The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The gods assemble on mount Olympus. Athena implores Zeus to help Odysseus, who was such a kind and just ruler, and is now trapped in Calypso's house without any way home. Zeus instructs Athena to bring Telemachus home unharmed, and tells the messenger god Hermes to tell Calypso to release Odysseus from captivity. Zeus decrees that Odysseus will sail home with great pain and difficulty, and that he will arrive at the land of the Phaeacians, who will speed him home with vast treasures in tow.
Athena criticizes Odysseus's painful lot, implying that the gods ought to reward just rulers. Just as the gods are not omnipotent in the Judeo-Christian sense, they are not all-knowing, or at least the scope of their attention is limited: sometimes a god needs to point another god in the direction of a problem. This gives a touch of arbitrariness to the actions of the gods.
Themes
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Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Hermes flies to Calypso's island, where the goddess sings and weaves by a fire in her cavern in the woods. Odysseus sits on the beach and cries. Hermes tells Calypso that Zeus commands her to release Odysseus. In response, Calypso angrily shouts that the gods become jealous when goddesses sleep with mortals, though they often sleep with mortal women. She says that she loves Odysseus as a husband and has even offered to make him immortal. Nevertheless, she agrees to let him go.
It is clear from Odysseus's weeping that he is an unwilling captive and has not forgotten his desire to return home even though Calypso has offered him immortality. Calypso's tirade about the divine double standard shows that Mount Olympus is ruled by jealousies, passions, squabbles, power-struggles, and hierarchies, just like the earth below.
Themes
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Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Though Odysseus sleeps with Calypso, he weeps for his wife and home. Calypso comes to him and tells him to weep no longer, because she is sending him home. Odysseus is suspicious, so Calypso swears an oath not to harm him. Odysseus and Calypso share an exquisite meal. Calypso warns him that if he knew the suffering ahead of him, he would stay with her and be her immortal husband; after all, she cannot be less fair than his wife. Odysseus replies that though Penelope is not as fair as Calypso, he still yearns for home. They fall asleep in each other's arms.
Odysseus's grief and tears show that his memory of home has not faded; though Calypso has forced him into the role of a husband, he remains loyal at heart to his wife. Odysseus chooses mortal suffering and imperfection over divine tranquility. Though mortals often acknowledge their inferiority to the gods, it is sometimes implied that they prefer human life to divine life.
Themes
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Memory and Grief Theme Icon
The next morning, Odysseus sets to work making a raft with the goddess's tools. When he finishes, Calypso gives him provisions and he sails away. He sails for seventeen days until he sees the island of the Phaeacians. But at that moment Poseidon spots him and grows angry at his good fortune, so he sends down a terrible storm. Odysseus begins to fears death, and wishes he had died a hero's death on the battlefield instead. A wave throws him from the ship and pulls him under, but he comes up to the surface and clutches his splintering raft. Just then, the goddess Ino sees him and takes pity; she gives him a magical scarf that will temporarily make him immortal, and tells him to swim to shore – once he reaches land, though, he must throw the scarf back into the sea without looking. Odysseus does as she says, and Poseidon decides that Odysseus has suffered enough and lets him go. Athena controls the winds so that they blow Odysseus to the Phaeacian shore.
Though Odysseus has already suffered a great deal on his journey home, Poseidon decides –following no strict logic – that he must suffer further. Poseidon is angry because Odysseus broke a rule, but the punishment is a matter not of rule but of whim. With Ino's arrival, we see once again one divine will pitted against another. Poseidon wants Odysseus to suffer or drown, but Ino wants him to find shelter, and she prevails not according to some judicial system but because of chance and circumstance: she happens to be near Odysseus. Poseidon might have resented her intervention, but he accepts it placidly. Justice in divine hands is often arbitrary.
Themes
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Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
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Odysseus floats for two nights and two days, and at the dawn of the third day he spots land. He despairs to see, however, that waves and sharp rocks separate him from shore. A wave throws him against the rocks, but Athena inspires him with the strength to cling hard to one of the reefs; then a wave drags him back into the sea. Athena inspires him again, and he swims along the shore looking for a safer place to land. He prays to Poseidon, and the god brings him to a safe place to climb ashore. Odysseus throws himself onto the beach; despite his pain and exhaustion, he remembers to throw the scarf back into the sea. He crawls into the woods and falls asleep.
Though Poseidon decides to let Odysseus live, he takes one last parting shot at him and flings him against the rocks. Athena intervenes and helps him survive: divine will pitted against divine will once again. Now Poseidon is finally placated; he helps the same man he tried to kill just a moment earlier. Odysseus shows his respect for the gods by following Ino's instructions even though he can barely move.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon