Homer: The Odyssey

0. Prefaces and Introduction (continued)

by the ominous prayer uttered by a weary woman grinding at the mill. The swineherd and the disloyal Melanthius arrive at the palace. The wooers defer the plot to kill Telemachus, as the day is holy to Apollo. Odysseus is led up from his seat near the door to a place beside Telemachus at the chief 's table. The wooers mock Telemachus, and the second- sighted Theoclymenus sees the ominous shroud of death covering their bodies, and the walls dripping with blood. He leaves the doomed company. In the trial of the bow, none of the wooers can draw it; meanwhile Odysseus has declared himself to the neatherd and the swineherd. The former bars and fastens the outer gates of the court, the latter bids Eurycleia bar the doors of the womens' chambers which lead out of the hall. Odysseus now gets the bow into his hands, strings it, sends the arrow through the axe-blades, and then leaping on the threshold of stone, deals his shafts among the wooers. Telemachus, the neatherd, and Eumaeus, aiding him, he slaughters all the crew, despite the treachery of Melanthius. The paramours of the wooers are hanged, and Odysseus, after some delay, is recognised by Penelope.

DAY 42 (Books xxiii, xxiv).

This day is occupied with the recognition of Odysseus by his aged father Laertes, and with the futile attempt of the kinsfolk of the wooers to avenge them on Odysseus. Athene reconciles the feud, and the toils of Odysseus are accomplished.

The reader has now before him a chronologically arranged sketch of the action of the Odyssey. It is, perhaps, apparent, even from this bare outline, that the composition is elaborate and artistic, that the threads of the plot are skilfully separated and combined. The germ of the whole epic is probably the popular tale, known all over the world, of the warrior who, on his return from a long expedition, has great difficulty in making his prudent wife recognise him. The incident occurs as a detached story in China, and in most European countries it is told of a crusader. 'We may suppose it to be older than the legend of Troy, and to have gravitated into the cycle of that legend. The years of the hero's absence are then filled up with adventures (the Cyclops, Circe, the Phaeacians, the Sirens, the descent into hell) which exist as scattered tales, or are woven into the more elaborate epics of Gaels, Aztecs, Hindoos, Tartars, South-Sea Islanders, Finns, Russians, Scandinavians, and Eskimo. The whole is surrounded with the atmosphere of the kingly age of Greece, and the result is the Odyssey, with that unity of plot and variety of character which must have been given by one masterly constructive genius. The date at which the poet of the Odyssey lived may be approximately determined by his consistent descriptions of a peculiar and definite condition of society, which had ceased to exist in the ninth century B.C., and of a stage of art in which Phoenician and Assyrian influences predominated. (Die Kunst bei Homer. Brunn.) As to the mode of composition, it would not be difficult to show that at least the a priori Wolfian arguments against the early use of writing for literary purposes have no longer the cogency which they were once thought to possess. But this is matter for a separate investigation.

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