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Chapter 4: Religion in the Odyssey

Obvious differences from the Iliad — Growing civilisation — Vindication of domestic right — Not sentimental — Modes of worship — Mythology — Heroic legend — Moral principles — Ethical reflection.

NOTWITHSTANDING the imperfect development of society, and the poverty in ethical terminology which marked the heroic age, the Iliad contains clear evidence of the deep hold which had long since been taken by domestic institutions, and of the strong sanctions which surrounded the elementary relations of human beings to one another. These are imagined with such depth and force as to contain the essential substance of all morality under a religious bond. The vindication of the rites of home, and of the rules of hospitality, underlies the action and is never quite lost sight of. The poet's vision ranges far beyond his age, extending to the contemplation of universal humanity. His impressions are conveyed with incomparable vividness, subtlety and delicacy, but always in the form of feeling. The process of reflection and abstract thinking has hardly begun. The picture of the gods, on the other hand, and of their dealings with mankind, although grand and sublime in part, and pathetic on the side of the worshipper, is full of the crudest inconsistencies. The conception of divine power is more developed than the ideas of justice and beneficence. The most universal attribute of the gods is their exemption from death, which places a gulf of absolute separation between them and mortals—even those in whose veins the blood of gods is flowing.

In the Odyssey human things are regarded more comprehensively on the whole, but are touched everywhere with a somewhat lighter hand. The gods, with the exception of Athena, and perhaps of Poseidon, who is necessary for the machinery of the poem, are less distinctly conceived, and the gap between them and poor mortals is practically filled up for the imagination by a sort of fairy world of semi-human beings. The conception of Elysium, as a place far away upon the earth, to which the sons and sons-in-law of Zeus go after death, strikes a note which is absent from the Iliad; and in the eleventh book, which, in part at least, is a later addition, the world of the dead is imagined under a different aspect, and there is a distinct reflection of the sacrificial worship of the dead (‘blood-drinking ghosts’). The gods are much more frequently spoken of collectively in the plural number, and so far as they intervene to govern human things, they do so with a serious purpose, and mostly with a view to vindicating the right. Life is still the slave of destiny, but men are blamed for their own misfortunes; in this spirit the crime of Aegisthus is denounced by Athena, at the opening of the poem, and both the companions of Odysseus and the insolent suitors are said to be responsible for their own destruction. These are some of the more obvious differences.

The legend of Odysseus is believed by some authorities to have originally taken shape in Arcadia. Assuming this to be true, the tradition would find its way to Ionia with the emigrants from Pylos, who accompanied the Neleid prince who helped to colonise Miletus. And accordingly, those elements of religious life which came from Phthia or Thessaly are less prominent here; and as the Ionian settlement was later than the Aeolian, so the Odyssey and even the materials out of which it grew are later than those of the Iliad. The poet, whom we suppose to be an Asiatic Greek, betrays his ignorance of the geography of the Peloponnese and the adjoining coasts. At the same time, the poem shows a greatly extended interest in the habitable world. This is not the place for considering the contradictions of the geography. It has been further confused by the fancy of the later Greeks, who, as they came to know more, seem to have transferred some imaginary features from the mouth of the Black Sea to the coasts of Italy and Sicily. The description, such as it is, could only have come into existence at a time when navigation was extending, and men's imaginations were much exercised with voyages of discovery.

The Iliad is a poem of passion, the Odyssey a poem of endurance; the one moves amongst scenes of battle, the other amongst romantic adventures. Comradeship, rivalry, and vindictiveness are the springs of action in the Iliad; the Odyssey presents us with a persistent will, passing, onwards through manifold hindrances towards a purposed good. It is the apotheosis of conduct rather than of personal feeling, but this very fact perhaps involves an advance in reflection; and when we look more closely at the work, we find many other kindred traces.

The dwelling place of the gods is differently conceived. Olympus in the Iliad is still a mountain top with many peaks and ridges, in the hollows of which the gods have their golden houses. In the Odyssey, Olympus is hardly distinguishable from an unseen heaven, not snow-clad and clouded like the mountain in the Iliad, but far withdrawn, exempt from storms and rains and wind and snow. Like the Nysaean hill of Bacchus afterwards, it has no precise locality, but just so much reminiscence of the original mountain as to give a touch of picturesqueness. We shall find a further stage of progress towards a pure abstraction in the Olympus of the Attic poets.

