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Book V Lines 212-233

At a point in ‘The Odyssey,’ Odysseus is essentially stripped of the identity that defines

his character by being held against his will by the sea nymph Kalypso. There is no chance for

danger to befall him, there is literally nothing for him to do (save for sleep with the nymph), he is

separated from his lady Penelope, and, perhaps most importantly, there are no muses to sing of

his deeds. When it is ordered by the gods to let him go, Kalypso’s plea to stay with her and his

response to the plea demonstrates Odysseus’ love of his heroic identity

Odysseus is described in the story as “massive…with crisping hair in curls like petals of

wild hyacinth, but all red-golden. Think of gold infused on silver by a craftsman” (VI 244-247).

And indeed, a Homeric hero is always physically captivating, as well as impressive in everything

he does. As Odysseus crafts his raft under the eye of Kalypso, his hands are masterful: “A master

shipwright, building a cargo vessel, lays down a broad and shallow hull; just so Odysseus shaped

the bottom of his craft” (V 258-260). A Homeric hero also tries at all times to establish kleos and

make a name for himself.

Kalypso offers Odysseus immortality, shelter from safety – “all the adversity you face at

sea” (V 216), and her body if he stays. Only one of these enumerated prizes would be appealing

to the epic hero: sleeping with Kalypso. Immortality and shelter from safety – a cushy,

uneventful fate – would make it so Odysseus could never further extend his glory.

On the other hand, leaving would allow him to experience several things. He was

essentially a pirate post-Troy – “Plunder we took, and we enslaved the women” (IX 47-48); the

threat of personal peril is part of the job. Therefore, he welcomes the danger of the trek home

with open arms: “What hardship have I not long endured at sea, in battle! Let the trial come” (V

N. Schwab
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232-233). Leaving would allow him to re-take control of his estate, which the reader is led to

believe is quite large. As the head of the estate, he would feel a sense of ownership and

responsibility. In addition, he simply yearns to go home. He asks, “Where shall a man find

sweetness to surpass his own home and his parents? In far lands he shall not, though he finds a

house of gold” (IX 38-40). Indeed, Kalypso’s island was a proverbial “house of gold,” but

ultimately meaningless. Finally, he simply wants to reconnect with his lady and son, his oikos.

He feels responsible for Telemakhos growing up without a father. Upon revealing himself to his

son, he states, “I am the father whom your boyhood lacked and suffered pain for lack of” (XVI

221-222). He acknowledges that Penelope doesn’t hold up to the standard of beauty that Kalypso

possesses – “My quiet Penelope…would seem a shade before your majesty” (V 225-226), but he

pines for her regardless.

Examining each one of these facts and taking into account Odysseus’ decision to leave, it

becomes clear that Odysseus’ love of his heroic identity is strong. At the end of the narrative, the

man “skilled in all ways of contending” (I 2) is able to break free of Kalypso’s bonds and,

through a perilous odyssey, restore his heroic, epic self.

N. Schwab
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