The Odyssey, Book V

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Odysseus sails for Phaeacia

In an assembly of the gods, Athena reminded Zeus that Odysseus was still being held captive by Calypso on her island, that he had no ship or crew, that Telemachus was seeking news of him in Pylos and Mycenae and the suitors were planning to murder him on his return.

Hermes Ordering Calypso to Release Odysseus by Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1670.

Zeus sent Hermes to instruct Calypso to release Odysseus so he could build a raft and return home, stopping off in Phaeacia after twenty days to be given a ship and riches. Hermes found Calypso in a cave singing and weaving at her loom. After receiving her hospitality, he told her Zeus had ordered her to send home Odysseus immediately. She accused the gods of jealousy because she was sleeping with a human, whom she had saved from Zeus’ anger, and she quoted examples of gods who had done the same and Zeus had killed their lovers. However, she agreed to release Odysseus and went to tell him.

He was sitting on the shore weeping and desperately wishing to return home. She told him to cut down trees and build a raft and she offered to give him provisions for the journey. Odysseus doubted that a raft would be strong enough to carry him home. Calypso warned him of further miseries he would have to endure; he would be better staying with her and accepting the gift of immortality but she was unable to persuade Odysseus to stay. On the next day Calypso provided Odysseus with tools to cut down trees and make a raft and he left the island five days later. Eighteen days after that, as Odysseus saw Phaeacia on the horizon, Poseidon, returning from Ethiopia, saw him and, angry that he was heading home, sent a huge storm.

Odysseus and Calypso by Arnold Böcklin, 1883.

Odysseus feared his death was nigh and wished that he had died with glory at Troy rather than suffer an ignominious death at sea. He was washed overboard from the raft and, although he was buffeted by the winds and waves, he managed to survive by climbing on board the raft once again but largely with the help of Ino, a sea goddess, who took pity on him. She told him to remove his wet clothes which were weighing him down, wear a veil which she gave him which would protect him from death and injury, leave the raft and swim towards Phaeacia, at which point he must throw the veil into the sea and not look back.

Roman mosaic of the sea goddess Ino, Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza Amerina, 4th c. AD. (c)

Odysseus was initially reluctant to leave the raft as land seemed too far away to swim to but, when Poseidon sent a huge wave which destroyed the raft, Odysseus did as Ino had instructed. Athena calmed the storm and three days later Odysseus arrived at Phaeacia. However, he found it difficult to negotiate the rocky coastline and strong waves until a huge wave carried him ashore. He was cut by the rocks and then flung back out to sea. Eventually he managed to swim to a sheltered river mouth where he safely reached land after he had prayed to the river god to pity him. He returned Ino’s veil, as instructed, and hid in a woodland copse, lying on and covering himself with beds of leaves, and he fell into a deep sleep.

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