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The Odyssey: Book 5 Analysis

Author: poem of Homer Type: poem Views: 3

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  And now, as Dawn rose from her couch beside Tithonus- harbinger of

light alike to mortals and immortals- the gods met in council and with

them, Jove the lord of thunder, who is their king. Thereon Minerva

began to tell them of the many sufferings of Ulysses, for she pitied

him away there in the house of the nymph Calypso.

  "Father Jove," said she, "and all you other gods that live in

everlasting bliss, I hope there may never be such a thing as a kind

and well-disposed ruler any more, nor one who will govern equitably. I

hope they will be all henceforth cruel and unjust, for there is not

one of his subjects but has forgotten Ulysses, who ruled them as

though he were their father. There he is, lying in great pain in an

island where dwells the nymph Calypso, who will not let him go; and he

cannot get back to his own country, for he can find neither ships

nor sailors to take him over the sea. Furthermore, wicked people are

now trying to murder his only son Telemachus, who is coming home

from Pylos and Lacedaemon, where he has been to see if he can get news

of his father."

  "What, my dear, are you talking about?" replied her father, "did you

not send him there yourself, because you thought it would help Ulysses

to get home and punish the suitors? Besides, you are perfectly able to

protect Telemachus, and to see him safely home again, while the

suitors have to come hurry-skurrying back without having killed him."

  When he had thus spoken, he said to his son Mercury, "Mercury, you

are our messenger, go therefore and tell Calypso we have decreed

that poor Ulysses is to return home. He is to be convoyed neither by

gods nor men, but after a perilous voyage of twenty days upon a raft

he is to reach fertile Scheria, the land of the Phaeacians, who are

near of kin to the gods, and will honour him as though he were one

of ourselves. They will send him in a ship to his own country, and

will give him more bronze and gold and raiment than he would have

brought back from Troy, if he had had had all his prize money and

had got home without disaster. This is how we have settled that he

shall return to his country and his friends."

  Thus he spoke, and Mercury, guide and guardian, slayer of Argus, did

as he was told. Forthwith he bound on his glittering golden sandals

with which he could fly like the wind over land and sea. He took the

wand with which he seals men's eyes in sleep or wakes them just as

he pleases, and flew holding it in his hand over Pieria; then he

swooped down through the firmament till he reached the level of the

sea, whose waves he skimmed like a cormorant that flies fishing

every hole and corner of the ocean, and drenching its thick plumage in

the spray. He flew and flew over many a weary wave, but when at last

he got to the island which was his journey's end, he left the sea

and went on by land till he came to the cave where the nymph Calypso


  He found her at home. There was a large fire burning on the

hearth, and one could smell from far the fragrant reek of burning

cedar and sandal wood. As for herself, she was busy at her loom,

shooting her golden shuttle through the warp and singing

beautifully. Round her cave there was a thick wood of alder, poplar,

and sweet smelling cypress trees, wherein all kinds of great birds had

built their nests- owls, hawks, and chattering sea-crows that occupy

their business in the waters. A vine loaded with grapes was trained

and grew luxuriantly about the mouth of the cave; there were also four

running rills of water in channels cut pretty close together, and

turned hither and thither so as to irrigate the beds of violets and

luscious herbage over which they flowed. Even a god could not help

being charmed with such a lovely spot, so Mercury stood still and

looked at it; but when he had admired it sufficiently he went inside

the cave.

  Calypso knew him at once- for the gods all know each other, no

matter how far they live from one another- but Ulysses was not within;

he was on the sea-shore as usual, looking out upon the barren ocean

with tears in his eyes, groaning and breaking his heart for sorrow.

Calypso gave Mercury a seat and said: "Why have you come to see me,

Mercury- honoured, and ever welcome- for you do not visit me often?

Say what you want; I will do it for be you at once if I can, and if it

can be done at all; but come inside, and let me set refreshment before


  As she spoke she drew a table loaded with ambrosia beside him and

mixed him some red nectar, so Mercury ate and drank till he had had

enough, and then said:

  "We are speaking god and goddess to one another, one another, and

you ask me why I have come here, and I will tell you truly as you

would have me do. Jove sent me; it was no doing of mine; who could

possibly want to come all this way over the sea where there are no

cities full of people to offer me sacrifices or choice hecatombs?

