. Moreover, it is the fundamental law of criticism for the Odyssey; freedom and justice we are to see in it and unfold them in accord with the divine order; woe be to the critic who disobeys the decree of Zeus, and sees in his poem only an amusing tale, or a sun-myth perchance.

But here is Pallas Athena speaking to the supreme deity, and noting what seems to be an exception. It is the case of Ulysses, who always "gave sacrifices to the immortal Gods," who has done his duty, and wishes to return to family and country. Pallas hints the difficulty; Calypso the charmer, seeks to detain him in her isle from his wedded wife and to make him forget Ithaca; but she cannot. Strong is his aspiration, he is eager to break the trance of the fair nymph, and the Gods must help him, when he is ready to help himself. Else, indeed, they were not Gods. Then there is the second obstacle, Neptune; he, "only one," cannot hold out "against all," for the All now decrees the restoration of the wanderer. Verily it is the voice of the totality, which is here uttered by Zeus, ordering the return of Ulysses; the reason of the world we may also call it, if that will help the little brain take in the great thought.

But we must not forget the other side. This divine power is not simply external; the mighty hand of Zeus is not going to pick up Ulysses from Calypso's island, and set him down in Ithaca. He must return through himself, yet must fit into the providential order. Both sides are touched upon by Zeus; Ulysses "excels mortals in intelligence," and he will now require it all; but he also "gives sacrifices to the Gods exceedingly," that is, he seeks to find out the will of the Gods and adjust himself thereto. Intellect and piety both he has, often in conflict, but in concord at last. With that keen understanding of his he will repeatedly fall into doubt concerning the divine purpose; but out of doubt he rises into a new harmony.

When the decree of the Highest has been given, Pallas at once organizes the return of Ulysses, and therewith the poem. This falls into three large divisions:—

I. Pallas goes to Ithaca to rouse Telemachus, who is just entering manhood, to be a second Ulysses. He is to give the divine warning to the guilty suitors; then he is to go to Pylos and Sparta in order to inquire about his father, who is the great pattern for the son. Thus we have a book of education for the Homeric youth whose learning came through example and through the living word of wisdom from the lips of the old and experienced man. This part embraces the first four Books, which may be called the Telemachiad.

II. Mercury is sent to Calypso to bid the nymph release Ulysses, who at once makes his raft and starts on his voyage homeward. In this second part we shall have the entire story of the Hero from the time he leaves Troy, till he reaches Ithaca in the 13th Book. As Telemachus the youth is to have his period of education (Lehrjahre), so Ulysses the man is to have his experience of the journey of life (Wanderjahre). Both parts belong together, making a complete work on the education of man, as it could be had in that old Greek world. This part is the Odyssey proper, or the Ulyssiad.

III. The third part brings together father and son in Ithaca; then it portrays them uniting to perform the great deed of justice, the punishment of the suitors. This part embraces the last twelve Books, but is not distinctly set forth in the plan of Pallas as here given.

Such is the structure of the poem, which is organized in its main outlines from Olympus. It is Pallas, the deity of wisdom, who has ordered it in this way; her we shall follow, in preference to the critics, and unfold the interpretation on the same organic lines. Every reader will feel that the three great joints of the poetical body are truly foreshadowed by the Goddess, who indeed is the constructive principle of the poem. One likes to see this belief of the old singer that his work was of divine origin, was actually planned upon Olympus by Pallas in accordance with the decree of Zeus. So at least the Muses have told him, and they were present. But the grandest utterance here is that of Zeus, the Greek Providence, proclaiming man's free will.

Very old and still very new is the problem of the Odyssey; with a little care we can see that the Homeric Greek had to solve in his way what every one of us still has to solve, namely, the problem of life. Only yesterday one might have heard the popular preacher of a great city, a kind of successor to Homer, blazoning the following text as his theme: God is not to blame. Thus the great poem has an eternal subject, though its outer garb be much changed by time. The soul of Homer is ethical, and that is what makes him immortal. Not till we realize this fact, can we be said in any true sense, to understand him.


The Introduction being concluded, the story of Telemachus begins, and continues till the Fifth Book. Two main points stand forth in the narrative. The first is the grand conflict with the suitors, the men of guilt, the disturbers of the divine order; this conflict runs through to the end of the poem, where they are swept out of the world which they have thrown into discord. The second point of the Telemachiad is the education of Telemachus, which is indeed the chief fact of these Books; the youth is to be trained to meet the conflict which is looming up before him in the distance. Thus we have one of the first educational books of the race, the very first possibly; it still has many valuable hints for the educator of the present age. Its method is that of oral tradition, which has by no means lost its place in a true discipline of the human spirit. Living wisdom has its advantage to-day over the dead lore of the text-books.

Very delightful is the school to which we see Telemachus going in these four Books. Heroes are his instructors, men of the deed as well as of the word, and the source from which all instruction is derived is the greatest event of the age, the Trojan War. The young man is to learn what that event was, what sacrifices it required, what characters it developed among his people. He is to see and converse with Nestor, famous at Troy for eloquence and wisdom. Then he will go to Menelaus, who has had an experience wider than the Trojan experience, for the latter has been in Egypt. Young Telemachus is also to behold Helen, beautiful Helen, the central figure of the great struggle. Finally, he is to learn much about his father, and thus be prepared for the approaching conflict with the suitors in Ithaca.

Book First specially. After the total Odyssey has been organized on Olympus, it begins at once to descend to earth and to realize itself there. For the great poem springs from the Divine Idea, and must show its origin in the course of its own unfolding. Hence the Gods are the starting-point of the Odyssey, and their will goes before the terrestrial deed; moreover, the one decree of theirs overarches the poem from beginning to end, as the heavens bend over man wherever he may take his stand. Still there will be many special interventions and reminders from the Gods during this poetical journey.

In accordance with the Olympian plan, Pallas takes her flight down to Ithaca, after binding on her winged sandals and seizing her mighty spear; thus she humanizes herself to the Greek plastic sense, and assumes finite form, adopting the shape of a stranger, Mentes, King of the Taphians. She finds a world full of wrong; violence and disorder rule in the house of the absent Ulysses; it is indeed high time for the Gods to come down from lofty Olympus and bring peace and right into the course of things. Let the divine image now be stamped upon terrestrial affairs, and bring harmony out of strife. Still, it must not be forgotten that the work has to be done through man's own activity.

The conflict which unfolds before our eyes in a series of clear-drawn classic pictures, lies between the House of Ulysses on the one hand and the Suitors of Penelope on the other. He who is the head of the Family and the ruler of State, Ulysses, has been absent for twenty years; godless men have taken advantage of the youth of his son, and are consuming his substance wantonly; they also are wooing his wife who has only her cunning wherewith to help herself. The son and wife are now to be brought before us in their struggle with their bitter lot. Thus we note the two main divisions in the structure of the present Book: The House of Ulysses and the Suitors.


