The Odyssey of Homer (Cowper)/Notes

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Notes

Note I.

Bk. x. l. 101-106 (Hom. x. l. 81-86).—It is held now that this passage should be explained by the supposition that the Homeric bards had heard tales of northern latitudes, where, in summer-time, the darkness was so short that evening was followed almost at once by morning. Thus the herdsman coming home in the twilight at one day’s close might meet and hail the shepherd who was starting betimes for the next day’s work. Line 86 in the Greek ought probably to be translated, “For the paths of night and day are close together,” i.e., the entrance of day follows hard on the entrance of night.


Note II.

Bk. xi. l. 162, 163 (Hom. xi. l. 134, 135).—

θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρός μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται.

Others translate, “And from the sea shall thy own death come,” suggesting that Ulysses after all was lost at sea. This is the rendering followed by Tennyson in his poem “Ulysses” (and see Dante, Inferno, Canto xxvi.). It is a more natural translation of the Greek, and gives a far more wonderful vista for the close of the Wanderer’s life.


Note III.

Bk. xix. l. 712 (Hom. xix. l. 573).—The word πελέκεας, for which Cowper gives as a paraphrase “spikes, crested with a ring,” elsewhere means axes, and ought so to be translated here. For since Cowper’s day an axe-head of the Mycenæan period has been discovered with the blade pierced so as to form a hole through which an arrow could pass. (See Tsountas and Manatt, The Mycenæan Age.) Axes of this type were not known to Cowper, and hence the hypothesis in his text. He realised correctly the essential conditions of the feat proposed: the axes must have been set up, one behind the other, in the way he suggested for his ringed stakes.


Note IV.

Bk. xxii. l. 139-162 (Hom. xxii. l. 126-143).—How Melanthius got out of the hall remains a puzzle. Cowper assumes a second postern, but there is no evidence for this, and l. 139 ff. (l. 126 ff. in the Greek) suggest rather strongly that there was only one. Unfortunately, the crucial word ῥῶγες which occurs in the line describing Melanthius’ exit is not found elsewhere. “He went up,” the poet says, “through the ῥῶγες of the hall.” Merry suggests that “he scrambled up to the loopholes that were pierced in the wall.” Others suppose that there was a ladder at the inner end of the hall leading to the upper story, and on through passages to the armoury.

In l. 141 (l. 128 in the Greek) the word translated “street” by Cowper is usually rendered “corridor.”

F. M. S.

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