Nevertheless I had to come, for none of us other gods can cross

Jove, nor transgress his orders. He says that you have here the most

ill-starred of alf those who fought nine years before the city of King

Priam and sailed home in the tenth year after having sacked it. On

their way home they sinned against Minerva, who raised both wind and

waves against them, so that all his brave companions perished, and

he alone was carried hither by wind and tide. Jove says that you are

to let this by man go at once, for it is decreed that he shall not

perish here, far from his own people, but shall return to his house

and country and see his friends again."

  Calypso trembled with rage when she heard this, "You gods," she

exclaimed, to be ashamed of yourselves. You are always jealous and

hate seeing a goddess take a fancy to a mortal man, and live with

him in open matrimony. So when rosy-fingered Dawn made love to

Orion, you precious gods were all of you furious till Diana went and

killed him in Ortygia. So again when Ceres fell in love with Iasion,

and yielded to him in a thrice ploughed fallow field, Jove came to

hear of it before so long and killed Iasion with his thunder-bolts.

And now you are angry with me too because I have a man here. I found

the poor creature sitting all alone astride of a keel, for Jove had

struck his ship with lightning and sunk it in mid ocean, so that all

his crew were drowned, while he himself was driven by wind and waves

on to my island. I got fond of him and cherished him, and had set my

heart on making him immortal, so that he should never grow old all his

days; still I cannot cross Jove, nor bring his counsels to nothing;

therefore, if he insists upon it, let the man go beyond the seas

again; but I cannot send him anywhere myself for I have neither

ships nor men who can take him. Nevertheless I will readily give him

such advice, in all good faith, as will be likely to bring him

safely to his own country."

  "Then send him away," said Mercury, "or Jove will be angry with

you and punish you"'

  On this he took his leave, and Calypso went out to look for Ulysses,

for she had heard Jove's message. She found him sitting upon the beach

with his eyes ever filled with tears, and dying of sheer

home-sickness; for he had got tired of Calypso, and though he was

forced to sleep with her in the cave by night, it was she, not he,

that would have it so. As for the day time, he spent it on the rocks

and on the sea-shore, weeping, crying aloud for his despair, and

always looking out upon the sea. Calypso then went close up to him


  "My poor fellow, you shall not stay here grieving and fretting

your life out any longer. I am going to send you away of my own free

will; so go, cut some beams of wood, and make yourself a large raft

with an upper deck that it may carry you safely over the sea. I will

put bread, wine, and water on board to save you from starving. I

will also give you clothes, and will send you a fair wind to take

you home, if the gods in heaven so will it- for they know more about

these things, and can settle them better than I can."

  Ulysses shuddered as he heard her. "Now goddess," he answered,

"there is something behind all this; you cannot be really meaning to

help me home when you bid me do such a dreadful thing as put to sea on

a raft. Not even a well-found ship with a fair wind could venture on

such a distant voyage: nothing that you can say or do shall mage me go

on board a raft unless you first solemnly swear that you mean me no


  Calypso smiled at this and caressed him with her hand: "You know a

great deal," said she, "but you are quite wrong here. May heaven above

and earth below be my witnesses, with the waters of the river Styx-

and this is the most solemn oath which a blessed god can take- that

I mean you no sort of harm, and am only advising you to do exactly

what I should do myself in your place. I am dealing with you quite

straightforwardly; my heart is not made of iron, and I am very sorry

for you."

  When she had thus spoken she led the way rapidly before him, and

Ulysses followed in her steps; so the pair, goddess and man, went on

and on till they came to Calypso's cave, where Ulysses took the seat

that Mercury had just left. Calypso set meat and drink before him of

the food that mortals eat; but her maids brought ambrosia and nectar

for herself, and they laid their hands on the good things that were

before them. When they had satisfied themselves with meat and drink,

Calypso spoke, saying:

  "Ulysses, noble son of Laertes, so you would start home to your

own land at once? Good luck go with you, but if you could only know

how much suffering is in store for you before you get back to your own

country, you would stay where you are, keep house along with me, and

let me make you immortal, no matter how anxious you may be to see this

wife of yours, of whom you are thinking all the time day after day;

yet I flatter myself that at am no whit less tall or well-looking than

she is, for it is not to be expected that a mortal woman should

compare in beauty with an immortal."