The Goddess Pallas has already come down to Ithaca and stands among the suitors. She has taken the form of Mentes, the King of a neighboring tribe; she is in disguise as she usually is when she appears on earth. Who will recognize her? Not the suitors; they can see no God in their condition, least of all, the Goddess of Wisdom. "Telemachus was much the first to observe her;" why just he? The fact is he was ready to see her, and not only to see her, but to hear what she had to say. "For he sat among the suitors grieved in heart, seeing his father in his mind's eye," like Hamlet just before the latter saw the ghost. So careful is the poet to prepare both sides—the divine epiphany, and the mortal who is to behold it.

Furthermore, the young man saw his father "scattering the suitors and himself obtaining honor and ruling his own house." This is just what the Goddess is going to tell with a new sanction, and it is just what is going to happen in the course of the poem. Truly Telemachus is prepared internally; he has already everything within him which is to come out of him. Throughout the whole interview the two main facts are the example of the parent and the final revenge, both of which are urged by the Goddess without and by the man within.

Still there is a difference. Telemachus is despondent; we might almost say, he is getting to disbelieve in any divine order of the world. "The Gods plot evil things" against the House of Ulysses, whose fate "they make unknown above that of all men." Then they have sent upon me these suitors who consume my heritage. The poor boy has had a hard time; he has come to question providence in his misery, and discredits the goodness of the Gods.

Here, now, is the special function of Pallas. She instills courage into his heart. She gives strong hope of the return of his father, who "will not long be absent from Ithaca;" she also hints the purpose of the Gods, which is on the point of fulfillment. Be no longer a child; follow the example of thy father; go and learn about him and emulate his deeds. Therewith the Goddess furnishes to the doubting youth a plan of immediate action—altogether the best thing for throwing off his mental paralysis. He is to proceed at once to Pylos and to Sparta "to learn of his father" with the final outlook toward the destruction of the suitors. She is a veritable Goddess to the young striver, speaking the word of hope and wisdom, and then turning him back upon himself.

Here again we must say that the Goddess was in the heart of Telemachus uttering her spirit, yet she was external to him also. Her voice is the voice of the time, of the reality; all things are fluid to the hand of Telemachus, and ready to be moulded to his scheme. Still the Goddess is in him just as well, is his thought, his wisdom, which has now become one with the reason of the world. Both sides are brought together by the Poet in the most emphatic manner; this is the supreme fact in his procedure. The subjective and objective elements are one; the divine order puts its seal on the thought of the man, unites with him, makes his plan its plan. Thus the God and the Individual are in harmony, and the great fulfillment becomes possible. But if the thought of Telemachus were a mere scheme of his own, if it had not received the stamp of divinity, then it could never become the deed, the heroic deed, which stands forth in the world existent in its own right and eternal.

The Goddess flits away, "like a bird," in speed and silence. Telemachus now recognizes that the stranger was a divinity. For has he not the proof in his own heart? He is indeed a new person or the beginning thereof. But hark to this song! It is the bard singing "the sad return of the Greeks"—the very song which the poet himself is now singing in this Odyssey. For it is also a sad return, indeed many sad returns, as we shall see hereafter. Homer has thus put himself into his poem singing his poem. Who cannot feel that this touch is taken from life, is an echo of his own experience in some princely hall?

But here she comes, the grand lady of the story, Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, as it were in response to the music. A glorious appearance at a happy moment; yet she is not happy: "Holding a veil before her face, and shedding tears, she bespoke the bard: Phemius cease from this sad song, it cuts me to the heart." It reminds her of her husband and his sorrowful return, not yet accomplished; she cannot endure the anguish and she begs the bard to sing another strain which may delight his hearers.

This, then, is the sage Penelope whose character will be tested in many ways, and move through many subtle turns to the end of the poem. In this her first appearance we note that she proclaims in the presence of the suitors her undying love for her husband. This trait we may fairly consider to be the deepest of her nature. She thinks of him continually and weeps at his absence. Still she has her problem which requires at times all her female tact, yes, even dissimulation. Reckless suitors are pressing for her hand, she has to employ all her arts to defer the hateful marriage; otherwise she is helpless. She is the counterpart of her husband, a female Ulysses, who has waited twenty years for his return. She also has had a stormy time, with the full experience of life; her adventures in her world rival his in his world. But underneath all her cunning is the rock of eternal fidelity. She went back to her room, and wept for her husband "till Pallas closed her eye-lids in sweet sleep."

Nor can we pass over the answer of Telemachus, which he makes at this point to his mother. It may be called a little Homeric treatise on poetry. "Mother, let the poet sing as his spirit moves him;" he is not to be constrained, but must give the great fact; "poets are not to blame but Zeus," for the sad return of the Greeks; "men applaud the song which is newest," novelty being already sought for in the literature of Homer's time. But the son's harsh reproof of the mother, with which his speech closes, bidding her look after her own affairs, the loom and distaff and servants, is probably an interpolation. Such is the judgment of Aristarchus, the greatest ancient commentator on Homer; such is also the judgment of Professor Nitzsch, the greatest modern commentator on the Odyssey.


The other side of the collision is the party of suitors, who assail the House of Ulysses in property, in the son, in the wife, and finally in Ulysses himself. They are the wrong-doers whose deeds are to be avenged by the returning hero; their punishment will exemplify the faith in an ethical order of the world, upon which the poem reposes as its very foundation. They are insolent, debauched, unjust; they defy the established right. Zeus has them in mind when he speaks of AEgisthus, who is an example of the same sort of characters, and his fate is their fate according to the Olympian lawgiver. They too are going to destruction through their own folly, yet after many an admonition. Just now Telemachus has spoken an impressive warning: "I shall invoke the ever-living Gods, that Zeus may grant deeds requiting yours."

Still their insolence goes on; the ethical world of justice and institutions has to be cleared of such men, if it continue to exist. Who does not love this fealty of the old bard to the highest order of things? The suitors are indeed blind; they have not recognized the presence of the Goddess, yet there is a slight suspicion after she is gone; one of the suitors asks who that stranger was. Telemachus, to lull inquiry, gives the outer assumed form of the divine visitor, "an ancestral guest, Mentes of Taphos;" the poet however, is careful to add: "But he (Telemachus) knew the immortal Goddess in his mind."

The conflict with the suitors is the framework of the entire poem. The education of Telemachus as well as the discipline of Ulysses reach forward to this practical end—the destruction of the wrong-doers, which is the purification of the country, and the re-establishment of the ethical order. All training is to bring forth the heroic act. The next Book will unfold the conflict in greater detail.

