Why Does Athena Help Odysseus

In Book One of The Odyssey, why did the goddess Athena want Zeus to send Hermes to Calypso?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, Athena, the goddess of battles and wisdom, shows favor for the protagonist, Odysseus. This is because Odysseus is a strong and courageous warrior. He is also a man who uses his mind, and these are things that Athena values. 

In book one, Athena intercedes on behalf of Odysseus before her father, Zeus. Calypso, a nymph, has Odysseus trapped and is trying to make him forget his home. Here is part of Athena's plea for Odysseus: 

Then the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, answered him: "Father of us all, thou son of Cronos, high above all lords, aye, verily that man lies low in a destruction that is his due; so, too, may any other also be destroyed who does such deeds. But my heart is torn for wise Odysseus, hapless man, who far from his friends has long been suffering woes in a sea-girt isle, where is the navel of the sea. 'Tis a wooded isle, and therein dwells a goddess, daughter of Atlas of baneful mind, who knows the depths of every sea, and himself holds the tall pillars which keep earth and heaven apart. His daughter it is that keeps back that wretched, sorrowing man; and ever with soft and wheedling words she beguiles him that he may forget Ithaca. But Odysseus, in his longing to see were it but the smoke leaping up from his own land, yearns to die. Yet thy heart doth not regard it, Olympian. Did not Odysseus beside the ships of the Argives offer thee sacrifice without stint in the broad land of  Troy? Wherefore then didst thou conceive such wrath against him, O Zeus?” 

Zeus answers that he doesn't bear any wrath toward Odysseus. In fact, he praises many attributes of Odysseus. Zeus explains that it is Poseidon who burns with wrath against Odysseus because Odysseus killed the Cyclops. 

Then, Athena asks her father to send Hermes to tell Calypso that the gods are resolved that Odysseus should go free and be able to return home. She asks for Hermes to go because he is the messenger god. With his winged feet, he will reach Calypso the fastest. Athena doesn't want to do it because she wants to go back to Ithaca to help Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, prepare for his father's return and to defeat the suitors who have taken over the home. 

Below is the quote that contains Athena's request of Zeus to send Hermes to declare the desire of the gods to release Odysseus: 

“Father of us all, thou son of Cronos, high above all lords, if indeed this is now well pleasing to the blessed gods, that the wise Odysseus should return to his own home, let us send forth Hermes, the messenger, Argeiphontes, to the isle Ogygia, that with all speed he may declare to the fair-tressed nymph our fixed resolve, even the return of Odysseus of the steadfast heart, that he may come home. But, as for me, I will go to Ithaca, that I may the more arouse his son, and set courage in his heart to call to an assembly the long-haired Achaeans, and speak out his word to all the wooers, who are ever slaying his thronging sheep and his sleek kine of shambling gait. And I will guide him to Sparta and to sandy Pylos, to seek tidings of the return of his dear father, if haply he may hear of it, that good report may be his among men.” 

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Athena wants Zeus, her father, to send Hermes to Calypso to tell her that she must release her prisoner, Odysseus. Calypso has been holding him captive for about seven years, and she will not let him go because she is in love with him.

Athena tries to convince Zeus by reminding him of the honor Odysseus paid him "by the Argive ships and [the] offer [of] sacrifices on the plain of Troy." Zeus agrees that Odysseus is "beyond all mortal men in wisdom, [and] beyond them too in giving honor to the immortal gods . . . " However, Zeus has been reticent to get involved because his brother, Poseidon, is angry at Odysseus because Odysseus blinded Poseidon's son, Polyphemus, the Cyclops. 

Now, though, he decides that it would be appropriate to intervene on Odysseus's behalf, and Poseidon will just have to get over his anger. The gods had just been lamenting how mortal men tend to blame the gods for all their problems, so the fact that Odysseus does not do this—in fact, he pays greater homage to the gods than other mortals—probably influences Zeus to get involved and help him escape Calypso's island.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, you have to remember that Odysseus is a guy who Athena really likes.  Throughout this whole epic, she will keep helping him out in various ways.  This is the first place where she does this.

What is going on is that Poseidon is really angry at Odysseus.  Because of that, Odysseus has been on Calypso's island, more or less imprisoned there, for 10 years.  Athena knows that Odysseus wants to get back home to Penelope and she wants to help him.  So she gets Zeus to have Hermes go and tell Calypso to let Odysseus go.

So the short answer is that Athena wants Zeus to do this so that Calypso will release Odysseus.

julie_feng | Student

Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, Odysseus's guardian and protector in many ways. They are both extremely clever figures, which bonds them. Gods often have "favorite" mortals and meddle in their lives. Athena really admires Odysseus's qualities, so she makes him into one of her "favorites." In a way, she is his patron goddess. (It also helps that Athena and Poseidon, who hates Odysseus, have a bit of a rivalry.) 

Odysseus has been imprisoned on Calypso's island, Ogygia, for about seven years. Calypso is a nymph who has fallen in love with Odysseus and wants to make him her immortal husband. As time passes, Odysseus grows more and more depressed as his desire to go home to his true love (his wife Penelope) increases. Athena want to help him get home, so she goes to her father Zeus and asks for his help. Zeus sends the messenger god Hermes to Calypso. He tells her to let Odysseus go. Calypso is angry, but eventually concedes and helps Odysseus leave the island.