Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 5

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Book 5

  • Athene begs Zeus to have mercy on Odysseus, so he sends messenger Hermes to Kalypso's islands with instructions to let Odysseus go and, adding insult to injury, to help him build a sturdy escape raft.
  • Gee, our dad won't even buy us that Jetta we've been asking for.
  • He then announced that Odysseus, after some trials at sea, will reach the island of Scheria alone, where the Phaiakians will befriend him and provide transport home.
  • Hermes takes Zeus' message to Kalypso. Her island home is exotic and lovely, and we're guessing she is too, but Odysseus has the seven-year itch and spends all his time roaming the shore and looking broken-heartedly out to sea.
  • Kalypso, recognizing Hermes as a God, greets him with hospitality…
  • …Until he delivers his news. Kalypso, afraid of losing Odysseus, gets quite spiteful. She accuses the gods of hating it when immortal women (like herself) lie with mortal men (like Odysseus).
  • What she means, of course, is that Zeus and other immortal men sleep with mortal women all the time, and no one ever gets upset over that.
  • She points out that she rescued Odysseus… before she decided to imprison him, that is.
  • Hermes wisely lets Kalypso gripe until she gets exhausted and grudgingly agrees to let Odysseus go.
  • But Odysseus won't accept her help until she vows not to work any more magic against him.
  • She obeys, and everything's dandy between them again. No hard feelings. Really.
  • Together, the couple builds a raft and supplies it with food and water. It takes them four days.
  • On the fifth day Odysseus departs. He's got food, water, and a map. Next stop, Ithaka!
  • Well, until Poseidon returns from hanging out at the end of the world and is not pleased to see Odysseus roaming the open seas again.
  • He sends a storm Odysseus' raft and almost drowns him.
  • Odysseus despairs, wishing he could've died a glorious death at Troy rather than alone and dishonored at sea.
  • Just in the nick of time, divine help arrives. The nereid (a.k.a. sea-nymph) Ino springs up to give Odysseus some advice.
  • Unfortunately, the advice is to abandon the raft and swim.
  • To help Odysseus, Ino gives him her veil. If he wears it as a sash, it will keep him afloat and prevent him from drowning. (Kind of like a life vest.)
  • Odysseus doubts her (not that you can blame him) and doesn't jump ship (raft?) after Ino leaves.
  • But then a big wave crests over him (like a sign from above!) and he decides he'd better listen to the pretty lady.
  • It's looking bad for Odysseus, and Poseidon seems content to just let the storm do its thing.
  • Athene very wisely waits for a self-satisfied Poseidon to leave before she arrives and calms the seas. She then sets up a wind to blow Odysseus toward land.
  • This is what those English majors call a deus ex machina, when a god comes out of nowhere and helps like that. (Technically, the phrase means "a god out of the machine." In ancient theatrical performances, they would sometimes use a "machine"—basically an elevator operated by a pulley—to have a god descend from the "heavens." Who need CGI, right?
  • Odysseus floats for two days at sea before spotting land. Rocky land. Odysseus is afraid he might cut himself on the jagged edges, so he holds out for smoother shores.
  • Athene guides him to the mouth of a cushy stream, where he prays to the river god to let him rest. Granted.
  • As he climbs ashore, he complains about how much he suffered.
  • He only stops complaining when Athene eases his mind and helps him find some thick bushes under which he digs and falls asleep exhausted in a bed of leaves. Nice and cozy.

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