August 21, 2008


The god Hermes gives Calypso the bad news. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope these days is the Odyssey of Homer, but you'll also find links and comments about current events. If you like that kind of thing, please click on earlier posts. The series started Aug. 4.

Odysseus doesn't really enter the story in his own right until Book 5 of the epic and he's in a strange situation. Imagine having everything most people think they want--and still being miserable.

For seven years, Odysseus, having lost all his 600+ men on the way from Troy, has been marooned on the island of the beautiful goddess Calypso. It's sun, sea, sand, sex with a beautiful partner and good food and wine every day. One other thing--she's even willing to give him immortality and freedom from further aging so he can keep doing that forever.

I know lots of people who would kill for a gig like that...

In spite of all that, Odysseus stands at the edge of the sea every day, weeping for his home. Thanks to the intervention of the goddess Athena, Zeus sends the messenger god Hermes to Calypso to tell her she needs to let him go. She doesn't take it very well:

..."Hard hearted
you are, you gods! You unrivaled lords of jealousy--
scandalized when goddesses sleep with mortals...
So now at last you train your spite on me
for keeping a mortal man beside me. The man I saved,
riding astride his keel-board, all alone, when Zeus
with one hurl of a white-hot bolt had crushed
his racing warship down the wine-dark sea...
And I welcomed him warmly, cherished him, even vowed
to make the man immortal, ageless, all his days...
But since there is no way for another god to thwart
the will of storming Zeus and make it come to nothing,
let the man go--if the Almighty insists, commands--
and destroy himself on the barren salt sea!"

But even with Zeus on your side, it's dangerous to hook up with an immortal--and even more dangerous to break up with one. When she tells Odysseus that she's willing to help him leave if he really wants to, he is characteristically cautious, making her swear by the River Styx that she isn't tricking him.

Then he has the delicate task of letting her down easily. One thing you don't want to say to a goddess is "You're OK but I like another woman better"--even if she's your wife. In a masterpiece of tact, he explains

"Ah great goddess,"
worldly Odysseus answered, "don't be angry with me,
please. All that you say is true, how well I know.
Look at my wise Penelope. She falls far short of you,
your beauty, stature. She is mortal after all
and you, you never age or die...
Nevertheless I long--I pine, all my days--
to travel home and see the dawn of my return,
And if a god wreck me yet again on the wine-dark sea,
I can bear that too, with a spirit to endure.
Much have I suffered, labored long and hard by now
in the waves and wars. Add this to the total--
bring the trial on!"

He may have been the inventor of the classic "It's not you, it's me" line. At any rate, she helps him on his way.

More tomorrow.

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