Appendix. The reader will have observed that, in the preceding account of Book First, it is regarded as setting forth three unities, that of the total Odyssey, that of the Telemachiad, and that of the Book itself. We see them all gradually unfolding in due order under the hand of the poet, from the largest to the least. Now the reader should be informed that every one of these unities has been violently attacked and proclaimed to be a sheer phantasm. Chiefly in Germany has the assault taken place. What we have above considered as the joints in the organism of the poem, have been cut into, pried apart, and declared to make so many separate poems or passages, which different authors have written. Thus the one great Homer vanishes into many little Homers, and this is claimed to be the only true way of appreciating Homer.

The most celebrated of these dissectors is probably the German Professor, Kirchhoff, some of whose opinions we shall cite in this appendix. His psychological tendency is that of analysis, separation, division; the very idea of unity seems a bugbear to him, a mighty delusion which he must demolish or die. Specially is his wrath directed against Book First, probably because it contains the three unities above mentioned, all of which he assails and rends to shreds in his own opinion.

The entire Introduction (lines 1-88) he tears from its present place and puts it before the Fifth Book, where it serves as the prelude to the Calypso tale. The rest of the Telemachiad is the work of another poet. Indeed the rest of the First Book (after the Introduction) is not by the same man who produced the Second Book. Then the Second Book is certainly older than the First, and ought somehow to be placed before it. The real truth is, however, that the First Book is only a hodge-podge made out of the Second Book by an inferior poet, who took thence fragments of sentences and of ideas and stitched them together. In the Invocation Kirchhoff cuts out the allusion to the oxen of the Sun (lines 6-9) as being inconsistent with his theory.

After disposing of the Introduction in this way, Kirchhoff takes up the remaining portion of the First Book, which he tears to pieces almost line by line. In about forty separate notes on different passages he marks points for skepticism, having in the main one procedure: he hunts both the Iliad and the Odyssey through, and if he finds a line or phrase, and even a word used elsewhere, which he has observed here, he at once is inclined to conclude that the same must have been taken thence and put here by a foreign hand. Every reader of Homer is familiar with his habit of repeating lines and even entire passages, when necessary. All such repetitions Kirchhoff seizes upon as signs of different authorship; the poet must have used the one, some redactor or imitator the other. To be sure we ought to have a criterion by which we can tell which is the original and which is the derived; but such a criterion Kirchhoff fails to furnish, we must accept his judgment as imperial and final. Once or twice, indeed, he seems to feel the faultiness of his procedure, and tries to bolster it, but as a rule he speaks thus: "The following verse is a formula (repetition), and hence not the property of the author." (Die Homerische Odyssee, p. 174.)

Now such repetitions are common in all old poetry, in the ballad, in the folk-song, in the Kalevala as well as in the Homeric poems. Messages sent are repeated naturally when delivered; the same event recurring, as when the boat is rowed, the banquet prepared, or the armor put on, is described in the same language. Such is usually felt to be a mark of epic simplicity, of the naive use of language, which will not vary a phrase merely for the sake of variety. But Kirchhoff and his followers will have it just the other way; the early poet never varies or repeats, only the later poet does that. So he seeks out a large number of passages in the rest of the Odyssey, and in the Iliad also, which have something in common with passages of this First Book, especially in the matter of words, and easily finds it to be a "cento," a mixed mass of borrowed phrases.

But who was the author of such work? Not the original Homer, but some later matcher and patcher, imitator or redactor. It is not easy to tell from Kirchhoff just how many persons may have had a hand in this making of the Odyssey, as it lies before us. In his dissertations we read of a motley multitude: original poet, continuator, interpolator, redactor, reconstructor, imitator, author of the older part, author of the newer part—not merely individuals, but apparently classes of men. Thus he anatomizes old Homer with a vengeance.


The general relation between the First and Second Books is to be grasped at once. In the First Book the main fact is the Assembly in the Upper World, together with the descent of the divine influence which through Pallas comes to Telemachus in person, gives him courage and stirs him to action. This action is to bring harmony into the discordant land. In the Second Book the main fact is the Assembly in the Lower World, together with the rise of Telemachus into a new participation with divine influence in the form of Pallas, who sends him forth on his journey of education. We behold, therefore, in the two Books a sweep from above to below, then from below back to the divine influence. Earth and Olympus are the halves of the cycle, but the Earth is in discord and must be transformed to the harmony of Olympus.

Looking now at the Second Book by itself, we note that it falls into two portions: the Assembly of the People, which has been called together by Telemachus, and the communion of the youth with Pallas, who again appears to him at his call. The first is a mundane matter, and shows the Lower World in conflict with the divine order—the sides being the Suitors on the one hand and the House of Ulysses on the other. The second portion lifts the young hero into a vision of divinity, and should lift the reader along with him. Previously Pallas had, as it were, descended into Telemachus, but now he rises of himself into the Goddess. Clearly he possesses a new power, that of communion with the Gods. These two leading thoughts divide the Book into two well-marked parts—the first including lines 1-259, the second including the rest.


The Assembly of the Ithacans presupposes a political habit of gathering into the town-meeting and consulting upon common interests. This usage is common to the Aryan race, and from it spring parliaments, congresses, and other cognate institutions, together with oratory before the People. A wonderful development has come of this little germ, which we see here still alive in Ithaca, though it has been almost choked by the unhappy condition of things. Not since Ulysses left has there been any such Assembly, says the first speaker, an old man drawing upon his memory, not for twenty years; surely a sign of smothered institutional life. The first thing which Telemachus in his new career does is to call the Assembly, and start this institutional life into activity again. Whereof we feel the fresh throb in the words of the aged speaker, who calls him "Blessed."

Now the oratory begins, as it must begin in such a place. The golden gift of eloquence is highly prized by Homer, and by the Homeric People; prophetic it is, one always thinks of the great Attic orators. The speakers are distinctly marked in character by their speeches; but the Assembly itself seems to remain dumb; it was evidently divided into two parties; one well-disposed to the House of Ulysses, the other to the Suitors. The corruption of the time has plainly entered the soul of the People, and thorough must be the cleansing by the Gods. Two kinds of speakers we notice also, on the same lines, supporting each side; thus the discord of Ithaca is now to be reflected in its oratory. Three sets of orators speak on each side, placing before us the different phases of the case; these we shall mark off for the thought and for the eye of the reader.

1. After the short opening speech of the old man, AEgyptius, the heart of the whole movement utters itself in Telemachus, who remains the chief speaker throughout. His speech is strong and bold; from it two main points peer forth. The first is the wrong of the Suitors, who will not take the right way of wooing Penelope by going to her father and giving the bridal gift according to custom, but consume the son's property under pretense of their suit for the mother. The second point is the strong appeal to the Ithacans—to their sense of right, to their sense of shame, and to their fear of the Gods, who "in their divine wrath shall turn back ill deeds upon the doer." But in vain; that Ithacan Assembly contains friends and relatives of the Suitors, and possibly purchased adherents; nay, it contains some of the Suitors themselves, and here rises one of them to make a speech in reply.