As regards hero-worship, Menelaus is told by Proteus that he is destined to depart to the Elysian plain; the deification of Herakles is alluded to, though in a passage that is probably of later origin than the rest, and Ino (Leucothea) has also been raised to the skies.

Domestic and patriotic virtues form the cardinal interest of the whole action; and it is important to remark that the constancy of Odysseus, Telemachus, and Penelope is entirely without the modern note of personal sentiment. It is not the womanly charm of Penelope that draws Odysseus home: it is the thought of home as such, with all its claims upon him. It is not because Odysseus won her heart, many years ago, that Penelope eludes the suitors, but because he is her lord, the noblest of men, and because she cannot bear to think of leaving the mansion, so full of precious things, and parting from her son, to cheer the spirit of some less noble man. The reserve on both sides, when at last they come together, is extremely remarkable, and essentially Greek. Not that feeling is absent from either of them, but rather that it is profound, and is inseparable from practical aims, extending to a lifetime.

It is even more apparent in the Odyssey than in the Iliad that the poet does not take the gods altogether seriously, but rather handles them with a consciously artistic purpose. Poseidon, for example, affords the chief celestial machinery for the action. He persecutes Odysseus in revenge for Polyphemus, the Cyclops, who is his son; until Hera interposes, and by permission of Zeus secures the release of her favourite. Still more capricious are the poet's dealings with that fairyland of imagination, in which he has placed such unheroic beings, neither divine nor human, as the giant Laestrygones, the one-eyed Cyclopes, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, the witch Circe, the nymph Calypso; who diversify the action, and occupy the borderland between gods and men. It is not to be inferred that these were all unknown to the poet of the Iliad, or to his hearers, but their introduction into a serious poem was probably something new. A taste for the marvellous, for strange experiences and adventures, had supervened together with the progress of navigation. The dwellers on the coast of Asia drank in eagerly the tales which travellers brought them from the outer world; a sort of mythological geography became the food of their imaginations. At the same time the consciousness of their own civilisation tended to express itself in the supposed contrast between civilised and savage mankind. Hence the account of the Cyclopes, who cared not for one another, nor for the gods, but each commanded his own household, or cavehold: a note that is taken up by Plato and Aristotle.

To the same consciousness—that of a growing civilisation—we owe the very different picture of the Phaeacians who take Odysseus home:—of Nausicaa, the mirror of maidenhood, the courtly Alcinous, the gracious Arête, and the dainty youths of whom Horace speaks as In cute curanda nimium studiosa juventus (‘Young men whose care is to be neat and trim’). This charming episode has been variously understood. The ancients, perhaps too literally, identified Phaeacia with Corcyra (where there is a river near the town and also poplar trees), but the Corcyraeans of history are most unlike this gentle folk. Some, led by the alliteration, think that the Phoenicians were in the poet's eye; but neither is there any resemblance here, except that both are seafarers. A more plausible explanation has been started recently—viz. that the poet of the Odyssey brings his old-world hero into contact with his own contemporaries under a thin disguise. The scene may be Corcyra, but the airy, imaginary folk, whose ship became a rock in the sea—this people with their walled town, their elaborate harbour, their well-built market-place, their fair temple of Poseidon, and grove of Athena—are no other than the Ionians of the eighth century, whose home was the flourishing Miletus or the fertile Samos.

Thus the visit of Odysseus to Phaeacia is seen to be the first, as surely it is the most delightful, of a long series of imaginings, which with various degrees of bitterness or of gentle irony have reflected some features or some tendencies of contemporary life, or have embodied a contemporary ideal, such as More's ‘Utopia,’ Swift's ‘Laputa,’ or Johnson's ‘Rasselas.’ All grosser elements are purged away; humanity appears in the most engaging aspect; and yet in the self-complacency of this island folk, in their imagined security, their pride of ships, their boast of nearness to the gods, it seems allowable to trace some good-humoured persiflage of the poet's own neighbours, whom, to avoid offending them, he has purposely located on a distant and imaginary shore.

