The Odyssey, 10 Years in 10 Days: ‘Weeping There as Always’

Gérard de Lairesse - Mercurius gelast Calypso ...

Day 9: The island of Ogygia. Who: The nymph Calypso. What: Calypso’s hobby of beach-combing finally turns up something she can use: a husband.

The circumstances of Odysseus’ arrival are never fully explained. We know that his ship is destroyed after the ill-advised Thrinacian barbecue, and we know that Odysseus survived by hanging onto some wreckage. But our first encounter Odysseus on Ogygia — indeed, our first encounter with him in the poem — takes place seven years later. Our hero is on a headland, “weeping there as always.”

Weeping. Our hero. Never mind that he’s been living as husband to a straight-up nymph (see above) for seven years. Homer attributes his tears to the fact that “the nymph no longer pleased.” Oh. That’s right. Odysseus is married. Clever, brave and faithful Odysseus.

“In the nights, true, he’d sleep with her in the arching cave — he had no choice — unwilling lover alongside lover all too willing.” Book 5: 170-2

“Unwilling Lover Alongside Lover All Too Willing,” I am pretty sure, is the B side to “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” by Billy Ocean.

Anyway, the point is that on Day 9 we have flipped back to Book 5. The goddess Athena, whose pique was what started Odysseus’ wanderings in the first place, has sent Hermes to tell Calypso that it is time to let Odysseus go home. Calypso is not happy. She tells Hermes that it’s not fair. I saved him, she says, he’s mine. But the jig is up, and she promises to help.

She gives him tools and clothes, and after Odysseus makes her promise not to screw him over, he sets to work building himself a raft. The poetic montage that Homer unfolds is better than any seen in a “Rocky” movie: his muscles ripple, his hair flows, he cuts down 20 trees, trims them with an ax, and fits the planks together like a master shipwright.

Thence to the open sea, where Poseidon, looking up from the depths, is, all, What the– Odysseus?!

“With that, he rammed the clouds together — both hands clutching his trident — churned the waves into chaos, whipping all the gales from every quarter.” Book 5: 321-3

Two hundred windblown, stomach-churning lines later, Odysseus, with another divine assist, manages to make landfall on the island of Scheria. He limps inland and burrows under some bushes to rest, like a “glowing brand in black ashes.”

Talking point: Say what you want about Odysseus — pervert, adulterer, ego-maniac — he is a pretty good swimmer. Death toll: 0.

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