Odysseus through horrific storm leaves behind captivity under Calypso

Fantasy of Odysseus in Calypso's captivity

As Calypso’s captive on her island of Ogygia, Odysseus had an easy life, other than that gorgeous goddess regularly raping him. Calypso even promised to make Odysseus immortal. What person wouldn’t settle for captivity and sexual servitude for a life of ease and immortality with a goddess or god? Odysseus was unable to settle for Calypso because he had a home. No captivity — physical or psychological — can provide enough other benefits to stop a person from wanting to go home.

Odysseus understood that going home would be a painful ordeal. After Zeus ordered her to set Odysseus free, Calypso urged him to stay:

Do you really want to go home to your beloved country
right away? Now? Well, you still have my blessings.
But if you have any idea of all the pain
you’re destined to suffer before getting home,
you’d stay here with me, and be deathless.

{ οὕτω δὴ οἶκόνδε φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν
αὐτίκα νῦν ἐθέλεις ἰέναι; σὺ δὲ χαῖρε καὶ ἔμπης.
εἴ γε μὲν εἰδείης σῇσι φρεσὶν ὅσσα τοι αἶσα
κήδε᾽ ἀναπλῆσαι, πρὶν πατρίδα γαῖαν ἱκέσθαι,
ἐνθάδε κ᾽ αὖθι μένων σὺν ἐμοὶ τόδε δῶμα φυλάσσοις
ἀθάνατός τ᾽ εἴης }

Odysseus faced down Calypso’s deceptions and projections. He responded:

My heart aches for the day I return to my home.
If some god hits me hard as I sail the deep purple,
I’ll weather it like the sea-bitten veteran I am.
God knows I’ve suffered and had my share of sorrows
in war and at sea. I can take more if I have to.

{ ἀλλὰ καὶ ὣς ἐθέλω καὶ ἐέλδομαι ἤματα πάντα
οἴκαδέ τ᾽ ἐλθέμεναι καὶ νόστιμον ἦμαρ ἰδέσθαι.
εἰ δ᾽ αὖ τις ῥαίῃσι θεῶν ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ,
τλήσομαι ἐν στήθεσσιν ἔχων ταλαπενθέα θυμόν:
ἤδη γὰρ μάλα πολλὰ πάθον καὶ πολλὰ μόγησα
κύμασι καὶ πολέμῳ: μετὰ καὶ τόδε τοῖσι γενέσθω. }

Odysseus had already started to establish psychological freedom from Calypso. He had already started to count the days to his freedom from her.

While Calypso was strong enough to provision and run her household and her island, she wasn’t willing to participate actively in helping Odysseus to leave. She gave him an axe from her set of tools and led him to tall trees. Then she left. He worked alone to cut twenty trees. Calypso returned with an auger from her set of tools. She did nothing with the auger but hand it to Odysseus. He used it to build a raft. She gave him a large piece of cloth, but she did nothing to make it into a sail. Odysseus did all the work of sail-making, too. He did all the work in four days.

Calypso gave Odysseus farewell gifts that apparently memorialized to herself how much she loved him. After four days spent building a raft, on day five Odysseus was determined to leave:

Day five, and Calypso saw him off her island,
after she had bathed him and dressed him
in fragrant clothes. She filled up a skin
with wine that ran black, another large one
with water, and tucked into a duffel
a generous supply of hearty provisions.
And she put a breeze at his back, gentle and warm.

{ τῷ δ᾽ ἄρα πέμπτῳ πέμπ᾽ ἀπὸ νήσου δῖα Καλυψώ,
εἵματά τ᾽ ἀμφιέσασα θυώδεα καὶ λούσασα.
ἐν δέ οἱ ἀσκὸν ἔθηκε θεὰ μέλανος οἴνοιο
τὸν ἕτερον, ἕτερον δ᾽ ὕδατος μέγαν, ἐν δὲ καὶ ᾖα
κωρύκῳ: ἐν δέ οἱ ὄψα τίθει μενοεικέα πολλά:
οὖρον δὲ προέηκεν ἀπήμονά τε λιαρόν τε. }

Odysseus probably would have preferred a strong wind to blow him away from Calypso as quickly as possible. Bathing and fragrant clothes are silly preparations for a long, tough raft journey. Wine is an unneeded temptation, but water and meat are useful. Whatever. Odysseus rejoiced as soon as he was out at sea.