  "Goddess," replied Ulysses, "do not be angry with me about this. I

am quite aware that my wife Penelope is nothing like so tall or so

beautiful as yourself. She is only a woman, whereas you are an

immortal. Nevertheless, I want to get home, and can think of nothing

else. If some god wrecks me when I am on the sea, I will bear it and

make the best of it. I have had infinite trouble both by land and

sea already, so let this go with the rest."

  Presently the sun set and it became dark, whereon the pair retired

into the inner part of the cave and went to bed.

  When the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, Ulysses put

on his shirt and cloak, while the goddess wore a dress of a light

gossamer fabric, very fine and graceful, with a beautiful golden

girdle about her waist and a veil to cover her head. She at once set

herself to think how she could speed Ulysses on his way. So she gave

him a great bronze axe that suited his hands; it was sharpened on both

sides, and had a beautiful olive-wood handle fitted firmly on to it.

She also gave him a sharp adze, and then led the way to the far end of

the island where the largest trees grew- alder, poplar and pine,

that reached the sky- very dry and well seasoned, so as to sail

light for him in the water. Then, when she had shown him where the

best trees grew, Calypso went home, leaving him to cut them, which

he soon finished doing. He cut down twenty trees in all and adzed them

smooth, squaring them by rule in good workmanlike fashion. Meanwhile

Calypso came back with some augers, so he bored holes with them and

fitted the timbers together with bolts and rivets. He made the raft as

broad as a skilled shipwright makes the beam of a large vessel, and he

filed a deck on top of the ribs, and ran a gunwale all round it. He

also made a mast with a yard arm, and a rudder to steer with. He

fenced the raft all round with wicker hurdles as a protection

against the waves, and then he threw on a quantity of wood. By and

by Calypso brought him some linen to make the sails, and he made these

too, excellently, making them fast with braces and sheets. Last of

all, with the help of levers, he drew the raft down into the water.

  In four days he had completed the whole work, and on the fifth

Calypso sent him from the island after washing him and giving him some

clean clothes. She gave him a goat skin full of black wine, and

another larger one of water; she also gave him a wallet full of

provisions, and found him in much good meat. Moreover, she made the

wind fair and warm for him, and gladly did Ulysses spread his sail

before it, while he sat and guided the raft skilfully by means of

the rudder. He never closed his eyes, but kept them fixed on the

Pleiads, on late-setting Bootes, and on the Bear- which men also

call the wain, and which turns round and round where it is, facing

Orion, and alone never dipping into the stream of Oceanus- for Calypso

had told him to keep this to his left. Days seven and ten did he

sail over the sea, and on the eighteenth the dim outlines of the

mountains on the nearest part of the Phaeacian coast appeared,

rising like a shield on the horizon.

  But King Neptune, who was returning from the Ethiopians, caught

sight of Ulysses a long way off, from the mountains of the Solymi.

He could see him sailing upon the sea, and it made him very angry,

so he wagged his head and muttered to himself, saying, heavens, so the

gods have been changing their minds about Ulysses while I was away

in Ethiopia, and now he is close to the land of the Phaeacians,

where it is decreed that he shall escape from the calamities that have

befallen him. Still, he shall have plenty of hardship yet before he

has done with it."

  Thereon he gathered his clouds together, grasped his trident,

stirred it round in the sea, and roused the rage of every wind that

blows till earth, sea, and sky were hidden in cloud, and night

sprang forth out of the heavens. Winds from East, South, North, and

West fell upon him all at the same time, and a tremendous sea got

up, so that Ulysses' heart began to fail him. "Alas," he said to

himself in his dismay, "what ever will become of me? I am afraid

Calypso was right when she said I should have trouble by sea before

I got back home. It is all coming true. How black is Jove making

heaven with his clouds, and what a sea the winds are raising from

every quarter at once. I am now safe to perish. Blest and thrice blest

were those Danaans who fell before Troy in the cause of the sons of

Atreus. Would that had been killed on the day when the Trojans were

pressing me so sorely about the dead body of Achilles, for then I

should have had due burial and the Achaeans would have honoured my

name; but now it seems that I shall come to a most pitiable end."