To return now to the main drift of the poem. The triumph of Odysseus single-handed, with the aid of Athena, is the triumph of justice over lawless insolence. There is nothing like this in the Iliad, though there is something cognate to it in the main motive for the Trojan war. The hero is not merely vindicating his own personal honour, as Achilles was, but the most precious rights of his kingdom and his home. It is true that the vindication is unmixed with clemency: execution is unrelentingly wrought, not only on the suitors, but on the poor misguided maid-servants, who are strung up ‘like larks upon a line.’ The thoroughness of the Greek artist allows of no half-lights or neutral shades; indeed, there is little of tenderness in the person of Odysseus. His worth, like that of Ajax in Sophocles, is rather accentuated by the devoted attachment of those dependent on him, from Penelope downwards, including Eumaeus the swineherd, and Argus the dog. It is here that the strokes of tenderness come in. And this gives the opportunity for saying that, while the interest of the poem again centres in the royal race, the blood of gods, the Odyssey contains several interesting glimpses of more humble life.

Some points of manners, especially connected with religion, may be tether noted. In the Iliad, after a sacrifice, people enjoy themselves to the full, and without stint. Athena, in the person of Mentor, remarks in the Odyssey that it is not well to sit too long at the feasts of the gods: one should return home again. The gods love moderation, even in an act of worship. In the Iliad the gods appear in various disguises, but never for long. The remark that Athena is ever at the side of this or that hero, for instance Diomedes, is said in a tone of conscious hyperbole. There is nothing like the persistent companionship of the disguised Athena, which both Telemachus and his father enjoy. Athena in the Odyssey also exercises a kind of magic, which, except in the case of the dead bodies of Sarpedon and Hector, is hardly present in the Iliad—making Odysseus alternately old and wrinkled, and handsome and young.

Having thus indicated some of the main features of the Odyssey as a religious work, I propose to touch briefly (1) on modes of worship; (2) on differences of mythology between the Iliad and the Odyssey; (3) on the legendary elements of the poem, and the traces of incipient hero-worship; (4) on conceptions of private and public duty; (5) on the growth of ethical reflection, as shown (a) in proverbial expressions; (b) in the ideal of human virtue.

1. A beautiful picture of Greek piety is presented in the third book of the Odyssey, where Telemachus, accompanied by Athena disguised as Mentor, finds Nestor and his sons at Pylos engaged in holding a great sacrifice to Poseidon. They are assembled upon the seashore, a place hardly lending itself to formal consecration, but perpetually in view of the divine element of which Poseidon was the personification. They are offering to him black bulls without a spot of white, a colour probably associated with the darkness of the deep, the ἔρεβος ὕϕαλον of Sophocles; the animal symbolising impetuous strength, and for this and other reasons consecrated also to the gods of rivers. There are nine stations, at each of which nine bulls are sacrificed; the poet does not say by whom, but there is no mention of an officiating priest. Each victim is held with its head towards the sea. The sacred rite, including the formal tasting of the inward parts, and the roasting of the thigh-bones covered with fat, for a sweet-smelling savour to the god, is just completed when the visitors arrive. Athena bids Telemachus approach, and inquire of Nestor about his father's fortunes; and when the young man hesitates, she assures him that by the grace of heaven his own thoughts, which are not contemptible, will be supplemented by the suggestion of a god. Nestor is sitting surrounded by his sons. Their comrades are preparing the sacrificial feast. On seeing the strangers, all come forward to greet them and to give them room. They are seated on soft sheepskins upon the sea sand; they taste of the inward parts, so sharing the communion of the sacred day (this is noticeable as an indication that burnt sacrifice was not only offered to the god, but partaken of in communion with him), and wine is handed to them for libations accompanied with prayer. It is offered first to Mentor as the elder guest, whereat Athena is pleased. She, in the person of Mentor, prays to Poseidon on behalf of Nestor and his sons and people, and for the prosperous return of Telemachus, when he has succeeded in his quest. She pours the libation, then hands the cup to Telemachus, who likewise prays. The feast then follows, and only after that Nestor thinks meet to ask the strangers who they are. Next morning, having discovered overnight that Athena in person had vouchsafed to visit them, Nestor and his sons hold a private sacrifice to Athena. To her is offered a heifer. The horns are gilded by the smith, who brings his tongs to hold the metal, and his hammer and anvil to beat it out; and Athena herself, says the poet, came to accept the sacrifice. Two youths lead in the heifer by her horns, water for the hands is brought from within the house, and barley-meal. Thrasymedes, the eldest son, stands by with an axe; Perseus holds the bowl to receive the blood; Nestor himself pours out the purifying water, and performs the initiatory rite of sprinkling the meal; and while he cuts off a lock of hair from the victim's head and throws it in the fire, he prays aloud and at some length to Athena. Thrasymedes then fells the victim, whereupon Eurydice, the wife of Nestor, his daughter and his daughters-in-law lift their voices in auspicious shouting. Then the head of the creature is raised from the ground, the jugular vein is opened by Pisistratus, the youngest son, and the blood poured out; the body is broken up, the thighbones are taken out and covered with two layers of fat, on which bits of raw flesh are placed. Nestor himself burns these on a fire of cleft wood, and pours wine thereon, while the young men stand by with five-pronged forks in their hands; and when the thigh-bones have been burned, the formal tasting of the inwards follows. The joints are then divided and roasted upon spits, which appear to be held at the fire by hand. It is worth while to be thus minute in following this, which is the fullest account of sacrifice in Homer. The details of Greek ritual are imperfectly known, and for the very reason that they were so familiar to the audience are but scantily described. And it is right to add that the swineherd Eumaeus, another model of hospitality and piety in his simpler way, when he entertains Odysseus as a supposed stranger, loses no time in religious formalities, but simply brings two porkers from the sties, and slays them; the word is ‘sacrifice,’ and this may imply some shadow of a religious act, but there is no mention of any ceremonial details, before the animals are seized, cut up, and roasted, and the hot flesh laid before Odysseus, spits and all, and then sprinkled over with white barley-meal. Nor is there any mention of libation of the wine, which Odysseus drinks in silence beside the meat which he devours, while planning evil against the suitors. But when the labouring men come in, bringing the swine from the pasture, the chief swineherd takes a bolder line, and sacrifices in honour of the stranger the best boar of the herd; and he goes about this with all due ceremony. They place the victim at the hearth. Eumaeus himself performs the initial rite by cutting off the hair, and as he throws it in the fire, he prays to all the gods for his master's safe return. He has no axe at hand, but fells the animal with a split piece of oak (this is the village butcher's plan to this day), then the blood is drawn, and the carcase broken up, whereon the swineherd performs the religious rite of laying pieces from all the limbs upon the fat, with which, as we may presume, the thigh-bones have been covered. These are sprinkled with meal and thrown on the fire, after which the cooking process is completed, and this time the joints are drawn from off the spits and set together upon trays. The swineherd distributes them to all present, reserving the prime piece for Hermes and the Nymphs, to whom he has prayed, and honouring Odysseus with the chine. Odysseus admires this hospitality. Eumaeus bids him eat and leave the future to the god, who can do all things according to his will. Once more a portion, probably the same that had been reserved for Hermes and the Nymphs, is offered to the gods, and some of the wine is poured out as libation to them, all by Eumaeus, who then places the goblet in the hands of Odysseus.

