Homer’s Calypso

What are your thoughts on Calypso?

One of the passages I worked on recently was Calypso’s final speech to Odysseus. There’s something equal parts chilling and poignant about her. On the one hand, she is keeping Odysseus hostage. She offers him unending pleasure, ageless youth, eternity, but he does not want any of it. He sits at the shore weeping and longing for home. She “loves” him, like a pampered pet who partakes of what is offered but thinks only of escape.

“Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus
Odysseus, full of resources,
Who dwells in the dear land of your father.
Do you wish to go now, straightaway? Fare you well then, despite everything.
Anyway, if you knew, in your heart and mind, your portion,
The sorrows that will fill you before reaching the land of your father,
You would keep watch over this house, remaining with me here, on this spot.
You would be immortal, even though you are longing to see
Your wife, who you are forever wishing for, every day.

But surely, I vow that I am not inferior.
Neither in body nor in stature, since in no way does she resemble
An immortal. Being mortal, she cannot contend in body or form.”

10 thoughts on “Homer’s Calypso

  1. It’s very hard for me to sympathize with Calypso because she is a homewrecker (well, at least takes part in it- it takes two to tango, of course), one of the things I most despise. Of course, as this passage reminds us, she’s also immortal and on a totally different level. It is sad that she can’t find someone to be with her – is there a reason specified in The Odyssey for her solitude?

    1. I do not believe there is, and I’m not sure how she’s portrayed in other ancient Greek verse. It’s an interesting question that I would love to know more about! But yes, as a divine being, she is on another level from Odysseus. He is being held hostage, without a means of escape. But the portrayal of her is so nuanced. Emotionally, existentially, the poet is so incredibly insightful. I guess that is why we can think of these gods and heroes being as human as you or I. It is really something remarkable.

      But on another note, what fascinates me about this scene is how it contributes to the fame of Penelope. Calypso offers Odysseus immortality and endless youth, tells him that he will have to suffer horribly to return home to Penelope, and yet that is what he chooses. Because we focalize Odysseus, this vignette becomes about him–what he is willing to give up and how much he is willing to suffer–but if we focalize Penelope, then we might notice how his sacrifices reflect on her excellence. She must be some kind of special to inspire her husband to go through hell–fairly literally–and back to return to her 🙂

      1. I think Homer loves Penelope the same way Achilles loved Briseis. You can tell because they weep 😭

      2. Oh! I never thought of that! So now I have a theory, that Odysseus was a real person who fought in the real Trojan War, and Achilles was his Alter Ego, and after the war he went home and wrote his books under the pseudonym Homer 💁🏻‍♂️

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