  As he spoke a sea broke over him with such terrific fury that the

raft reeled again, and he was carried overboard a long way off. He let

go the helm, and the force of the hurricane was so great that it broke

the mast half way up, and both sail and yard went over into the sea.

For a long time Ulysses was under water, and it was all he could do to

rise to the surface again, for the clothes Calypso had given him

weighed him down; but at last he got his head above water and spat out

the bitter brine that was running down his face in streams. In spite

of all this, however, he did not lose sight of his raft, but swam as

fast as he could towards it, got hold of it, and climbed on board

again so as to escape drowning. The sea took the raft and tossed it

about as Autumn winds whirl thistledown round and round upon a road.

It was as though the South, North, East, and West winds were all

playing battledore and shuttlecock with it at once.

  When he was in this plight, Ino daughter of Cadmus, also called

Leucothea, saw him. She had formerly been a mere mortal, but had

been since raised to the rank of a marine goddess. Seeing in what

great distress Ulysses now was, she had compassion upon him, and,

rising like a sea-gull from the waves, took her seat upon the raft.

  "My poor good man," said she, "why is Neptune so furiously angry

with you? He is giving you a great deal of trouble, but for all his

bluster he will not kill you. You seem to be a sensible person, do

then as I bid you; strip, leave your raft to drive before the wind,

and swim to the Phaecian coast where better luck awaits you. And here,

take my veil and put it round your chest; it is enchanted, and you can

come to no harm so long as you wear it. As soon as you touch land take

it off, throw it back as far as you can into the sea, and then go away

again." With these words she took off her veil and gave it him. Then

she dived down again like a sea-gull and vanished beneath the dark

blue waters.

  But Ulysses did not know what to think. "Alas," he said to himself

in his dismay, "this is only some one or other of the gods who is

luring me to ruin by advising me to will quit my raft. At any rate I

will not do so at present, for the land where she said I should be

quit of all troubles seemed to be still a good way off. I know what

I will do- I am sure it will be best- no matter what happens I will

stick to the raft as long as her timbers hold together, but when the

sea breaks her up I will swim for it; I do not see how I can do any

better than this."

  While he was thus in two minds, Neptune sent a terrible great wave

that seemed to rear itself above his head till it broke right over the

raft, which then went to pieces as though it were a heap of dry

chaff tossed about by a whirlwind. Ulysses got astride of one plank

and rode upon it as if he were on horseback; he then took off the

clothes Calypso had given him, bound Ino's veil under his arms, and

plunged into the sea- meaning to swim on shore. King Neptune watched

him as he did so, and wagged his head, muttering to himself and

saying, "'There now, swim up and down as you best can till you fall in

with well-to-do people. I do not think you will be able to say that

I have let you off too lightly." On this he lashed his horses and

drove to Aegae where his palace is.

  But Minerva resolved to help Ulysses, so she bound the ways of all

the winds except one, and made them lie quite still; but she roused

a good stiff breeze from the North that should lay the waters till

Ulysses reached the land of the Phaeacians where he would be safe.

  Thereon he floated about for two nights and two days in the water,

with a heavy swell on the sea and death staring him in the face; but

when the third day broke, the wind fell and there was a dead calm

without so much as a breath of air stirring. As he rose on the swell

he looked eagerly ahead, and could see land quite near. Then, as

children rejoice when their dear father begins to get better after

having for a long time borne sore affliction sent him by some angry

spirit, but the gods deliver him from evil, so was Ulysses thankful

when he again saw land and trees, and swam on with all his strength

that he might once more set foot upon dry ground. When, however, he

got within earshot, he began to hear the surf thundering up against

the rocks, for the swell still broke against them with a terrific

roar. Everything was enveloped in spray; there were no harbours

where a ship might ride, nor shelter of any kind, but only

headlands, low-lying rocks, and mountain tops.