Eighteen days into sailing, Odysseus on his raft encountered a massive storm that the sea-god Poseidon had whipped up against him. A huge wave crashed down on the raft and swept off Odysseus:

He was under a long time, unable to surface
from the heaving swell of the monstrous wave,
weighed down by the clothes Calypso had given him.
At last he came up, spitting out saltwater,
seabrine gurgling from his nostrils and mouth.

{ τὸν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπόβρυχα θῆκε πολὺν χρόνον, οὐδ᾽ ἐδυνάσθη
αἶψα μάλ᾽ ἀνσχεθέειν μεγάλου ὑπὸ κύματος ὁρμῆς:
εἵματα γάρ ῥ᾽ ἐβάρυνε, τά οἱ πόρε δῖα Καλυψώ.
ὀψὲ δὲ δή ῥ᾽ ἀνέδυ, στόματος δ᾽ ἐξέπτυσεν ἅλμην
πικρήν, ἥ οἱ πολλὴ ἀπὸ κρατὸς κελάρυζεν. }

He managed to grab hold of his raft and climb back on. The oppressive clothes of his rapist Calypso still weighed him down on the raft that he had made with her materials. But his main burden was psychological. He desperately lacked compassion for his suffering.

Odysseus was merely one more man raped and lost at sea. Then the unbelievable happened:

And the White Goddess saw him, Cadmus’s daughter
Ino, once a human girl with slim, beautiful ankles.
She had won divine honors in the saltwater gulfs.
She pitied Odysseus his wandering, his pain,
and rose from the water like a flashing gull,
perched on his raft, and said this to him:
“Poor man. Why are so odious to Poseidon,
Odysseus, that he sows all this grief for you?
But he’ll not destroy you, for all of his fury.
Now do as I say — you’re in no way to refuse:
take off those clothes and abandon your raft
to the winds’ will. Swim for your life
to the Phaeacians’ land, your destined safe harbor.
Here, wrap this veil tightly around your chest.
It’s immortally charmed: fear no harm or death.
But when with your hands you touch solid land,
untie it and throw it into the deep blue sea,
clear of the shore so that it can come back to me.”

{ τὸν δὲ ἴδεν Κάδμου θυγάτηρ, καλλίσφυρος Ἰνώ,
Λευκοθέη, ἣ πρὶν μὲν ἔην βροτὸς αὐδήεσσα,
νῦν δ᾽ ἁλὸς ἐν πελάγεσσι θεῶν ἒξ ἔμμορε τιμῆς.
ἥ ῥ᾽ Ὀδυσῆ᾽ ἐλέησεν ἀλώμενον, ἄλγε᾽ ἔχοντα,
αἰθυίῃ δ᾽ ἐικυῖα ποτῇ ἀνεδύσετο λίμνης,
ἷζε δ᾽ ἐπὶ σχεδίης πολυδέσμου εἶπέ τε μῦθον:
κάμμορε, τίπτε τοι ὧδε Ποσειδάων ἐνοσίχθων
ὠδύσατ᾽ ἐκπάγλως, ὅτι τοι κακὰ πολλὰ φυτεύει;
οὐ μὲν δή σε καταφθίσει μάλα περ μενεαίνων.
ἀλλὰ μάλ᾽ ὧδ᾽ ἔρξαι, δοκέεις δέ μοι οὐκ ἀπινύσσειν:
εἵματα ταῦτ᾽ ἀποδὺς σχεδίην ἀνέμοισι φέρεσθαι
κάλλιπ᾽, ἀτὰρ χείρεσσι νέων ἐπιμαίεο νόστου
γαίης Φαιήκων, ὅθι τοι μοῖρ᾽ ἐστὶν ἀλύξαι.
τῆ δέ, τόδε κρήδεμνον ὑπὸ στέρνοιο τανύσσαι
ἄμβροτον: οὐδέ τί τοι παθέειν δέος οὐδ᾽ ἀπολέσθαι.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν χείρεσσιν ἐφάψεαι ἠπείροιο,
ἂψ ἀπολυσάμενος βαλέειν εἰς οἴνοπα πόντον
πολλὸν ἀπ᾽ ἠπείρου, αὐτὸς δ᾽ ἀπονόσφι τραπέσθαι. }