This is Antinous, who now makes the most elaborate defense of the case of the Suitors that is to be found in the poem. The speech is remarkable for throwing the whole blame upon Penelope—not a gallant proceeding in a lover; still it betrays great admiration for the woman on account of her devices and her cunning. She has thwarted and fooled the whole band of unwelcome wooers for three years and more by her wonderful web, which she wove by day and unraveled by night. And even now when she has been found out, she holds them aloof but keeps them in good humor, though clearly at a great expense of the family's property, which fact has roused Telemachus to his protest. Antinous, though feeling that he and the rest have been outwitted by the woman, does not stint his praise on that account, he even heightens it.

But we hear also his ultimatum: "Send thy mother away and bid her be married to whomsoever her father commands, and whoso is pleasing to her." So the will of the parent and the choice of the daughter had to go together even in Homer's days. Of course Antinous has no ground of right for giving this order; he is not the master of the house, though he hopes to be; his assumed authority is pure insolence. Then why should the Suitors injure the son because they have been wheedled by the mother? Still they will continue to consume "his living and his wealth as long as she keeps her present mind."

But the most interesting thing in his speech is to discover the attitude and motives of Penelope. We see her fidelity, but something more than fidelity is now needed, namely the greatest skill, dissimulation, or female tact, to use the more genteel word. She has a hard problem on her hands; she has to save her son, herself, and as much of the estate as she can, from a set of bandits who have all in their might. Were she to undertake to drive them away, they would pillage the house, kill her boy, and certainly carry her off. They have the power, they have the inclination; they are held by one small thread in the weak hands of a woman, but with that thread she snares them all, to the last man. Love it may be called, of a certain sort; we see how Antinous admires her, though conscious that she has made a fool of him and his fellows. Each hopes to win the prize yet, and she feeds them with hope, "sending private messages to each man;" thus she turns every one of them against the other, and prevents concerted action which looks to violence. That wonderful female gift is hers, the gift of making each of her hundred Suitors think that just he is the favored one, only let it be kept secret now till the right time comes!

But Penelope uses this gift as a weapon, it is her means of saving the House of Ulysses, while many another fair lady uses it for the fun of the thing. Is she right? Does her end justify her means? True she is in the highest degree to Family and State, is saving both; but she does dissemble, does cajole the suitors. One boy, one woman, one old man in the country constitute the present strength of the House of Ulysses; but craft meets violence and undoes it, as always.

And yet we may grant something to the other side of her character. She takes pleasure in the exercise of her gift, who does not? Inasmuch as the Suitors are here, and not to be dismissed, she will get a certain gratification out of their suit. A little dash of coquetry, a little love of admiration we may discern peeping through her adamantine fidelity to her husband, recollect after an absence of twenty years. As all this homage was thrust upon her, she seeks to win from it a kind of satisfaction; the admiration of a hundred men she tries to receive without making a sour face. Still further she takes pleasure in the exercise of that feminine subtlety which holds them fast in the web, yet keeps them off; giving them always hope, but indefinitely extending it. Verily that web which she wove is the web of Fate for the Suitors. So much for Penelope at present, whom we shall meet again.

To this demand of Antinous to send the mother away, Telemachus makes a noble, yes, a heroic response. It would be wrong all around, wrong to the mother, wrong to her father, unless he (Telemachus) restored the dower, wrong to the Gods; vengeance from the Erinyes, and nemesis from man would come upon him for such a deed. Thus the young hero appeals to the divine order and puts himself in harmony with its behests. Boldly he declares, that if the Suitors continue in their ill-doing, "I shall invoke the ever-living Gods; if Zeus may grant fit retribution for your crimes, ye shall die within this palace unavenged." Truly a speech given with a power which brings fulfillment; prophetic it must be, if there be any Gods in the world. Already we have seen that Telemachus was capable of this high mood, which communes with deity and utters the decree from above. Behold, no sooner is the word uttered by the mortal, than we have the divine response. It is in the form of an omen, the flight of two eagles tearing each other as they fly to the right through the houses of the town. Also the interpreter is present, who tells the meaning of the sign, and stamps the words of Telemachus with the seal of the Gods.

2. Here we pass to the second set of speeches which show more distinctively the religious phase, in contrast to the preceding set, which show rather the institutional phase, of the conflict; that is, the Gods are the theme of the one, Family and State of the other. The old augur Halitherses, the man of religion, explains the omen in full harmony with what Telemachus has said; he prophesies the speedy return of Ulysses and the punishment of the Suitors, unless they desist. Well may the aged prophet foretell some such outcome, after seeing the spirit of the son; Vengeance is indeed in the air, and is felt by the sensitive seer, and also by the sensitive reader.

But what is the attitude of the Suitors toward such a view? Eurymachus is the name of their speaker now, manifestly a representative man of their kind. He derides the prophet: "Go home, old man, and forecast for thy children!" He is a scoffer and skeptic; truly a spokesman of the Suitors in their relation to the Gods, in whom they can have no living faith; through long wickedness they imagine that there is no retribution, they have come to believe their own lie. Impiety, then, is the chief fact of this speech, which really denies the world-government and the whole lesson of this poem. Thus the divine warning is contemned, the call to a change of conduct goes unheeded.

3. Then we have the third set of speeches which are personal in their leading note, and pertain to the absent Ulysses, whose kindness and regal character are set forth by Mentor, his old comrade, with strong reproaches toward the Ithacans for permitting the wrong to his house. It is intimated that they could prevent it if they chose; but they are evidently deaf to this appeal to their gratitude and affection for their chieftain.

Leiocrates, the third Suitor, responds in a speech which is the culmination of insolence and defiance of right. The Suitors would slay Ulysses himself, should he now appear and undertake to put them out of his palace. He dares not come and claim his own! Right or wrong we are going to stay, and, if necessary, kill the owner. It is the most open and complete expression of the spirit of the Suitors, they are a lot of brigands, who must be swept away, if there be any order in the world. Leiocrates dissolves the Assembly, a thing which he evidently had no right to do; the people tamely obey, the institutional spirit is not strong enough to resist the man of violence. Let them scatter; they are a rotten flock of sheep at any rate.

Here the first part of the Book concludes. The three sets of speakers have given their views, one on each side; each set has represented a certain phase of the question; thus we have heard the institutional, religious and personal phases. In such manner the sweep of the conduct of the Suitors is fully brought out; they are destroying State and Family, are defying the Gods, and are ready to slay the individual who may stand in their way. Certainly their harvest is ripe for the sickle of divine justice, upon whose deep foundation this poem reposes.