  Ulysses' heart now began to fail him, and he said despairingly to

himself, "Alas, Jove has let me see land after swimming so far that

I had given up all hope, but I can find no landing place, for the

coast is rocky and surf-beaten, the rocks are smooth and rise sheer

from the sea, with deep water close under them so that I cannot

climb out for want of foothold. I am afraid some great wave will

lift me off my legs and dash me against the rocks as I leave the

water- which would give me a sorry landing. If, on the other hand, I

swim further in search of some shelving beach or harbour, a

hurricane may carry me out to sea again sorely against my will, or

heaven may send some great monster of the deep to attack me; for

Amphitrite breeds many such, and I know that Neptune is very angry

with me."

  While he was thus in two minds a wave caught him and took him with

such force against the rocks that he would have been smashed and

torn to pieces if Minerva had not shown him what to do. He caught hold

of the rock with both hands and clung to it groaning with pain till

the wave retired, so he was saved that time; but presently the wave

came on again and carried him back with it far into the sea-tearing

his hands as the suckers of a polypus are torn when some one plucks it

from its bed, and the stones come up along with it even so did the

rocks tear the skin from his strong hands, and then the wave drew

him deep down under the water.

  Here poor Ulysses would have certainly perished even in spite of his

own destiny, if Minerva had not helped him to keep his wits about him.

He swam seaward again, beyond reach of the surf that was beating

against the land, and at the same time he kept looking towards the

shore to see if he could find some haven, or a spit that should take

the waves aslant. By and by, as he swam on, he came to the mouth of

a river, and here he thought would be the best place, for there were

no rocks, and it afforded shelter from the wind. He felt that there

was a current, so he prayed inwardly and said:

  "Hear me, O King, whoever you may be, and save me from the anger

of the sea-god Neptune, for I approach you prayerfully. Any one who

has lost his way has at all times a claim even upon the gods,

wherefore in my distress I draw near to your stream, and cling to

the knees of your riverhood. Have mercy upon me, O king, for I declare

myself your suppliant."

  Then the god stayed his stream and stilled the waves, making all

calm before him, and bringing him safely into the mouth of the

river. Here at last Ulysses' knees and strong hands failed him, for

the sea had completely broken him. His body was all swollen, and his

mouth and nostrils ran down like a river with sea-water, so that he

could neither breathe nor speak, and lay swooning from sheer

exhaustion; presently, when he had got his breath and came to

himself again, he took off the scarf that Ino had given him and

threw it back into the salt stream of the river, whereon Ino

received it into her hands from the wave that bore it towards her.

Then he left the river, laid himself down among the rushes, and kissed

the bounteous earth.

  "Alas," he cried to himself in his dismay, "what ever will become of

me, and how is it all to end? If I stay here upon the river bed

through the long watches of the night, I am so exhausted that the

bitter cold and damp may make an end of me- for towards sunrise

there will be a keen wind blowing from off the river. If, on the other

hand, I climb the hill side, find shelter in the woods, and sleep in

some thicket, I may escape the cold and have a good night's rest,

but some savage beast may take advantage of me and devour me."

  In the end he deemed it best to take to the woods, and he found

one upon some high ground not far from the water. There he crept

beneath two shoots of olive that grew from a single stock- the one

an ungrafted sucker, while the other had been grafted. No wind,

however squally, could break through the cover they afforded, nor

could the sun's rays pierce them, nor the rain get through them, so

closely did they grow into one another. Ulysses crept under these

and began to make himself a bed to lie on, for there was a great

litter of dead leaves lying about- enough to make a covering for two

or three men even in hard winter weather. He was glad enough to see

this, so he laid himself down and heaped the leaves all round him.

Then, as one who lives alone in the country, far from any neighbor,

hides a brand as fire-seed in the ashes to save himself from having to

get a light elsewhere, even so did Ulysses cover himself up with

leaves; and Minerva shed a sweet sleep upon his eyes, closed his

eyelids, and made him lose all memories of his sorrows.

Translated by Samuel Butler


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