Homer: Odyssey: Extracts from Book V: Calypso is ordered by the Gods to release Odysseus | Sabidius.com
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Ancient Greece

Homer: Odyssey: Extracts from Book V: Calypso is ordered by the Gods to release Odysseus


In this piece of translation, Sabidius turns to Homer’s second great epic poem, the “Odyssey”, which is believed to have been committed to writing in the eighth century B.C. This is the story of the long and tortuous homeward journey of Odysseus after the ten year siege of Troy has been successfully completed. In fact, it takes Odysseus an equal period of time, ten years, to make his way home, and on the way he loses all his companions, who are drowned in a ship-wreck. At the beginning of these two short extracts from Book V, we find Odysseus in a particularly woe-begone state, weeping and wailing on the shore as he looks out over the sea. On the face of it, it seems strange that this hero of the Trojan war should have been reduced to such a maudlin state; however, according to the legend Odysseus was effectively Calypso’s prisoner on her small island home of Ogygia for as many as seven out of the ten years of his ‘Odyssey’. This makes his miserable condition a little more understandable perhaps!

These extracts display most of the standard formulaic features of Homer’s poetry, based, as it was, on a long tradition of oral composition. Such features include standard epithets, standard usage of words for introducing speeches, and even, on occasions repetition of whole sentences. With regard to epithets, Homer uses particular words or phrases to describe individuals. Thus, Hermes is repeatedly called the ‘messenger’ and the ‘giant-killer’, Zeus is ‘aegis-bearing’, and Calypso ‘divine among goddesses’ or ‘queenly’. As for Odysseus, he is habitually called ‘great -hearted’, even during all those tears, and ‘wily’ or ‘cunning’, an appropriate epithet for the inventor of the Wooden Horse, by the use of which stratagem the Greeks had conquered Troy. Examples of sentence repetition are as follows: lines 103-104 and 137-138; and lines 110-111 and 133-134. To facilitate identification, these lines are shown in italics in the translation below.

The text for these extracts and the introductory passages are taken from “A Greek Anthology”, JACT, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Ll. 75-153. Odysseus is being detained on the island of Ogygia by the nymph Calypso, who wants him to become her husband. At a council of the gods, Athena attacks Zeus for doing nothing to help Odysseus and persuades him to send Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to order Calypso to release him. He speeds over the sea until he finds Calypso alone in her cave, singing as she moves up and down on her loom.

Standing there, the Argus-slaying messenger (of the gods) gazed (in wonder). But, when he had marvelled all (these things) in his heart, forthwith he went into the wide cave. And Calypso, most divine of goddesses, did not fail to recognise him, when she saw (him) face to face; for the immortal gods are not unknown to one another, not even if one dwells in a home far away. But he did not find great-hearted Odysseus within, as one might have thought he would, but he weeps, as he sits on the shore in his accustomed spot (lit. where (he had been) before), rending his heart with tears and groans and sorrows. He continued to stare out over the barren sea. And Calypso, most divine among goddesses, questioned Hermes, after she had seated (him) on a bright shining chair: “Why, pray, have you come to me, Hermes of the golden-wand, honoured and welcome (though you are)? For you have not visited at all often before. Say whatever is in your mind! My heart prompts me to do your bidding if I can do (it), and if it is (something) that has been done. But follow me further so that I can place food and drink (lit. guest-gifts) beside you.” So, having spoken thus, the goddess set a table before (him), which she heaped with ambrosia, and mixed the red nectar (in a cup). So, the Argus-slaying messenger (of the gods) ate and drank. But when he had dined and satisfied his appetite with food, then he addressed her with these words in reply: “Goddess, you ask me, a god, why I have come. And I will tell you the reason truthfully; for you bid (me to do so). (It was) Zeus (who) bade me to come hither against my will (lit. not being willing). And who would willingly speed across such an unspeakably great (expanse of) salt water? Nor (is there) close at hand any city of mortals, who would offer sacrifices and choice hecatombs (i.e. public sacrifices of a hundred bullocks) to the gods. But it is just not possible for any god there is, surely, no way for another god to evade or frustrate the will of Zeus who bears the aegis. He says that there is her with you with you a man, most woeful of all those warriors who fought around Priam’s city for nine years, and in the tenth, having sacked the city, went homewards. But on the journey home they sinned against Athena, who roused against them a violent wind and towering waves. There, all the rest of his noble companions perished, but the wind and the waves that bore him, brought (him) here. Now I command you to send him off as soon as possible. For (it is) not his fate to perish here far from his friends, but it is still his destiny to see his friends and reach his high-roofed house and his native land (once more).”

