Odysseus in Limbo

The daughter of Atlas, Calypso (‘Concealer’) spent her days weaving at her loom, singing in her cave surrounded by: alders and poplars and sweet-scented cypress, the nesting-place of long-winged birds – owls and hawks and chattering sea-crows, which work the ocean’s face. Around the hollow cave there trailed a garden vine, fecund and thick with grapes; and four springs bubbled with sparkling water, each beside the other, but flowing in different directions. And all around lush meadows blossomed, a riot of violets and parsley.

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In this island paradise Calypso kept Odysseus for seven years, offering immortal youth in exchange for his exclusive love. But Odysseus still longed for Ithaca and Penelope. He sat for long hours brooding by the shore, until Hermes arrived with a message from Zeus. Calypso must let Odysseus go. His wanderings were almost at an end.

So Odysseus built a raft and made good headway until Poseidon returned from a festival in his honour in Ethiopia. Seeing Odysseus he unleashed a storm Only Leucothea (the White Goddess, who had once been Ino, princess of Thebes) could save Odysseus. Disguised as a gannet, she wrapped him in a magic veil. Diving from the broken raft, Odysseus swam for two days and nights until he came ashore, crawled up the beach, sank into a bed of leaves and fell asleep.

Next morning a group of girls came to the beach to wash clothes and play ball. Awakened by their shrieking, Odysseus rose, naked, and approached them Only one stood firm: Nausicaa, the daughter of Alcinous (‘Strong-Minded’), king of the seafaring Phaeaceans, whose peaceful island, Scherie, was sacred to Poseidon. Responding to Odysseus’ flattery (she reminded him, he said, of a young palm tree on Delos) she offered to help him So at the palace, after supplicating Queen Arete (‘Virtue’), while still not identifying himself, Odysseus was given food and wine and invited to compete in games. When Odysseus wept as the blind court bard, Demodocus, sang of the sack of Troy, Alcinous, suspecting the truth, asked his identity – and Odysseus recounted his adventures.

Despite being offered Nausicaa as his bride, Odysseus yearned for home, so Alcinous put him on a ship, heaped him with gifts (including thirteen tripods) and sent him on the final stage of his long odyssey. Arriving at Ithaca, the sailors carried the sleeping Odysseus ashore and hid the gifts in a cave. Then they returned to Scherie, where, angered because they had helped Odysseus, Poseidon turned their ship to stone as it neared the harbour. Meanwhile, dressed as a vagabond, Odysseus reached Eumaeus’ hut to be reunited with Telemachus.

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