It is clear that the ritual of divine worship was known to gentle and simple, and might be performed by any head of a household, without the interference of a priest. Why then should there have existed separate ministers of religion? Chiefly as caretakers of the shrines and offerings, which, at some few centres, constituted the wealth of the gods, especially where there was a seat of divination. The reverence for the priest was, however, already accentuated by his consequent nearness to the god, to whom he prayed continually as ἀρητρ, and stood in a peculiarly intimate relation. The herald also, and the ordinary soothsayer, each forming a separate class, had special sacredness attaching to them in their limited functions.

2. Greek mythology in some ways adhered strictly to tradition, but it had also in every age a fluid and plastic element, which gave it endless adaptability. The differences in this respect between the Iliad and the Odyssey, though it is reasonable to assign them to different authors, and possibly to a different place and time, are less significant of wide divergence than has been often supposed. The most obvious discrepancy is the employment of Iris in the Iliad, and of Hermes in the Odyssey, as the messenger of the gods. The apparent anticipation of this feature in the last book of the Iliad affords one of the arguments by which that book is separated from the rest. But it should be observed that Hermes is there employed not exactly as a messenger but as a conductor. And we may recall the fact that, in the ‘Hymn to Demeter,’ while Iris carries the message of Zeus to earth, Hermes is his envoy to the shades. Another difference consists in the assignment of Aphrodite as wife to Hephaestus the divine artificer in the Odyssey, a bit of symbolism of the same kind as his marriage to the Grace in the eighteenth Iliad. This occurs, however, only in the song of Phemius, and may have been a special fancy of some minstrel, not a fixed assumption of mythology. She appears under her name of Cythereia both in the eighth hook and xviii. 192. This and her association with Ares perhaps reflect that aspect of her worship which was of Phoenician origin.

