One is Alive, a Castaway at Sea
Posted October 24, 2011on:
I checked out the table of contents again. We’re gonna be in Greece for a while, guys. Today’s selection begins on page 258 and we leave Greece to head to China on page 804. I intend to stick with it; just a heads up. After Greece, we travel to China, then India, and finally Rome before finishing this volume. There are some truly epic and historic works in our path, and The Odyssey is not a lightweight. Let’s carry on, shall we?
We pick up, you remember, with Telémakhos arriving at the home of Meneláos at the beginning of Book Four. Meneláos is celebrating the wedding of two of his children (to two other people, not to each other, ew). As Telémakhos and Peisístratos (a son of Nestor) arrive, they are seen by Eteoneus, a friend of Meneláos. Eteoneus asks “should we greet them or tell them to move on” because of the celebration. Meneláos tells him that’s stupid, and to go out and greet the newcomers.
Homer gives us yet another of his beautiful descriptive scenes as Telémakhos settles in. Meneláos welcomes him and Peisístratos to the party (another example of how important hospitality is in Homer’s culture). Telémakhos is in absolute awe at Meneláos’ court, but Meneláos just says that while all his treasure is great
(and imma let you finish) but he’d gladly trade it all if he could have his dead friends back. He mentions that he misses Odysseus most of all, and Telémakhos tears up at the mention of his father. Meneláos knows now that this must be Odysseus’ son, but he says nothing.
This is the island of Gozo, Malta, said to be the Isle of Kalypso, where Odysseus is currently being held prisoner. Image from Tertium Quid.
Helen comes up and exclaims that “this boy must be the son of Odysseus”, because he looks just like him (a common theme, here). Peisístratos confirms their suspicions, and tells them that Telémakhos is shy and modest (another commonly-remarked thing), but has come to seek advice and/or assistance for the matter of Odysseus. Meneláos is overjoyed – “His son, in my house! How I loved the man” – and everyone present weeps with grief for those who have been lost. (Yeah that doesn’t make much sense to me either.)
Helen takes this opportunity to drug the wine with a forgetfulness potion, so that people will stop weeping so much (funny, but weird). She then tells a story of something Odysseus did in Troy, during the war, and says that she really regrets ever running away with Paris. Meneláos tells a story about something Odysseus did in the hollow horse (the renowned “Trojan horse,” if you will). After this, Telémakhos asks if it can be bedtime.
In the morning, Meneláos goes to speak to Telémakhos privately, and asks him “why, precisely,” he has come. Telémakhos again tells about the suitors back home, and asks Meneláos if he knows anything about the fate of Odysseus. Meneláos, like everyone else, is angry at the suitors – “if only that Odysseus met the suitors, they’d have their consummation, a cold bed!” Then he tells Telémakhos what he heard from Proteus, “the Ancient of the Sea, who is infallible.”
While Meneláos was out lost at sea, to make a long story short, he was trapped on an island because he’d angered the gods. A daughter of Proteus helped him defeat her father so he could find out how to appease them and learn news from home. Proteus told Meneláos to offer a sacrifice, and recounted the tales of Aias and Agamemnon, and that Odysseus is a captive of Kalypso, with no means of escape. The story told, Meneláos insists that Telémakhos must stay for a while and then be sent on his way forward with gifts. Telémakhos refuses, saying he must go quickly and cannot carry gifts. So Meneláos just give him a special bowl that was made by Hephaistos.
Homer now takes us back to Ithaka. Noêmon, son of Phronios, wants his ship back, and asks Antinoös if he knows when Telémakhos will return. Antinoös is shocked, since he didn’t even know that Telémakhos had gone. They talk for a moment, and they notice that Mentor seems to have been in two places at once. Antinoös is absolutely ticked off that Telemakhos has done what they said he wasn’t able to do (lol, morons), and the suitors all decide to follow and intercept Telémakhos and murder him.
Penélopê hears what’s afoot. She’s quite snarky about the suitors, but when she learns that her son really has gone (remember he told the slaves to keep it a secret), she is terrified for him, worried that he, like his father, will never come home. Homer gives a number of absolutely gorgeous lines to describe Penélopê. I really love his treatment of women and slaves – he seems to have a great deal of poetry to spend on them. While Penélopê is upstairs praying to Athena, the moronic deluded suitors think that she’s preparing to accept one of them. Antinoös tells them to shut up and they all go get on a boat and set off in pursuit of Telémakhos.
As Book 5 opens, Athena is again petitioning the Olympians on behalf of Odysseus. Zeus tells her to be quiet, since they all know that she’s got the wheels turning for him to come home and bring great justice back to Ithaka. He sends Hermês to tell Kalypso to let Odysseus go (but not too easily).
Hermês goes, rather unwillingly, to Kalypso’s island and delivers Zeus’ order. Kalypso has a delicious rant about how the gods always get so angry when a goddess takes a lover (the implied argument is that the gods take all the lovers they want with impunity, and that double standards are really unfair). Hermês is unimpressed with her rant, and tells her to behave before Zeus chastises her.
Kalypso, with great sadness, tells Odysseus he is free to go, but must make his own raft. Odysseus is suspicious, but she swears on the river Styx that she is not playing any tricks
(tryx?). They eat together, and Kalypso asks him why he still desires mortal Penélopê but not herself, a lovely and immortal goddess. “The strategist Odysseus” gives her an incredibly diplomatic answer, and they go to bed.
In the morning, Odysseus begins to build his raft. It takes him four days, and on the fifth morning he sets out. He sails for 17 days and nights, and finally, land ho!, he sees Skhería in the distance (the very land that Zeus said he’d arrive at). At this very moment, Poseidon, returning from vacation apparently, sees Odysseus. Angered, he sends a couple hurricanes at him. A nereid takes pity on the now-capsized Odysseus and gives him a magic sash that will protect him from drowning and injury. Odysseus, always suspicious, only sets out swimming when the water destroys the part of his raft that he was clinging to.
Poseidon sees him start swimming and is satisfied, thinking that Odysseus will have plenty of trouble among the Phaiákians. Athena steps in and makes the sea bring Odysseus to land. It takes him 3 days of drifting, and he’s nearly killed on sharp rocks when he arrives. He finally reaches dry land, which he kisses of course, makes a leaf-bed in a thicket, and sleeps.