Calypso and Odysseus
The mythical story of Calypso and
by Jeanie Lang
The Myth of Calypso and Odysseus
Calypso of the braided tresses
was a goddess feared by all men. It
was to her island that the piece of
wreckage to which Odysseus clung
drifted on the ninth dark night
after his ship was wrecked.
At night the island looked black and
gloomy, but at morning light, when
Odysseus felt life and strength
coming back to him, he saw that it
was a beautiful place.
In the sunlight, the grey, cruel sea
was violet blue, and violets blue as
the sea grew thickly in the green
meadows. From the sea shore he
walked inland until he came to a
great cave, and in the cave sat
Calypso, the beautiful goddess with
the braided hair.
On the hearth a great fire burned,
and the fragrance of the burning
cedar and sandal- wood could be
smelt afar off in the island.
Calypso, wearing a shining robe and
a golden girdle, was weaving with a
shuttle of gold and singing as she
wove. Round about the cave alders
and poplars and sweet-smelling
cypresses grew, and in them roosted
owls and falcons and chattering
sea-crows, and the long-winged,
white-plumaged sea-birds. A vine
with rich clusters of grapes climbed
up the cave, and four fountains of
clear water played beside it.
Odysseus knew that Calypso was a
goddess that all men feared, but he
soon found that he had nothing to
fear from her, save that she should
keep him in her island for evermore.
She tended him gently and lovingly
until his weariness and weakness
were gone and he was as strong as
But although he lived by the meadows
where the violets and wild parsley
grew, and had lovely Calypso to give
him all that he wished, Odysseus had
a sad and heavy heart.
'Stay with me, and thou shalt never
grow old and never die,' said
But a great homesickness was
breaking the heart of Odysseus. He
would rather have had one more
glimpse of his rocky little kingdom
across the sea, and then have died,
than have lived for ever and for
ever young in the beautiful, flowery
Day after day he would go down to
the shore and stare with longing
eyes across the water. But eight
years came and went, and he seemed
no nearer escape.
Yet, although he did not know it,
the days of the wanderings of
Odysseus were soon to end.
It was Poseidon, the god of the sea,
who had sent all his troubles to
Odysseus, because he had blinded his
son, the wicked cannibal giant.
It was the grey-eyed Athene, a
goddess who had always been the
friend of Odysseus, who helped to
bring him home. When she saw him
daily sitting by the sea, gazing
across the water with great tears
rolling down his face, her heart was
filled with pity. She knew, too,
what troubles his wife and son were
having in Ithaca while Odysseus was
far away, and at length she went to
the gods and begged them to help her
to send Odysseus safely back to his
Poseidon had gone to a far-distant
land, and when the gods knew through
what bitter sorrows Odysseus had
passed, and how his heart ached to
look once again even on the blue
smoke curling up above the woods in
Ithaca, they took pity on him.
Hermes of the golden wand, their
fleet-footed messenger. On his feet
Hermes bound his golden sandals that
never grew old, and that bore him
safely and swiftly over wet sea and
dry land. In his hand he took his
golden wand, with which he could
lull people to sleep. Like a
sea-bird that chases the fish
through the depths of the sea, and
dips its white plumage in the
rolling breakers, so sped Hermes
over the waves.
When he had reached the island of
Calypso, he walked through the
meadows of violets to the cave. But
Odysseus was not there. Down by the
rocky shore he sat, looking
wistfully over the wide sea, while
the tears rolled down his face and
dripped on the sand. Calypso was in
the cave, weaving with her golden
shuttle, and singing a sweet song.
Food and wine she gave to Hermes,
and when he had eaten and drunk he
gave her the message of the gods.
When she heard that the gods
commanded her to let Odysseus go
safely home, Calypso was very sad.
'Hard and jealous are ye gods,' she
said. It was I who saved Odysseus as
he clung to the piece of wreckage
that drifted in the sea, and guided
him safely to my island. Ever since
have I been kind to him and have
loved him, and now you are taking
him away from me. But how can I send
him? I have no ships nor men to take
him back to Ithaca.'
If thou dost not send him, thou wilt
anger all the gods,' said Hermes,
'and greatly will they punish thee.'
Then Hermes sped away across the
violet meadows and the violet-blue
sea, and Calypso went down to where
Odysseus sat on the shore.
'Sorrow no more, poor man,' she
said, 'for now, with all my heart,
will I send thee home. Arise, and
cut long beams. With thine axe make
a wide raft and lay cross planks
above for a deck. In it I shall
place food and water, and give thee
clothing, and send a fair wind, so
that thou mayest come safely to
thine own country. For such is the
will of the gods, who are stronger
than I am both to will and to do.'
'But surely thou plannest mischief,'
Odysseus said. 'Thou bidst me cross
the mighty sea in a little raft. I
would not go aboard a raft, unless
thou shouldst give me thy promise
not to plan secretly my ruin.'
Calypso smiled, and gently laid her
hand on his shoulder.
'I give my promise,' she said. 'I am
planning for thee as I should plan
for myself were I in a like case. My
heart is not of iron, Odysseus, but
pitiful as thine.'