The attributes of some of the Olympians are altered, perhaps in consequence of the different tone of the whole poem. Athena is more distinctly the goddess of wisdom and good counsel, but her warlike attributes are retained when occasion serves; in two similes, B. vi. 233, B. xxiii. 160, she is associated with Hephaestus as having taught arts to mankind. Artemis is still the leader of the Nymphs, surpassing all the rest in stature as well as beauty. She retains her other attributes, and in particular is the special patroness of Penelope, as the faithful wife. Poseidon is constantly in evidence, except for the interval during which he is absent amongst the Ethiopians; he is the father of river gods, and also of Polyphemus, Neleus, and Nausithoös the first king of Phaeacia; hence he is the natural guardian of the Phaeacians, being the grandfather of Alcinoös, and his temple stands in the centre of their public place. This last, it is worth observing, is described as built or surrounded with great stones, sunk deep into the ground. But if the theory above suggested (p. 88) is true, the elaborate temple is part of that advanced civilisation in which the Phaeacians are imagined as anticipating the Ionians of the poet's own time. It is not certain, however, whether the ‘fair temple’ is to be regarded as hypaethral or covered in.

The other Olympians, including Apollo, fall somewhat into the background in the Odyssey; the cause of this probably being that the action is principally at sea. The chief allusion to Apollo is in the mention of a quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles, whereat Agamemnon rejoiced, because the Pythian oracle had told him that the strife between the noblest of the Achaeans would be for his advantage. This is the story of the first lay of Phemius, not reported at length, at which Odysseus veils his face as he sheds tears. The will of Zeus is of course present throughout, but is more often implied than spoken of, except at crises of the poem, when he grants the prayer of Athena, or of the Sun whose oxen have been slain, or sends Hermes upon a mission. The truth is that in the Odyssey the divine action is already often generalised; not only are gods spoken of in the plural more frequently than in the Iliad; but ‘god,’ in the singular, often occurs where it is uncertain what individual deity is in question.

Amongst the many minor powers in which the Odyssey abounds, the Harpies deserve special mention. The word appears in the Iliad, but only as an epithet of the mythological mare, out of whom by Zephyrus as sire the horses of Achilles came. There it means simply swift, or possibly swift as a storm wind; in two of the three places in the Odyssey it appears accordingly as a personification of tempest—snatching men away. But in the prayer of Penelope to Artemis, in the twentieth Odyssey, where she recalls the fate of the daughters of Pandareus, the Harpies, though still identified with storm wind, appear more distinctly as mythological personages, and it becomes more easy to conceive of the after-development of the legend concerning them, in which they snatch away the supper of Phmeus, and play other tricks familiar in comparative folklore.