The Assembly of the People now vanishes quite out of sight, it has indeed no valid ground of being. The young men seem to be the chief speakers, and show violent opposition, while the old men hold back, or manifest open sympathy with the House of Ulysses. The youth of Ithaca have had their heads turned by the brilliant prize, and rush forward forgetful of the penalty. It is indeed a time of moral loosening, of which this poem gives the source, progress, and cure. Telemachus, however, rises out of the mass of young men, the future hero who is to assert the law of the Gods. In such manner we are to reach down to the fact that the spirit of the Odyssey is ethical in the deepest sense, and reveals unto men the divine order of the world.


We now pass to the second part of the book, which shows Telemachus accomplishing with the aid of the deity what human institutions failed to do. If the Assembly will not help him in the great cause, the Gods will, and now he makes his appeal to them.

The Ithacans had refused a ship in order that he might go and learn something about his father; that is, they will not permit his education, which is at present the first object.

He goes down to the seacoast, where he will be alone, communing with the Goddess and with himself, and there he prays to Pallas, washing his hands in the grey surf—which is, we may well think, a symbolic act of purification. Is it a wonder that Pallas, taking the human shape of Mentor, comes and speaks to him? She must, if she be at all; he is ready, and she has to appear. Her first words are but the echo of his conduct all through the preceding scene with the Assembly: "Telemachus henceforth thou shalt be wanting neither in valor nor in wisdom." She rouses him by the fame and deeds of his father, because he is already aroused. Still she is a very necessary part; she is the divine element in the world speaking to Telemachus and helping him; she shows that his thought is not merely subjective, but is now one with hers, with objective wisdom, and will rule the fact. He ascends into the realm of true vision, and from thence organizes his purpose. It is true that the poet represents Pallas as ordering the means for the voyage, as at first she ordered the work of the whole poem. Yet this is also done by Telemachus who has risen to participation in that glance which beholds the truth and controls the world.

Often will the foregoing statement be repeated; every divine appearance in Homer, of any import, is but a repetition of the one fact, which must always be re-thought by the reader. That which Telemachus says is no longer his mere wish or opinion, but it is the reality, the valid thing outside of him, hence it is voiced by the Goddess, and must take place. Thus the poet often compels his reader to rise with him into the sphere of the divine energy, where thinking and willing are one, and man's insight is just the word of the God.

The remaining circumstances of the Book group themselves around the two centers—Telemachus and Pallas—as the Goddess orders them in advance: "Go thou home and get the stores ready, while I shall engage a ship and crew among the Ithacans."

1. Telemachus goes among the Suitors, evidently to avoid suspicion, which his absence might provoke. They taunt and deride him, whereof three samples are again given. He goes his way, conscious of his divine mission, not failing however to tell them: "I shall surely make the voyage, not in vain it will be." He obtains food and wine from the aged stewardess Eurycleia, who seeks to dissuade him. Then too his mother must not know of his plan, she would keep him still a boy in the house, whereas he has become a man.

2. Pallas in the semblance of Telemachus goes through the town to secure the ship and crew. Then she pours over the Suitors a gentle sleep after their revel; she takes away their wisdom, yet it is their own deed, which just now has a divine importance. Finally she brings all to the ship, seizes the helm and sends the favoring breeze. Or, as we understand the poet, intelligence brings about these things under many guises; even nature, the breeze, it takes advantage of for its own purpose.

Thus Pallas has the controlling hand in this second part of the Book, she is above man and nature. We can say that the controlling spirit is also Telemachus, who manifests Reason, controlling and directing the world. Note the various forms which she assumes, as Mentor, as Telemachus; then again she works purely through mind, in the natural way, as for example, when Telemachus goes home and obtains his food and wine for the voyage. The poet thus plays with her shape; still she is essentially the divine intelligence which seizes upon men and circumstances, and fits them into the order universal, and makes them contribute to the great purpose of the poem. Still the Goddess does not destroy man's freedom, but supplements it, lifting it out of the domain of caprice. Telemachus willingly wills the will of Pallas.

Already it has been remarked that the Goddess is made to command nature—the breeze, the sleep of the Suitors. It is the method of fable thus to portray intelligence, whose function is to take control of nature and make her subserve its purpose. The breeze blows and drives the ship; it is the divine instrument for bringing Telemachus to Pylos, a part of the world-order, especially upon the present occasion. The born poet still talks that way, he is naturally a fabulist and cannot help himself. In his speech, the hunter does not chase the deer, but brings it before his gun by a magic power; the mystic fisher calls the fishes; the enchanted bullet finds its own game and needs only to be shot off; the tanner even lays a spell upon the water in his vat and makes it run up hill through a tube bent in a charm. But back of all this enchantment intelligence is working and assumes her mythical, supernatural garb when the poet images her control of nature.

Thus in general the Mythus shadows forth objective mind, not subjective; it springs from the imaginative Reason, and not from a cultivated Reflection. In our time the demand is to have these objective forms translated into subjective thoughts; then we can understand them better. But the Homeric man shows the opposite tendency: he had to translate his internal thoughts into the external shapes of the Mythus before he could grasp fully his own mind. His conception of the world was mythical; this form he understood and not that of abstract reflection. We may well exclaim: Happy Homeric man, to whom the world was ever present, not himself. Yet both sides belong to the full-grown soul, the mythical and the reflective; from Homer the one-sided modern mind can recover a part of its spiritual inheritance, which is in danger of being lost.

It is therefore, a significant fact that the education of the present time is seeking to restore the Mythus to its true place in the development of human spirit. The Imagination is recognized to have its right, and unless it be taken care of in the right way, it will turn a Fury, and wreak treble vengeance upon the age which makes it an outcast. Homer is undoubtedly the greatest of all mythologists, he seizes the pure mythical essence of the human mind and gives to it form and beauty. Hence from this point of view, specially, we shall study him.

In the present Book the fact is brought out strongly that little or nothing is to be expected from the Ithacan people toward rectifying the great wrong done to the House of Ulysses. In part they are the wrong-doers themselves, in part they are cowed into inactivity by the wrong-doers. Corruption has eaten into the spirit of the people; the result is, the great duty of deliverance is thrown back upon an individual. One man is to take the place of all, or a few men the place of the many, for the work must be done. The mightiness of the individual in the time of a great crisis is thus set forth in vivid reality; the one man with the Gods on his side is the majority. With truest instinct does the old poet show the Goddess Pallas directing Telemachus, who participates in the Divine and is carrying out its decree. This communion between man and deity is no mere mythologic sport, but the sincerest faith; verily it is the solidest fact in the government of the world, and the bard is its voice to all ages.

This Second Book has its import for the whole poem. It is now manifest that Ulysses, when he returns, is not to expect a grand popular reception; he must bring himself back to his own by his skill and prowess alone. The people will not help him slay the wrong-doers; rather the contrary will happen. Again the individual must work out the salvation of himself as well as of his family and his country. Telemachus has shown himself the worthy son of the heroic father; the present Book connects him intimately with the return of Ulysses, and binds the entire Odyssey into unity; especially does this Book look to and prepare for the last twelve Books, which bring father and son together in one great act of deliverance.