So he spoke, and Calypso, most divine of goddesses, shuddered, and she spoke and addressed him, with these winged words: “Gods, you are hard-hearted, (and) jealous beyond (all) others, (you) who are outraged at goddesses lying openly with men, (even) if one has made (a man) her husband. So (it was), when rosy-fingered Dawn took to herself Orion, and (you) gods, (while) living at ease (yourselves), were greatly outraged at her (conduct), envied her for a long time, until chaste Artemis of the golden throne, assailed (him) in Ortygia and slew (him) with her gentle shafts. And so (it was again) when Demeter with the lovely tresses, yielding to her passion, was intimate in love and intercourse with Iasion in the thrice ploughed fallow land, nor was Zeus unaware of this for long, and smote him with a bright thunderbolt and slew (him). And so again, (you) gods, do you now begrudge me that I should live with a mortal man. Yet I saved him, as he strode around the keel (all) alone, when Zeus struck his swift ship with his bright thunderbolt, and shattered (it) in the midst of the wine-dark sea. All the rest of his fine companions perished there, but the wind and the waves that bore him brought (him) hither. I tended him with kindness, and told (him) I would make (him) immortal and ageless all his days. But since it is just not possible for any other god to evade or frustrate in any way the will of Zeus who bears the aegis, let him go his way over the barren sea, if he (so) urges and commands (it). But I shall not escort him anywhere. For I have (lit. there are to me) at hand no oared ships and crewmen which could send him off over the sea’s broad back. But I shall counsel him with a ready heart him, nor shall I conceal (anything), so that he may reach his native land quite unscathed.”

Then, the Argus-slaying messenger (of the gods) answered her (thus): “So, send (him) off now, and be wary of the wrath of Zeus, lest one day, in his malice, he may treat you harshly in some way.”

So, speaking thus, the mighty killer of Argus went his way. And the queenly nymph went to the great-hearted Odysseus, since she had hearkened to the message of Zeus. She found him sitting on the shore; nor were his eyes ever dry of tears, and life’s sweetness was ebbing away (from him) in tearful longing for his homeward journey, since the nymph no longer pleased him.

Ll. 201-224. Calypso then promises Odysseus that he can build a raft to escape and that she will provision it. However, he distrusts her and does not agree until she swears on oath that she has no intention of tricking him, but is only trying to help him. They return to the cave to feast. Then Calypso makes one final attempt to persuade Odysseus to stay with her.

But when they had had their fill of food and drink, Calypso, most divine of goddesses, began her speech with these (words): “So, Zeus-born son of Laertes, ever resourceful Odysseus, you now wish to go home to your native land at once, (do you)? Well then, may you still have joy (of it)! If you could know in your mind how much suffering fate has in store for you before you reach your native land, you would remain here with me on this very spot, and guard this house, and you would be immortal, yet (still) desiring to see your wife, for whom you long all the time every day. In truth, I claim not to be inferior to her either in form or in stature, since it is in no way seemly for mortals to compete with immortals in body and looks.”

Then, Odysseus, (the man of) many wiles, addressed her in reply: “Queenly goddess, do not be angry with me about this. I, myself, know full well that Penelope, excelling in thoughtfulness, (as she does,) seems weaker to look upon than you in appearance and stature; for she is a mortal, but you (are) immortal and ageless. But, even so, I wish, and I yearn every day, to return to my home, and to see the day of my homecoming. And, if one of the gods shall wreck (me) again on the wine-dark sea, I shall endure (it), having in my breast a heart inured to suffering. For I have suffered very much already, and I have toiled much amid the waves and in war; and let this be added to these (things).”

Postscript. And so they sleep together in the cave. In the morning Calypso gives Odysseus tools to be build a raft. On the fifth day he finishes it. She gives him clothing, provisions and nautical advice, and he sets forth on his raft in quest of his native land of Ithaca. Although his raft is wrecked in a storm sent by Poseidon, the god of the sea, Odysseus is washed up safely on the shores of the land of the Phaeacians.

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