3. Although silence in the Iliad is not always to be interpreted as implying ignorance, it is tolerably clear that the legends of cities and of great houses were already in a state of growth when the Odyssey was written. The version given of them differs from that in the Iliad as well as from the later literature, and is not everywhere consistent. Take first the story of Agamemnon. In this, although none of the incidents could be anticipated in the action of the former poem, some modifications may be traced within the Odyssey itself. In the story as told by Menelaus, or by Athena in Olympus, the guilt of Clytemnestra is implied, but she is not represented as having imbrued her hands in blood. But Agamemnon himself in Hades, or his shade rather, tells how, after he had received his death wound, Clytemnestra herself slew Cassandra over him, and left him without even closing his eyes. In other respects the stories differ: Agamemnon implies that he and his companions at the banquet given by Aegisthus were surprised and slain. In the account given by Proteus to Menelaus, Agamemnon is compelled to land near the abode of Aegisthus, and afterwards finds his way to Mycenae, where the banquet is held, but his companions are not slain. In neither passage is it implied that Orestes, in avenging his father, had killed his mother; unless this may be inferred from the story of Menelaus, who speaks of him as celebrating the funeral feast both of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. One point which has raised some confusion is the mention of the storm that caught Agamemnon at Cape Malea. It is probable that the poet, who elsewhere shows himself ignorant of the geography of the Peloponnesus, mistakes the point of Laconia for the point of Argolis. The story of Herakles also is more advanced in the later poem. In the Iliad he is merely the strong man, who like other heroes is the son of Zeus, but in no wise immortal, though he had taken part in some battle of the gods, in which he wounded Hera; and on another occasion he had wounded Hades in some obscure contest, described as having taken place at Pylos (also alluded to by Pindar). The encounter of Herakles with Hera and with Hades is touched upon in the speech of Dione (Iliad vi. 130 ff.). Many other points of his legend are referred to, especially that of his birth, in which Hera contrived that Eurystheus should have dominion over him. But his immortality appears only in Odyssey xi. 626, probably a late passage. His ghost is found in Hades, while he himself is feasting amongst the immortal gods, and holding beauteous Hebe. The shade compares his own fortune when on earth with the trials of Odysseus, and recalls the labours he had suffered at the bidding of Eurystheus, although he was the son of Zeus; above all the hardest of them, that of bringing the hound of Hades (not yet named Cerberus) to the light of day. Herakles, then, has been raised to the skies; Menelaus, on the other hand, is promised a future life on the Elysian plain, which is described in language nearly resembling that in which Olympus itself is elsewhere spoken of. The gods are to grant him this because he is the son-in-law of Zeus. No reason is given why he and Rhadamanthus are thus preferred to many others, who are of the same divine lineage. But in the eleventh Odyssey Minos is already represented as a judge amongst the dead. The worship of heroes, in later times, did not imply immortality in the sense of being raised to heaven with Herakles, or sent to Elysium with Menelaus, although the latter, or something like it, seems to have been the belief of Pindar. They were imagined as having exceptional privileges in Hades, and as exercising an important influence over the fortunes of their descendants, being mysteriously present in the neighbourhood of their tombs. There is no trace of this peculiar worship even in the Odyssey. It acquired fresh strength and prevalence after the troubles of which the Odyssey shows us the beginning, when a feebler race longed for the protection of the heroic chiefs, who had been either driven out or slain during a time of anarchy. But to this we shall return. Meanwhile one more passage of the Nekyia must be adduced to illustrate the tendency in the Odyssey to extend the privilege of immortality in a modified shape to some exceptionally favoured men. The sons of Leda, wife of Tyndareus, who are here spoken of as his sons, and not the sons of Zeus, have both gone beneath the ground, but there below are permitted on alternate days to be alive. That is their divine privilege. We have here in its simplest form a legend which was afterwards much elaborated. In the third Iliad it had not yet been thought of.

4. The time represented in the Odyssey is the commencement of a period of disturbance and unsettlement; yet there is more evidence than in the Iliad of conceptions belonging to a comparatively settled state of society. In this, as we have seen, there may be some reflection of the poet's own time. The picture of Cyclopian and Laestrygonian life betokens a consciousness of the value of civilisation and the arts of peace. The repose of Menelaus in his own hall, more rich and splendid than that which he had left in desolation, and the tranquil life of Nestor and his sons, are contrasted with the troubled state of Ithaca in the continual absence of Odysseus; the ‘confusion in the little isle,’ which Telemachus is not yet old and experienced enough to remedy. There is a trace of something like oriental despotism in the promise of Menelaus to give Telemachus possession of a town, from which his friend engages to evict the population; so Agamemnon in the ninth Iliad offers to his offended comrade seven towns on the borderland between Argos and Pylos, which had to be kept under by the sword in order to secure the tribute which the master was to exact. But Odysseus in Ithaca before the Trojan war is supposed to have held his ascendency over the neighbouring chieftains and their retainers without violence, exercising a gentle sway. We find little, however, as yet of anything corresponding to civic life. There is a public place to which the people assemble for sacrifice and festival and to hear the edict of the king, who may have previously made known his will to his privy council. But loyalty, when not compelled by force majeure, depended wholly upon personal qualities. It was otherwise with the family and the immediate household, whether of kings or private men. They were bound together not only by the pressure of necessity or the force of affection, but by a religious constraint, which had in it an obligation to which we should give the name of duty. The solidarity of the family was already an immemorial tradition. The filial piety of Telemachus towards the father whom since early childhood he has never seen; the grief of Laertes, which is comparable to that of Wordsworth's Michael, have a deeper source than mere fondness for a person beloved. The attachment of Eumaeus to his lord is a mingled feeling, consisting partly of loyalty to a master, and partly of affection for one who has treated him well when he was in his power. There is in it a sort of dumb faithfulness like that of Argus the dog; but it finds expression in the care which he spends daily upon the herd, and his grief at the exactions from which it suffers. The endurance of Odysseus and his control over his feelings is nowhere more tried, not even in his meeting with Penelope, than in the hut of the swineherd. Here again the ideal is accentuated by contrast. The faithfulness of Eumaeus and Eurycleia is opposed to the greed and self-seeking of the goatherd Melanthius and the frivolity of the maid-servants.

