The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Book 5

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Summary[edit | edit source]

Book 5 of the Odyssey is the first chapter that features Odysseus as the main character. The chapter opens with Athena returning to Olympus to beg Zeus favor in helping Odysseus return home. Zeus is initially hesitant, but eventually relents after Athena reminds him of all the times the gods have screwed over the lovers of various goddesses. Zeus orders Hermes to go down to calypso and order her to release Odysseus. When Hermes arrives, Odysseus is looking out into the sea and sobbing, while Calypso is trying to 'cheer him up'. After receiving Hermes's message, and restating that the gods will not allow any goddesses mortal lovers, Calypso realizing that resisting the will of Zeus is ultimately futile. Calypso then equips Odysseus with tools and tells him where to find the good lumber in order to build a mighty raft. Once the raft is built, and provisioned with food, water, and wine, Odysseus sets out unto the sea, trying to reach the isle of Scheria. Before he can reach the island, Poseidon, who was returning from Ethiopia, saw Odysseus and sent a storm to destroy him. Odysseus raft was obliterated, but he managed to swim to Scheria before passing out on the beach.

Characters[edit | edit source]

Odysseus- Our Hero, and a master sailor who will do anything to return to his family, despite being wildly unfaithful to his wife.

Calypso - A goddess who lives on Ogygia with no one but her slaves to keep her company, and likes to rescue and seduce lost sailors.

Athena - A goddess, daughter of Zeus, who wants to see that Odysseys makes it home to his family.

Hermes - Zeus's messenger

Zeus - King of the gods. Listens to his daughters council, but brooks no dissent when he makes a decision.

Poseidon - God of the sea. Want's Odysseus dead, and is willing to go against Zeus to do it.

Ancient Worldview[edit | edit source]

Boat construction[edit | edit source]

Book 5 contains a page and a half of boat construction, describing everything from the tools Odysseus uses to make his raft, to how he constructs the boat, to what wood he uses for each part. We know who wove the sail, and from what material. We are told exactly what kind of provisions Odysseus is given, and what stars he uses to navigate. While all this seems like largely superfluous information, it would be of much greater interest to an ancient audience, especially an archipelago dwelling one such as the Greeks.[1] The basic knowledge required to appreciate how cool Odysseus boat is, and the values required to see a really cool boat as an important and valuable thing is something that is not present in our society.

Women in Love[edit | edit source]

The chapter gives us many examples of goddesses relationships being destroyed by the gods. When Zeus forces Calypso to release Odysseus, she accuses him of hypocrisy. Using Hermes as an intermediary, she points out how Orion was killed by Artemis for sleeping with the dawn, and Iasion was struck down by Zeus for lying with Demeter in a freshly plowed field[2], while Zeus will bang anything that moves, animal, vegetable, or mineral. This highlights an interesting double standard in ancient Greek sexual relations, one that still exists to this day. Men are expected to be sexually actiive and sexually aggressive, in the case of Greek myth to an absurdly problematic degree. Women are expected to be chaste and passive, and are lethally punished for violated that rule. This dichotomy of active men and passive women is a feature in our modern gender expectations, and causes some of the dame problems spoken about in Greek myth.

This dichotomy applies to the mortals in the story as well as the gods. Penelope is lauded for her virtue in resisting the suitors, and not remarrying or taking a lover for ten years. Meanwhile, Odysius is off making love to godesses, an act he faces no punishment for, and is even lauded for committing.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Homer. The Odyssey. Wilson, Emily R., 1971-, Translation of: Homer. (First edition ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-393-08905-9. OCLC 990141032.CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  2. Homer. The Odyssey. Wilson, Emily R., 1971-, Translation of: Homer. (First edition ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-393-08905-9. OCLC 990141032.CS1 maint: extra text (link)