The Odyssey By Homer Summary and Analysis Book 5 - Odysseus — Nymph and Shipwreck

Summary

The gods have gathered again on Olympus. Poseidon is notably absent, and Athena once more advocates Odysseus' case. Zeus agrees to send his son Hermes immediately to Ogygia in order to liberate the king of Ithaca from Calypso. Zeus advises Athena to help Telemachus return home unharmed, escaping the suitors' ambush.

On Ogygia, Calypso, aware that she must not cross Zeus, begrudgingly agrees to follow Hermes' directions. She provides a raft and supplies for Odysseus but no escort.

The hero himself is first seen weeping on a beach " . . . as always, / wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish, / gazing out over the barren sea through blinding tears" (5.93-95). Odysseus wants to go home. At first understandably skeptical of Calypso's offer of freedom, he soon joins preparations for his departure.

Poseidon, returning from a visit to Ethiopia, spots Odysseus on the open sea, raises his trident, and sends a swamping storm that nearly drowns him. With the help of Athena and a sea nymph named Leucothea, Odysseus makes it ashore on the island of Scheria, home of the Phaeacians.

Analysis

Throughout the epic, Homer casually reveals upcoming events in a way that confirms the theory that the audience is already familiar with the plot. He does so again early in Book 5 (5.33 ff) when he speaks of Odysseus' future while giving orders to Hermes.

The poet's talent is shown in the manner in which he spins the yarn. One of his favorite devices is rhetoric, effective manipulation of language, especially in the characters' public speeches. One example is in the gathering of the assembly on Ithaca in Book 2. Another example is Athena's plea to Zeus in the divine assembly on Olympus at the beginning of Book 5. Considering that The Odyssey is one of the earliest examples of Western literature still in existence, the level of rhetoric is quite sophisticated.

Athena convincingly employs irony to make her point. She suggests that Zeus and the other gods never again allow a mortal king to be kind or just since Odysseus' fate has established that those characteristics are not rewarded. He has lost his ships and crew, is abandoned on Ogygia, and his son's life is in jeopardy. Athena is just warming to the theme when Zeus interrupts her. Like a convinced judge as well as an indulgent father, he concedes her case and suggests that they move on with her plan to free Odysseus.

Because Book 5 presents the reader's first meeting with Odysseus, it is interesting that Homer chooses to show him alone on a beach on Calypso's island, apparently defeated and weeping. Throughout the poem, Odysseus is a series of apparent contradictions, a much more complicated character than we would find in any stereotypical epic hero.

The modern reader might be bothered by the apparent double standard of morality in the epic, in which Penelope is expected to be absolutely celibate for 20 years, rejecting all suitors and faithfully awaiting her husband's return, while Odysseus has at least two extended sexual liaisons. When the reader first meets him on Ogygia, he has been spending the nights in Calypso's bed and his days mourning his absence from home and family. Homer's audiences would not have had difficulty reconciling these differences. Odysseus does want to return to Penelope and his life on Ithaca despite the obvious attractions — physical, spiritual, and mortal — that Calypso has to offer him. It does not occur to Odysseus or his contemporary audience that he has one code of behavior for himself and another for Penelope.

Calypso rages at the double standard when Hermes announces that she must let Odysseus go. She launches into a rant against the male gods, "unrivaled lords of jealousy" (5.131), who think nothing of gods carousing with mortal women but condemn female gods when they take mortal lovers. She cites an impressive litany of examples. However, in the end, she must accede to the judgment of Zeus.

Glossary

Tithonus in ancient Greek mythology, husband of Dawn.

Pieria region located north of Mount Olympus.

pungent having a sharp or piercing taste or smell; also, causing sharp pain, especially to the feelings.

ambrosia food of the gods, thought to grant immortality.

Orion mythological hunter or the constellation named after him.

Styx one of the rivers of the Land of the Dead across which the souls of the dead are ferried.

Pleiades, Plowman, Great Bear, and Hunter constellations.

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