If in the previous Book we beheld the depravity of the Suitors, we now witness the imbecility of the People. Still the spark of hope flashes out brightly in this Ithacan night; something is at work to punish the guilty and to redeem the land.


In narrative, the present Book connects directly with the preceding Book. Pallas is still with Telemachus, they continue the voyage together till they reach Pylos, the home of Nestor. They have left Ithaca, and come into another realm; this change of place, as is often the case in Homer, carries with it a change of inner condition; the voyage is not simply geographical but also spiritual; indeed it must be so, if the young man is to derive from it any experience.

Great and striking is the difference between Ithaca and Pylos. The latter is the abode of religion primarily, the new-comers find the Pylians engaged in an act of worship, in which the whole people participate, "nine rows of seats and five hundred men in each row."

Too large a number, cry some commentators, but they have not looked into the real meaning of such a multitude. Here is sacrifice, reverence, belief in the Gods; while among the Ithacans is neglect of worship, religious paralysis, and downright blasphemy on the part of the Suitors. Furthermore, in one country order reigns, in the other is anarchy. Such is the contrast between the Second and Third Books, the contrast between Ithaca and Pylos. We can well think that this contrast was intended by the poet, and thus we may catch a glimpse of his artistic procedure.

The center of the picture is Nestor, a very old man, who, accordingly, gives soul to the Book. He is so near the world of the Gods in the present life, that he seems already to dwell with them; age brings this serene piety.

No accident is it that this Book of Nestor begins and ends with a festival of sacrifice and prayer; that is the true setting of his character. What he says to the visitors will take color and meaning from his fundamental trait; we may expect in his words a full recognition of divinity in the events of the world.

But he has been a stout fighter in his time, he was in the Trojan War, though old already at that period. He will give the lesson of his life, not during that war, but afterwards. He was one of the heroes of the Iliad, which poem the Odyssey not only does not repeat, but goes out of its way to avoid any repetition thereof. Moreover he was one of those who returned home successfully, can he tell how it was done? This is the question of special interest to Telemachus, as his father, after ten years, has not yet reached home.

Herewith the theme of the Book is suggested: the Return. Physically this was a return from the Trojan War, which is the pre-supposition of the whole Odyssey; all the heroes who have not perished, have to get back to Hellas in some way. These ways are very diverse, according to the character of the persons and the circumstances. Thus we touch the second grand Homeric subject, and, indeed, the second grand fact of the Greek consciousness, which lies imbedded in the Return (Nostos). A short survey of this subject must here be given. We have in the present Book several phases of the Return; Nestor, Menelaus, Ulysses are all Returners, to use a necessary word for the thought; each man solves the problem in his own manner.

Now what is this problem? Let us see. The expedition to Troy involved a long separation from home and country on the part of every man who went with it; still this separation had to be made for the sake of Helen, that she, the wife and queen, return to home and country, from which she had been taken. Her Return, indeed, is the essence of all their Returns. We see that through the war they were severed from Family and State, were compelled to give up for the time being their whole institutional life. This long absence deepens into alienation, into a spiritual scission, from mere habit in the first place; then, in the second place, they are seeking to destroy a home and a country; though it be that of the enemy, and the act, even if necessary, brings its penalty. It begets a spirit of violence, a disregard of human life, a destruction of institutional order. Such is the training of the Greeks before Troy. The wanton attack of Ulysses and his companions upon the city of the Ciconians (Book Ninth) is an indication of the spirit engendered in this long period of violence, among the best and wisest Greeks.

Still, in spite of the grand estrangement, they have the aspiration for return, and for healing the breach which had sunk so deep into their souls. Did they not undergo all this severing of the dearest ties for the sake of Helen, for the integrity of the family, and of their civil life also? What he has done for Helen, every Greek must be ready to do for himself, when the war is over; he must long for the restoration of the broken relations; he cannot remain in Asia and continue a true Greek. Such is his conflict; in maintaining Family and State, he has been forced to sacrifice Family and State. Then when he has accomplished the deed of sacrifice, he must restore himself to what he has immolated. A hard task, a deeply contradictory process, whose end is, however, harmony; many will not be able to reach the latter stage, but will perish by the way. The Return is this great process of restoration after the estrangement.

Many are the Returners, successful and unsuccessful in many different ways. But they all are resumed in the one long desperate Return of Ulysses, the wise and much-enduring man. In space as well as in time his Return is the longest; in spirit it is the deepest and severest by all odds. The present poem, therefore, is a kind of resumption and summary of the entire series of Returns (Nostoi). In the old Greek epical ages, the subject gave rise to many poems, which are, however, at bottom but one, and this we still possess, while the others are lost. Spirit takes care of its own verily.

The true Returner, accordingly, gets back to the institutions from which he once separated; he knows them now, previously he only felt them. His institutional world must become thus a conscious possession; he has gone through the alienation, and has been restored; his restoration has been reached through denial, through skepticism, we may say, using the modern term. The old unconscious period before the Trojan war is gone forever; that was the Paradise from which the Greek Adam has been expelled. But the new man after the restoration is the image of the complete self-conscious being, who has taken the negative period into himself and digested it. Fortunate person! he cannot now be made the subject of a poem, for he has no conflict.

But the young man beginning life, the son Telemachus, is to obtain the same kind of knowledge, not through experience but through inquiry. Oral tradition is to give him the treasures of wisdom without the bitter personal trial. It is for this reason that Pallas sends him to find out what his father did, and to make the experience of the parent his own by education; it is, indeed, the true education—to master the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the race up to date. So we are now to have the school period of the son, who is thereby not merely the physical son (which, he remarks, is always a matter of doubt), but the spiritual son of his father, whereof there can be no doubt.

The Odyssey proper, toward which we may now cast a glance, contains the wanderings of Ulysses, and is the work of the grown man who has to meet the world face to face and conquer it; thus he obtains the experience of life. The two parts are always to be placed together—the education of the young man and the experience of the mature man; they constitute a complete history of a human soul. Both are, indeed one—bud and flower; at bottom, too, both mean the same thing—the elevation of the individual into an ethical life in which he is in harmony with himself and with the divine order. True learning and true experience reach this end, which may be rightfully called wisdom.

So Telemachus the youth is to listen to the great and impressive fact of his time, containing the deep spiritual problem which is designated as the Return. Nestor is the first and simplest of these Returners; he is an old man, he has prudence, he is without passion; moreover he has not the spirit of inquiry or the searching into the Beyond; he accepts the transmitted religion and opinions without question, through the conservatism of age as well as of character. It is clear that the spiritual scission of the time could not enter deep into his nature; his long absence from home and country produced no alienation; he went home direct after the fall of Troy, the winds and the waters were favorable, no tempest, no upheaval, no signs of divine anger. But he foresaw the wrath of the Gods and fled across the wave in all speed, the wrestle with the deity lay not in him.