The action of the Iliad turns primarily upon the breach of the rites of hospitality, but it is in the Odyssey that we find the exercise of that virtue fully set forth. Once more in this regard we turn to Nestor, Menelaus, Helen and Eumaeus. The courtliness of Helen, who from her experience of life has acquired a quickness of observation in social matters far greater than is shared by her phlegmatic lord, is shown by her discovery of the likeness between Telemachus and his father and her suspicion of the young man's identity. Very charming also is the magic spell by which she soothes the stranger into simple enjoyment of the evening's entertainment, leaving all thoughts of business cares until the following morning. This is expressed symbolically by an Egyptian drug which she instils into the wine-cup, but the reader dwells more on her personal charm. The picture of manners would be incomplete without the mention of youthful comradeship so finely exemplified in the intercourse of Telemachus with Pisistratus. The respect for age is also gracefully portrayed,—for example, when the inspired man hands the bowl for libation to the supposed Mentor first.

5. Proverbial maxims in the Odyssey, though still naive and childlike, are both more frequent and more reflective than in the Iliad. For example, ‘All men have need of the gods’ is given as a reason for prayer. ‘The mind of the eternal gods is not quickly changed.’ ‘A god, if he so will, may save even from afar.’ ‘Not even the gods can ward off death from those they love.’ ‘A courageous heart has always the best chance among strangers.’ ‘The gods love not harsh deeds, but honour justice and considerate conduct.’ Odysseus wishes for the maiden who has shown him friendship ‘a husband and a house and unanimity at home, than which nothing is better or more precious.’ Several of these wise sayings are placed by the poet in the mouth of the disguised Athena.

The ethical vocabulary is not much enlarged (except in the use of certain epithets, such as περίϕρων), but partly from the nature of the poem, the ideal of humanity held up to admiration has far more in it of justice and of self-control. Odysseus escapes from countless dangers to which not his own imprudence, but the rashness and wilfulness of his companions have exposed him, to their own ruin. They disregard express warnings and commands from the gods, but in doing so they exhibit the unrighteousness and irregular impulses of their nature. Odysseus is saved by the friendship of the gods, notwithstanding the revenge of Poseidon for the condign punishment which the mortal had inflicted on the wild son of a tempestuous god. We are not merely reading between the lines when we interpret this to mean that faithfulness, patience, endurance, temperance are sure of their reward. This is not to allegorise Homer; and even Horace is not far from the mark when he speaks of the poet of the Odyssey as a teacher of Justice and Truth, though in following his Stoic authorities he has carried the fancy to excess. And the impressive scene in which the returned Odysseus leaps on the great threshold, bow in hand, with Athena and Telemachus beside him, is no mere climax of a romantic story, but the revelation of a day of judgment.

Throughout the period which we have now reviewed there is observable a strain of pure religious feeling, combined with deep and penetrating impressions of an essentially moral order, but hampered with the inevitable inconsistencies of polytheism, with popular superstitions, and with a backward or inefficient stage of social institutions and of ethical reflection. We have to imagine a state of mind in which chance words striking upon the ear, in moments of mental tension, had an acknowledged power to encourage or to depress; when it mattered seriously whether a great bird flew on the right hand or on the left, yet in which prayer was offered to the immortals in the simplest faith, and the devotion of child to parent and a man's care for those of his own household were as perfect as at any subsequent time; when divine and superhuman powers were imagined as in perpetual conflict, revenging unintended slights or insults with inordinate vehemence, and yet the supreme will of Zeus, and the final determination of destiny, was believed to be in harmony with eternal right; when gods were imagined as living ‘at ease,’ and yet as caring for mankind, and visiting them, to judge between the righteous and the wicked; when fate was thought of as absolute, and yet men were held responsible for their own misdoings. The difficulty of reconciling such thoughts to the facts of life was perhaps not greater than other ages have experienced, but it was not felt or thought of. The same person in a moment of disappointment would accuse the gods of envious cruelty, and in a time of need approach them with a simple feeling of dependence and a sincere hope that they would answer prayer and accept the offerings made to them in accordance with the ancient ritual. However difficult it is for us to enter into such a condition of the human spirit, it is necessary to do so if we would understand the subsequent development of religious conceptions amongst the ancient Greeks.