Good women throughout history have loved men and cared for men. These women have pitied men and sought to help men. Some were beautiful on the outside; all were beautiful on the inside.

Odysseus was naturally wary of another goddess dominating him and telling him what to do. He feared that she too was scheming against him. Many men suffering under gynocentrism have such wounds. Odysseus decided to stay on his raft for as long as he could and swim only when necessary. He didn’t understand that he was still in Calypso’s clothes and still on her raft. He didn’t understand what was necessary for him to be free of her and for him to again feel joy in his wonderful masculinity.

Poisidon raised up a great wave and sent it crashing down on Odysseus. The effect was liberating:

So the long beams of Odysseus’s raft were scattered.
He went with one beam and rode it like a stallion,
stripping off the clothes Calypso had given him
and wrapping the White Goddess’s veil round his chest.
Then he dove into the sea and started to swim
a vigorous breaststroke.

{ ὣς τῆς δούρατα μακρὰ διεσκέδασ᾽. αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
ἀμφ᾽ ἑνὶ δούρατι βαῖνε, κέληθ᾽ ὡς ἵππον ἐλαύνων,
εἵματα δ᾽ ἐξαπέδυνε, τά οἱ πόρε δῖα Καλυψώ.
αὐτίκα δὲ κρήδεμνον ὑπὸ στέρνοιο τάνυσσεν,
αὐτὸς δὲ πρηνὴς ἁλὶ κάππεσε, χεῖρε πετάσσας,
νηχέμεναι μεμαώς. }

Now he was truly free of Calypso. Now he was thrilled to be naked below the waist and to feel long, stiff wood in his hands. He breast-stroked with a joy he had never felt under Calypso’s captivity.

With the help of Athena, another goddess showing love for men, Odysseus eventually reached the soft sand of a river bed. He threw back Ino’s life-saving veil to her in the deep sea. He kissed the good earth. Then he climbed up from the riverbank into the woods. Two olive trees — one wild, one planted — were there like young, different-natured spouses grown into ripe old age together. This was the sort of bed Odysseus sought:

Proof against blasts of the wild, wet wind,
the sun unable to needle light through,
impervious to rain, so thickly they grew
into one tangle of shadows. Odysseus burrowed
under their branches and scraped out a bed.
He found a mass of leaves there, enough to keep warm
two or three men on the worst winter day.
The sight of those leaves was a joy to Odysseus,
and the godlike survivor lay down in their midst
and covered himself up.

{ τοὺς μὲν ἄρ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἀνέμων διάη μένος ὑγρὸν ἀέντων,
οὔτε ποτ᾽ ἠέλιος φαέθων ἀκτῖσιν ἔβαλλεν,
οὔτ᾽ ὄμβρος περάασκε διαμπερές: ὣς ἄρα πυκνοὶ
ἀλλήλοισιν ἔφυν ἐπαμοιβαδίς: οὓς ὑπ᾽ Ὀδυσσεὺς
δύσετ᾽. ἄφαρ δ᾽ εὐνὴν ἐπαμήσατο χερσὶ φίλῃσιν
εὐρεῖαν: φύλλων γὰρ ἔην χύσις ἤλιθα πολλή,
ὅσσον τ᾽ ἠὲ δύω ἠὲ τρεῖς ἄνδρας ἔρυσθαι
ὥρῃ χειμερίῃ, εἰ καὶ μάλα περ χαλεπαίνοι.
τὴν μὲν ἰδὼν γήθησε πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
ἐν δ᾽ ἄρα μέσσῃ λέκτο, χύσιν δ᾽ ἐπεχεύατο φύλλων. }

The man-pitying goddess Athena sprinkled his eyes with sleep. Odysseus through the horrific storm had finally left behind his rapist Calypso. Buried in the leaves under the two entangled olive trees, Odysseus experienced a foretaste of being home.