It is worth our while to make a little summary of these Returners in classes, since in this way the thought of the present Book as well as its place in the entire Odyssey can be seen best. First are those who never succeeded in returning, but perished in the process of it; of this class the great example is the leader himself, Agamemnon, who was slain by his own wife and her paramour. Second are those who succeeded in returning; of this class there are three well-marked divisions, which are to be sharply designated in the mind of the reader.

(1). The immediate Returners, those who went straight home, without internal scission or external trouble; unimportant they are in this peaceful aspect though they were formerly heroes in the war. Four such are passingly mentioned by Nestor in his talk: Diomed, Neoptolemus the son of Achilles, Philoctetes, and Idomeneus. Nestor himself is the most prominent and the typical one of this set who are the Returners through Hellas.

(2). The second one of those who have succeeded in getting home is Menelaus, whose sweep is far beyond that of Nestor and the immediate Greek world, taking in Egypt and the East. He was separated from Nestor, having delayed to bury his steersman; then a storm struck him, bore him to Crete and beyond, the wind and wave carried him to the land of the Nile. He is the Returner through the Orient.

(3). Finally is Ulysses, not yet returned, but whose time has nearly arrived. In comparison with the others he is the Returner through the Occident. But his Return gives name to the poem, of which it is the greater portion.

Still the universal poem is to embrace all these phases of the Return, and the son, through education, is to know them all, not by experience but by information. Thus his training is to reach beyond what the life of his father can give him; it must be universal, and in this way it becomes a true discipline. We must note too, that this poem reaches beyond the Return of Ulysses, beyond what its title suggests, and embraces all the Returns, Hellenic, Oriental, Occidental, as well as the grand failure to return.

Such are some of the thoughts which gleam out the present Book and illuminate the whole Odyssey. We can now consider structure of the Book, which falls into two distinct parts, determined by the Goddess. When she makes ready to quit Telemachus, we enter the second portion of the Book, and Telemachus continues his journey without direct divine supervision. As the previous Book was marked by the coming of the Goddess, the present Book is marked by her going. The intercourse of the youth with Nestor is the extent of her immediate guardianship; after such an experience, he must learn to make the rest of the journey through his own resources. Even the deity teaches that there must not be too much reliance upon the deity. The first portion of the Book extends to line 328, where Nestor ends his story of the Returns and suggests the journey to Menelaus for another phase thereof: "the sun set and darkness came on." The second portion embraces the rest of the Book. Again we must note that the fundamental Homeric division into the Upper and Lower Worlds is what divides the Book, thus giving to the same its organic principle.


The religious setting of Nestor's world has been noticed already. Into it Telemachus comes, out of a realm of violence; it must indicate some cure for the ills of Ithaca. But he is now to show himself a man. Pallas orders him to put aside his youthful modesty, and boldly make the inquiry concerning his father. And here the Goddess utters a remark which the student may well ponder: "Some things thou wilt think of in thine own mind, but a God will suggest others." Again the Homeric dualism—the human and the divine—and also their harmony; the two elements must come together in every high thought or action. The double relation of the individual—to himself and to the God—is necessary for all worthy speech; his own activity and that of the deity run together in true discourse as well as in true action. So the whole poem is made up of man's self-determined energy and the interference of the Gods; yet both are to be seen as ultimately one in the deed.

The new-comers are asked to pray, and we hear the famous utterance, which is characteristic of Nestor's world, "All men have need of the Gods." This is said by one of his sons. Pallas makes the prayer, a happy one, which brings forth a feeling of harmony between the strangers and all the People. The sympathy is complete, and Telemachus can proceed to ask concerning his father, after he has told who he himself is, and whence he has come. In response, Nestor begins to tell the fateful story of the Returns after the fall of Troy. In his narrative we behold the starting-point of the calamities, the difference between Agamemnon and Menelaus, followed by a series of separations in succession. "Zeus planned for them a sad Return," which, however, was their own fault, "for all were neither wise nor just." It is clear that the Greek unity is utterly broken, a spiritual disruption sets in after the capture of the city. It is, indeed, the new problem, this Return to peace and institutional order after ten years' training to violence. Such is the penalty of all war, however just and necessary; after it is over, the fighting cannot stop at once, and so the victors divide into two camps and continue the fight. Nestor gives the picture of these repeated divisions; once, twice, thrice the breach occurs; first he separates from Agamemnon, the second time from Ulysses, the third time from Menelaus. He will go directly home, and thus he has to leave the others behind; the scission is not in him as in them; he can be restored, in fact he restores himself. He has the instinctive pre-Trojan character still, being an old man; but Ulysses has lost that, and so separates from Nestor, though never before had they differed "in the Council of the Chiefs or in the Assembly of the People." But Ulysses has to return by a far different road, and now each of the two wise men takes his own way, though both have to return.

Aged Nestor manifestly does not belong to the new epoch, he seems to have no sense of the deep spiritual struggle involved. He instinctively went home, shunning the conflict; the others could not. In the Iliad the relation between the two wise men, Nestor and Ulysses, is subtly yet clearly drawn; the one—the younger man—has creative intelligence, the other—the older man—has appreciative intelligence. In the Odyssey, the relation is plainly evolved out of that described in the Iliad; the one is the boundless striver, the other rests in the established order of things.

Nestor, therefore, cannot tell much about Ulysses, who lies quite out of his horizon, at least in the Odyssey. He can only give hope that the man of wisdom will yet return. This Telemachus doubts, dropping into one of his low human moods, even in the presence of Pallas, who rebukes him sharply. It is, indeed, the great lesson; he must have faith in the reality of the Gods, this is the basis of all his future progress, the chief attainment of wisdom. The young man must not fall away into denial, he must be taught that there is a divine order in the world. Old Homer, too, had his notions about religion in education, and the Goddess herself is here introduced giving a lesson.

Nestor, though unable himself to give much information about the Return, can point to the second grand Returner, Menelaus, who has lately come from a distant land, and may have something to say. In fact Menelaus was the last to separate from Nestor, Ulysses had separated long before.

One other story Nestor tells with great sympathy, that of Agamemnon, who represents a still different form of the Return. The great leader of the Greeks can master the Trojan difficulty, can even get back to home and country, but these are ultimately lost to him by his faithless spouse. Still, after the father's death, the son Orestes restores Family and State. Therein Telemachus sees an image of himself, the son, who is to slay his mother's suitors; he sees, too, the possible fate of his father. Ulysses has essentially the same problem as Agamemnon, though he has not the faithless wife in addition; Telemachus beholds his duty in the deed of Orestes, according to Greek consciousness. We shall see hereafter how Ulysses takes due precaution not to be slain in his own land, as Agamemnon was. In disguise he will go to his own palace and carefully note the situation in advance, and then strike the blow of deliverance.

