PART II CALYPSO

                                I

 

Pallas Athene always kept an eye on Odysseus even though she could not help him openly because he had offended Poseidon, the god of the sea. But she spoke at the council of the gods, and Zeus promised her that Odysseus would now be allowed to return to his own land. That day she went to Ithaka, and, appearing to Telemachus, told him to go on the voyage in search of his father. And on that day too, Zeus  told Hermes  to go to the island of Ogygia where, as the Ancient One of the Sea had shown Menelaus, Odysseus was held by the nymph Calypso.

That Island was indeed beautiful. All round the cave where Calypso lived was a wood. There were alder, poplar and cypress trees, and on their branches roosted long-winged birds such as falcons and owls and seagulls. In front of the cave was a soft meadow in which thousands of violets bloomed, and with four fountains that gushed out of the ground and made clear streams through the grass. Across the cave grew a straggling vine, with clusters of grapes. Calypso was in the cave, and as Hermes came near, he heard her singing one of her magic songs.

She was at a loom weaving the threads with a golden shuttle. She knew Hermes and was pleased to see him on her Island, but as soon as he spoke of Odysseus and how it was the will of Zeus that he should be allowed to leave the Island, her song stopped and the golden shuttle fell from her hand.

‘How unfortunate I am,’ she said, ‘and how unfortunate is any immortal who loves a mortal, for the gods are always jealous of their love. I do not hold him here because I hate Odysseus, but because I love him dearly, and want him to live with me here. I want to make him an immortal so that he would know neither old age nor death.’

‘He does not want to be freed from old age and death,’ said Hermes, ‘he wants to  return to his own land and to live with his dear wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. Zeus, the greatest of the gods, commands that you let him go on his way.’

‘I have no ship to give him,’ said Calypso, ‘and I have no company of men to help him to cross the sea,’

‘He must leave the Island and cross the sea. Zeus commands it,’ Hermes said.

‘I must help him to make his way across the sea if it must be so,’ Calypso said. Then she bowed her head and Hermes left.

Straightway Calypso left her cave and went down to the sea. Odysseus stayed by the shore, looking across the wide sea with tears in his eyes.

She came to him and she said, Don’t be sad any more, Odysseus. The time has come when you may depart from my Island. Come now. I will show how I can help you on your way.’

She took him to the side of the Island where great trees grew and she put in his hands a double-edged axe and a saw. Then Odysseus started to cut down the trees. He felled twenty trees with his bronze axe, and he smoothed them and made them straight. Calypso came to him at the dawn of the next. He built a raft, making it very broad, and set a mast on it and fixed a rudder to guide it. Calypso wove him a web of cloth for sails, and these he made very skillfully. Then he pushed the raft down to the sea.

That was on the fourth day. On the fifth Calypso gave him clothes for the journey and brought food and drink down to the raft. She showed Odysseus how to find his way by the star that some call the Bear, and she said farewell to him. He took his place on the raft and set sail away from Ogygia, the island where Calypso had held him for so long.

But he did not make his way across the sea easily or safely. The winds blew on his raft and the waves smashed against it and then a fierce blast came and broke the mast in the middle. The sail fell into the sea. Then Odysseus was thrown down on the bottom of the raft. For a long time he lay there overwhelmed by the water that broke over him. The winds drove the raft to and fro. The South wind tossed it to the North to carry along, and the East wind tossed it to the West to chase.

In the depths of the sea there was a Nymph who saw his suffering and his troubles and who had pity on him. Ino was her name. She rose from the waves disguised as a seagull and she sat on the raft and spoke to Odysseus.

‘Unfortunate man,’ she said, ‘Poseidon, the god of the sea, is still angry with you. Perhaps the waters will destroy your raft. Then there would be no hope for you. But do what I tell you and you can still escape. Take of your clothes and take this veil from me and wind it around your chest. As long as it is on you, you can not drown. But when you reach the mainland take off the veil and throw it into the sea so that it can come back to me.’

She gave him the veil, and then she dived into the sea and the waves closed over her. Odysseus took the veil and wound it around his chest, but he would not leave the raft as long as its timbers held together.

Then a great wave came and shattered the raft. He held onto a single beam, and then, with the veil around his chest, he threw himself into the waves.

For two nights and two days he was tossed about on the waters. When on the third day the dawn came and the winds fell he saw land very near. He swam eagerly towards it. But when he drew nearer he heard the crash of waves as they struck against rocks. Then Odysseus was indeed afraid.

A great wave took hold of him and threw him towards the shore. His bones would have been broken on the rocks if he had not been quick witted enough to rush towards a rock and to cling to it with both hands until the wave went by. Its backward drag took him and carried him back to the deep with the skin stripped from his hands. The waves closed over him. When he rose again he swam round looking for a place where there might be some easy opening into the land.

At last he saw the mouth of a river. He swam towards it until he felt its stream flowing through the water of the sea. Then in his heart he prayed to the river. ‘Hear me, Oh River,’ was what he said, ‘I come to you, fleeing from the anger of Poseidon, god of the sea. I am a pitiful and unfortunate man. Pity me and help me in my need.’

Now the river water was smooth for his swimming, and he came safely to its mouth. He came to a place where he could land, but with his flesh swollen and streams of salt water gushing from his mouth and nostrils. He lay on the ground breathless and terribly weary. But in a while his breath came back to him and his courage rose. He remembered the veil that the Sea-nymph had given him and he took it off and let it fall back into the flowing river. A wave came and carried it back to Ino who caught it in her hands.

But Odysseus was still afraid, and he said in his heart, ‘Oh what will happen to me now? Here am I, naked and unhappy, and I do not know where I am. What shall I do when night comes? If I lie by the river in the frost I may die of the cold. And if I climb up to the woods and seek shelter I may become the prey of wild animals.’

He went from the cold of the river up to the woods, and he found two olive trees growing side by side, twining together so that they made a shelter against the winds. He went and lay between them on a bed of leaves, and he covered himself with leaves. There in that shelter, and with that warmth he lay, and sleep came over him, and at last he rested from dangers and suffering.