The Odyssey is too significant to continue to be read and taught with little regard for men’s real sufferings. Read the Odyssey well!

*  *  *  *  *

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The above quotes are from the Odyssey, composed about 2700 years ago and attributed to Homer. The English translations are from Stanley Lombardo’s brilliant translation, with my minor adaptations. The Greek text is from Murray (1995), available online through Perseus. Specific citations for the quotes (by Greek line number, all from Book 5): 204-9 (Do you really want to go home…), 219-24 (My heart aches…), 263-8 (Day five, and Calypso…), 319-23 (He was under a long time…), 333-50 (And the White Goddess saw him…), 370-5 (So the long beams of Odysseus’s raft…), 478-87 (Proof against blasts of the wild, wet wind…).

Discussion of Odysseus and Calypso almost always obscure, euphemize, or present as enjoyable Calypso’s raping of Odysseus. Odysseus’s struggle to be free from his horrific experience with Calypso is scarcely recognized. Yet it is there for all to see in a text that has been widely disseminated and studied for more than 2300 years. If Odysseus’s experience with Calypso is truly recognized, it surely resonates with men’s experiences.

The great second-century parodist Lucian of Samosata recognized that the crime of a woman raping a man is scarcely credible. Lucian thus contrived the falsehood that Odysseus regretted leaving Calypso. Explicitly telling lies, Lucian declared that when Odysseus and Penelope had become immortals in the Isle of the Blessed, Odysseus without Penelope’s knowledge wrote a letter to Calypso. In that letter, Odysseus declared:

Now I am on the Isle of the Blessed, thoroughly sorry to have given up my life with you and the immortality which you offered me. Therefore, if I get a chance, I shall run away and come to you.

{ νῦν εἰμι ἐν τῇ Μακάρων νήσῳ πάνυ μετανοῶν ἐπὶ τῷ καταλιπεῖν τὴν παρὰ σοὶ δίαιταν καὶ τὴν ὑπὸ σοῦ προτεινομένην ἀθανασίαν. ἢν οὖν καιροῦ λάβωμαι, ἀποδρὰς ἀφίξομαι πρὸς σέ. }

Lucian of Samosata, True Story {Ἀληθῆ διηγήματα} / True History {Vera Historia} 2.35, ancient Greek text and English translation from Harmon (1913) pp. 340-1. Odysseus contrived a fake letter to get Palamedes killed. The sophisticated reader should recognize that Odysseus’s letter to Calypso is a fantastic lie. For further analysis, Bär (2013).

[image] “Odysseus as guest of the nymph Calypso {Odysseus zu Gast bei der Nymphe Kalypso}”: mis-imagined fantasy. Oil on panel painting by Hendrick van Balen. Painted about 1616. Preserved as Inv.-Nr. GG-583 in Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bär, Silvio. 2013. “Odysseus’ Letter to Calypso in Lucian’s True Histories.” Pp. 221-236 in Hodkinson, Owen, Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, and Evelien Bracke, eds. Epistolary Narratives in Ancient Greek Literature. Leiden: Brill.

Harmon, A. M., ed. and trans. 1913. Lucian of Samosata. A True Story. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Reprinted as Loeb Classical Library No. 14 (Lucian, vol. 1).

Lombardo, Stanley, trans. 2000. Homer. Odyssey. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co.

Murray, A.T., trans., revised by George E. Dimock. 1995. Homer. The Odyssey. New ed. Loeb Classical Library 104-5. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

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