Several times Homer repeats in the Odyssey the tragic story of Agamemnon, the great Leader of the Greeks at Troy. An awe-inspiring tale of destiny; out of it AEschylus will develop his great tragedy, the Oresteia. Indeed the epos develops into tragedy with the full mythical unfolding of this story. AEschylus will deepen the motives into internal collisions; he will show the right and the wrong in Agamemnon, and even in Clytemnestra. Orestes, however beneficent his deed in avenging his father, will not escape the counterstroke; AEschylus will send after him the Furies for the guilt of having murdered his mother. Thus the double nature of the deed, its reward and its penalty, unfolds out of Homer into AEschylus, and creates the Greek drama as we know it at present.

Nestor has now told what lay in the immediate circle of his experience: the Return direct through Hellas. Again he mentions the last separation; it was that of himself from Menelaus, when the latter was swept beyond the limit of Hellas into Egypt, from which he has now returned. What next? Evidently the young man must be sent to him at Sparta in order to share in this larger circle of experience, extending to the Orient. So Greece points to the East in many ways; Nestor, the purely Hellenic soul, knows of that wider knowledge, though it be not his, and he knows that it should be possessed.

In this Book as elsewhere in the Odyssey the grand background is the Trojan war. The incidents of the Iliad are hardly alluded to, but are certainly taken for granted; the Post-Iliad is the field of interest, for in it the Returns take place. Thus the two great poems of Homer join together and show themselves as complements of each other.


Now comes the separation which marks the second portion of the Book. Pallas, in the guise of Mentor, coincides with Nestor in advising Telemachus to pay a visit to Menelaus, and then she departs, "sailing off like a sea-eagle," whereat great astonishment from all present. That is, she reveals herself; all recognize the Goddess, and probably that is the reason why she can no longer stay. She has become internal. Telemachus is now conscious, as she disappears, and he has his own wisdom; he has seen Pallas, and so he must go without her to Sparta. Hardly does he need her longer, being started upon the path of wisdom to know wisdom. At the court of Nestor, with its deeply religious atmosphere, she can appear; but she declines to go with him in person to Menelaus, though she advises the journey. All of which, to the sympathetic reader, has its significance. Still Pallas has by no means vanished out of the career of Telemachus; she at present, however, leaves him to himself, as she often does.

Nestor, too, responds to the marvelous incident in true accord with his character; he invokes her with prayer and institutes a grand sacrifice, which is now described in a good deal of detail. Just as the Book opens with a sacrifice to a deity, so it closes with one—the two form the setting of the whole description. Thus the recognition of the Gods is everywhere set forth in Nestor's world; he is the man of faith, of primitive, immediate faith, which has never felt the doubt.

It is well that Telemachus meets with such a man at the start, and gets a breath out of such an atmosphere. He has seen the ills of Ithaca from his boyhood; he may well question at times the superintendence of the Gods. His own experience of life would lead him to doubt the existence of a Divine Order. Even here in Pylos he challenges the supremacy of the Olympians. When Nestor intimates that his father will yet return and punish the Suitors, with the help of Pallas, or that he himself may possibly do so with the aid of the same Goddess, Telemachus replies: "Never will that come to pass, I think, though I hope for it; no, not even if the Gods should so will." Assuredly a young skeptic he shows himself, probably in a fit of despondency; sharp is the reproof of the Goddess: "O Telemachus, what kind of talk is that? Easily can a God, if he wills it, save a man even at a distance." Thus she, a Goddess, asserts the supremacy of the Gods, even though they cannot avert death. But the youth persists at present: "let us talk no more of this; my father never will return." But when Nestor has told the story of AEgisthus punished by the son Orestes, the impression is strong that there is a divine justice which overtakes the guilty man at last; such is the old man's lesson to the juvenile doubter. The lesson is imparted in the form of a tale, but it has its meaning, and Telemachus cannot help putting himself into the place of Orestes.

Such is, then, the training which the young man, shaken by misfortune, obtains at the court of Nestor; the training to a belief in the rule of the Gods in a Divine Order of the World—which is the fundamental belief of the present poem. It is no wonder that Telemachus sees Pallas at last, sees that she has been with him, recognizing her presence. To be sure, she now disappears as a personal presence, having been found out; still she sends Telemachus on his journey to Sparta. Thus the Third Book has a distinctive character of its own, differing decidedly from the Book which goes before and from that which follows. Here is a religious world, idyllic, paradisaical in its immediate relation to the Gods, and in the primitive innocence of its people, who seem to be without a jar or inner scission. No doubt or dissonance has yet entered apparently; Pylos stands between Ithaca, the land of absolute discord, and Sparta, the land recently restored out of discord. The Book hears a relation to the whole Odyssey in its special theme, which is the Return, of which it represents in the ruler Nestor a particular phase. It prepares the way for the grand Return, which is that of Ulysses; it is a link connecting the whole poem into unity. Moreover it shadows forth one of the movements of Greek spirit, which seized upon this idea of a Return from Troy to express the soul's restoration from its warring, alienated, dualistic condition. It is well known that there were many poems on this subject; each hero along with his town or land had his Return, which became embodied in legend and song. All Hellas, in a certain stage of its spiritual movement, had a tendency to break out into the lay of the Return. One of the so-called cyclic poets, Hagias of Troezen, collected a number of these lays into one poem and called it the Nostoi or Returns, evidently an outgrowth of this Third Book in particular and of the Odyssey in general.

Thus Telemachus has witnessed and heard a good deal during his stay with Nestor. He has seen a religious world, a realm of faith in the Gods, which certainly has left its strong impression; he has been inspired by the example of his father, whose worth has been set forth, and whose place in the great Trojan movement has been indicated, by the aged Hero. Still further, Telemachus has been brought to share in the idea of the Return, the present underlying idea of the whole Greek consciousness; thus he must be led to believe in it and to work for it, applying it to his own case and his own land. Largely, from a negative, despairing state of mind due to his Ithacan environment, he has been led into glimpses of a positive believing one; this has sprung from his schooling with Nestor, who may be called his first schoolmaster, from whom he is now to pass to his second.

The reader must judge whether the preceding view be too introspective for Homer, who is usually declared to be the unconscious poet, quite unaware of his purpose or process. No one can carefully read the Third Book without feeling its religious purport; an atmosphere it has peculiar to itself in relation to the other Books of the Telemachiad. To be sure, we can read it as an adventure, a mere diverting story, without further meaning than the attempt to entertain vacant heads seeking to kill time. But really it is the record of the spirit's experience, and must so be interpreted. Again the question comes up: what is it to know Homer? His geography, his incidents, his grammar, his entire outer world have their right and must be studied—but let us proceed to the next Book.

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