The Odyssey by Homer

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Book 5 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Hermes: the messenger of Zeus

Calypso: nymph who holds Odysseus captive for seven years

Odysseus: the epic hero of the narrative

Leukothea: sea goddess who aids Odysseus in his plight

At a council of the gods, Athene renews her suit to Zeus to free Odysseus from Calypso’s isle. Zeus complies, and sends Hermes on his way to break the news to Calypso. Hermes descends to earth from Mount Olympus, and alights on Calypso’s isle. There, he tells the beautiful goddess that Zeus wills her to release Odysseus. Though distraught and angry over Zeus’s decree, Calypso obeys. After Hermes has departed, the goddess searches for Odysseus, and finds him weeping upon the shore, staring out upon the barren waters.

Calypso tells Odysseus of the gods’ will, and though he initially suspects a trick, Odysseus welcomes the news. Calypso offers him immortality if he should choose to remain with her, but Odysseus refuses, longing only for his wife and home. The next day, supplied with carpenter’s tools from Calypso, Odysseus begins making a large raft for himself, one with a sail and tackle capable of making a great journey. Calypso provides him with food, water, and wine, and fills his sails with a strong following wind.

Odysseus departs from the island and sails for seventeen days before sighting Scheria, the isle of the Phaeaceans. Poseidon, returning from Ethiopia, notes Odysseus’ escape and decides to harass him a bit more. He unleashes the fury of the storm clouds, and sweeps the tiny vessel with all four of the world’s mighty winds. Odysseus despairs, wishing he had died in Troy rather than suffer such an ignoble fate. A wave tears him out of the raft, although he is eventually able to surface and regain the raft.

The sea goddess Leukothea, once the mortal Ino, pities Odysseus. She advises him to abandon both the raft and the weighty clothing that Calypso had given him as a parting gift. She also bestows upon him a magic veil that, if tied about his body, would give him the stamina he needs to swim to Scheria. Odysseus chooses to wait until the raft is destroyed, then he abandons his clothing, ties the veil around his body, and begins swimming. Meanwhile, Poseidon, satisfied with his mischief, leaves the scene. Athene arrives and stills all the winds but the North Wind. Odysseus is carried toward Scheria for two days until, on the third, he comes very close to the shore.

Unfortunately, there are rough breakers at the edge of the island, and a sheer cliff beyond them. While Odysseus is pondering his next move, a wave carries him toward the cliff, but Athene gives him the notion to grab the rocks in order to resist the water’s pull toward the cliff face. The backwash of the wave, however, pulls him again out to sea. Climbing to the surface of the water once more, Odysseus swims around the island until he sees a river outlet within accessible range. After intoning a hurried prayer to the river, Odysseus swims into the river safely. He crawls upon the shore and collapses in complete exhaustion. He then rises, and tosses the veil back into the river stream, as Leukothea had commanded, and the sea goddess retrieves her magic cloth.

Fearing that he might freeze to death on the windy riverbank, Odysseus ascends to a wood, where he buries himself in a pile of leaves beneath two dense bushes. Athene then lulls him to sleep so that he might recover from his trials.

Discussion and Analysis
Here we meet Odysseus at last, and we are given many examples of his steadfast spirit and endurance. His willingness to retain his mortality and withstand the many dangers that lie ahead of him endears Odysseus’ character to his audience. There is always a hollow mockery in Homer ’s depictions of the gods’ antics, and we are most always interested in the deeds of men, not immortals. Therefore, as scholars have pointed out, Odysseus’ rejection of Calypso’s offer may keep him in danger, but it also keeps him part of the dynamic world of...

(The entire section is 1,165 words.)