"[T]his last astonishes the Reader, and he is so intent upon it, that he has not attention to consider the absurdity in the manner of Ulysses's landing: In this moment when [Homer] perceives the mind of the Reader as it were intoxicated with these beauties, he steals Ulysses on shore, and dismisses the Phæacians; all this takes up but eight verses."
— Pope, Alexander (1688-1744), Broome, W. and Fenton, E.
There is nothing in the whole Odyssey that more shocks our reason than the exposing Ulysses asleep on the shores by the Phæacians : "The passage (says Aristotle in his Poetics ) where Ulysses is landed in Ithaca , is so full of absurdities, that they would be intolerable in a bad Poet; but Homer has conceal'd them under an infinity of admirable beauties, with which he has adorn'd all that part of the Odyssey ; these he has crowded together, as so many charms to hinder our perceiving the defects of the story:" Aristotle must be allow'd to speak with great judgment; for what probability is there that a man so prudent as Ulysses , who was alone in a vessel at the discretion of strangers, should sleep so soundly, as to be taken out of it, carried with all his baggage on shore, and the Phæacians should set sail, and he never awake? This is still more absurd, if we remember that Ulysses has his soul so strongly bent upon his country; Is it then possible, that he could be thus sunk into a lethargy, in the moment when he arrives at it? "However (says Mons. Dacier in his reflections upon Aristotle's Poetics )Homer was not ashamed of that Absurdity, but not being able to omit it, he used it to give Probability to the succeeding story: It was necessary for Ulysses to land alone, in order to his concealment; if he had been discover'd, the suitors would immediately have destroy'd him, if not as the real Ulysses , yet under the pretext of his being an impostor; they would then have seiz'd his dominions, and married Penelope : Now if he had been waked, the Phæacians would have been obliged to have attended him, which he could not have deny'd with decency, nor accepted with safety: Homer therefore had no other way left to unravel his fable happily: But he knew what was absurd in this method, and uses means to hide it; he lavishes out all his wit and address, and lays together such an abundance of admirable Poetry, that the mind of the Reader is so enchanted, that he perceives not the defect; he is like Ulysses lull'd asleep, and knows no more than that Heroe, how he comes there. That great Poet first describes the ceremony of Ulysses taking leave of Alcinous , and his Queen Arete ; then he sets off the swiftness of the vessel by two beautiful comparisons; he describes the Haven with great exactness, and adds to it the description of the cave of the Nymphs; this last astonishes the Reader, and he is so intent upon it, that he has not attention to consider the absurdity in the manner of Ulysses's landing: In this moment when he perceives the mind of the Reader as it were intoxicated with these beauties, he steals Ulysses on shore, and dismisses the Phæacians; all this takes up but eight verses. And then lest the Reader should reflect upon it, he immediately introduces the Deities, and gives us a Dialogue between Jupiter and Neptune . This keeps up still our wonder, and our Reason has not time to deliberate; and when the dialogue is ended, a second wonder succeeds, the bark is transform'd into a rock: This is done in the sight of the Phæacians , by which method the Poet carries us a-while from the consideration of Ulysses , by removing the scene to a distant Island; there he detains us 'till we may be suppos'd to have forgot the past absurdities, by relating the astonishment of Alcinous at the sight of the prodigy, and his offering up to Neptune , to appease his anger, a sacrifice of twelve bulls. Then he returns to Ulysses who now wakes, and not knowing the place where he was, (because Minerva made all things appear in a disguised view) he complains of his misfortunes, and accuses the Phæacians of infidelity; at length Minerva comes to him in the shape of a young shepherd, &c. Thus this absurdity, which appears in the fable when examin'd alone, is hidden by the beauties that surround it: this passage is more adorn'd with fiction, and more wrought up with a variety of poetical ornaments than most other places of the Odyssey . From hence Aristotle makes an excellent observation. All efforts imaginable (says that Author) ought to be made to form the fable rightly from the beginning; but if it so happen that some places must necessarily appear absurd, they must be admitted, especially if they contribute to render the rest more probable: but the Poet ought to reserve all the ornaments of diction for these weak parts: The places that have either shining sentiments or manners have no occasion for them; a dazling expression rather damages them, and serves only to eclipse their beauty.
The Odyssey of Homer. Translated from the Greek, 5 vols. (London: Printed for Bernard Lintot, 1725-26).