Book Five

Soon after dawn breaks on Mount Olympus, Athena puts the case of Odysseus once more before the gods. At her prompting, Zeus dispatches Hermes with a message for Calypso.

Binding on his magic sandals, Hermes skims over the waves to the island paradise where the nymph has detained Odysseus. He finds her at her hearth in the midst of a forest redolent with cedar smoke and thyme.

She's suprised by the visit but extends hospitality before asking its cause. Seating Hermes, she puts before him nectar and ambrosia, the sustenance of the gods.

"I'm not here because I enjoy crossing the desolate sea," says Hermes. "I bring a message from Zeus: Send Odysseus home."

"You jealous gods! Can't you bear to see one of us keep a mortal of her own?" cries Calypso. "Oh very well, there's no arguing with Zeus.

Hermes rises to take his leave. "And next time, do God's bidding with a better grace."

Calypso knows where to find Odysseus. Every day for the last seven years he's sat on the same rock gazing out to sea, weeping for home and Penelope.

"If I told you that there's heartbreak and shipwreck in store," asks the goddess, "would you trade immortality and me for that mortal wench?"

"Yes, though she's nothing in comparison to your radiant self, I'd gladly endure what the sea deals out."

"Very well then, you may go."

"What kind of trick is this?" asks Odysseus, who is famous for tricks himself. "You'll understand if I'm suspicious."

"No trick. I swear by Styx."

And so the next morning she leads him to a pine wood and gives him tools to build a raft. Five days later, provisioned with food and drink, he sets sail. Instructed by Calypso, he keeps Orion and its companion constellations on his left and sails for seventeen days without sight of land. Then, just as an island appears on the horizon, Poseidon notices what is afoot.

"So, my fellow gods have taken pity on Odysseus. If Zeus wills it, then he's headed home. But not before I give him a voyage to remember."

Taking his trident in both hands, Poseidon stirs the sea into a fury and lashes up rain and squall. Mast and sail are torn away, Odysseus is thrown overboard and buried under a wall of water. When he emerges gasping and sputtering, he somehow manages to clamber back aboard.

A goddess, Leucothea, appears to him in the form of a bird. She counsels him to swim for it. "Take my veil, tie it around your waist as a charm against drowning. When you reach shore, be sure to throw it back into the sea."

Odysseus doubts. Surely it is safer to keep to the boat. But Poseidon soon solves his dilemma by smashing it to bits. Satisfied, the Sea God drives off in his chariot. Odysseus swims and drifts for two days, until he hears surf breaking on a rockbound coast.

A strong wave bears him in, straight onto the rocks. Desperately he clings to a ledge, until torn off by the undertow. He has the presence of mind to swim back out to sea. It is then he sees a break in the reefs, the mouth of a river just up the coast. He prays to the deity of this stream to take him in. And the god has mercy on him.

Battered and half-drowned as he is, he remembers to throw the veil back to Leucothea. Then he staggers to the bank and falls face down in the mud. Still he can't rest, for he knows that river air grows deathly cold at night and anywhere he'll be easy prey to beasts.

Then he finds a clump of olive trees, so thickly tangled as to make a cage. And, drawing leaves up over himself for a blanket, he sleeps the sleep of the dead.

Book number: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24


magic In other Greek mythology, Hermes' sandals are generally referred to as "winged", but Homer calls them "ambrosial". In any case, it seems clear in The Odyssey that they give Hermes the ability to fly. Elsewhere, Athena's robe is also referred to as ambrosial. Like all gods, she transports herself with ease from place to place, materializing wherever she chooses and then vanishing again. (When she talks to Nestor in mortal disguise, she uses this method of leaving the scene, thereby dispelling any doubt in the old man's mind that he has been consorting with a deity.) Perhaps it can be said that Athena does not exactly "fly" like Hermes. (back)

In addition to his winged sandals, Hermes is rarely depicted without his helmet and his special snake-entwined staff, called the caduceus (kuh-DOO-see-us). (back)

Styx (STIX) The gods customarily invoked this river of the Underworld when swearing their most solemn and binding oaths. (back)

Orion (oh-RYE-un) In Greek mythology, Orion was a great hunter who was turned into a starry constellation upon his death. (back)

Leucothea (loo-COH-thee-ah) (back)

Book number: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24