Then she gave him a great,
double-edged axe of bronze, with a
strong handle of olive-wood, and a
polished adze, and led the way to
the border of the island, where grew
tall trees, alders and poplars and
pines. When she had shown him where
the tall trees grew, she went home.
Odysseus went gladly and quickly to
work. With his axe of bronze he soon
had felled twenty great trees and
had trimmed and neatly planed them.
That done, Calypso brought him other
tools, and bolts, and a web of cloth
to make sails, and skilfully and
well he made his raft. In four days
his work was done, and he drew the
vessel down with rollers to the sea.
On the fifth day, when Calypso had
given him new warm clothes, and had
put plenty of corn and wine and
water, and many dainties that she
knew Odysseus liked, in the raft,
she said farewell. She sent a gentle
breeze to blow, and Odysseus
rejoiced as the wind filled his
sails and carried him away from the
island. Calypso had told him what
stars he must use as his guides, and
all her advice he followed, and so
in eighteen days he saw land appear.
It was the land of the Phaeacians,
who were famous sailors, and it
looked like a shield lying in the
But just when safety and home seemed
very near Odysseus, his enemy,
Poseidon the sea- god, returned from
his wanderings in far-off lands.
When he saw Odysseus peacefully
sailing towards the land of the
Phaeacians, he knew that while he
had been away the gods must have
changed their minds, and were
sending Odysseus safely home.
'Ha!' said the angry god, 'Odysseus
thinks all his sorrows are over.
Even yet I think I can drive him far
enough in the path of suffering.'
With that he gathered the clouds
into great stormy masses, and roused
up the waters of the deep. Soon the
thick black mist hid both land and
sea. He let loose all the fierce
storms and wild winds, and made the
dark night rush down. The winds
fought and clashed together and made
the sea swell up into furious
billows that rolled onward, mountain
high, towards the shore.
Then the heart of Odysseus failed
him. 'Wretched man that I am,' said
he, 'would that I had met my death
fighting in Troyland, and been
buried like a brave soldier there.'
As he spoke, a mighty wave smote the
raft and rushed over it. The helm
was torn from his hand, the mast was
broken in two, the sail and yard-arm
were hurled far away, and Odysseus
was swept into the sea.
For long the weight and force of the
huge wave kept him under, and his
clothes were so heavily clogged with
water that they made him sink. But
at last he came up, and spat from
his mouth the bitter salt water that
streamed down his face and head.
Even then he did not forget his
raft, but made a spring after it in
the waves, clutched hold of it, and
clambered in again.
Hither and thither the great waves
carried it. Like a scrap of
thistledown chased before the winds,
even so was the raft of Odysseus
driven. The south wind would toss it
to the north, and again the east
wind would cast it to the west to
So pitiful was the sight of brave
Odysseus thus tortured by the
vengeful god of the sea, that a fair
sea-nymph felt sorrow for him.
Rising like a white-winged sea-gull
from the waves, she climbed on to
the raft and spake to Odysseus.
Picture of Calypso and Odysseus
'The sea-god shall not slay thee,'
she said. Do as I tell thee, and
thou shalt not die. Cast off these
heavy, water-logged clothes, leave
the raft to drift, and swim with all
thy strength to the land. Take now
my veil and wind it round thee. With
it on thou shalt be safe, and when
thou dost grasp the mainland with
thy hands, turn thy head away and
let the veil fly back to the sea.'
With that she gave him her veil and
dived like a bird into the water,
and the dark waves closed over her.
But Odysseus believed not in her
'The gods have made a new plot for
my ruin,' he thought. 'I will not
obey this sea-nymph. This shall I
do, as long as the timbers of my
raft hold together, here will I
stay. But if the storm shall drive
the raft in pieces, then shall I
swim, for there is nought else to
Then the god of the sea stirred up
against him a wave more terrible
than any that had gone before, and
with it smote the raft. Like chaff
scattered by a great wind, so were
the planks and beams of the raft
scattered hither and thither. But
Odysseus laid hold on a plank and
bestrode it, as he might have ridden
a horse. He stript off his wet
clothes and wound around him the
sea-nymph's veil. Then he dropt from
the plank, and swam with all his
The god of the sea saw him and
scornfully wagged his head.
'Go wandering over the sea, then,'
he said, 'until thou findest help.'
Then he lashed his sea-horses, with
their flowing white manes, and drove
away to his own home far below the
But Athene also saw Odysseus and
bade all the winds be still but the
swift North Wind. 'Blow hard, North
Wind,' she said, 'and break the way
before Odysseus till thou hast
carried him on to the land of the
For two days and two nights Odysseus
was borne onward on the swell of the
When the third day dawned the breeze
fell and there was a breathless
calm, and he saw the land very near.
With his heart near bursting with
joy he swam on until he could see
the trees on the shore.
Just then a great sound smote his
ear, and he knew it was the thunder
of the sea against a reef. Soon he
saw that on that coast there were no
harbours, nor any shelter for ships,
but only jutting headlands and
reefs, and great, rugged crags
against which the sea broke
thundering and crashing, and surging
back in angry foam.
Then thought Odysseus: 'At last I
have had a sight of the land, but
there is no way to escape from the
grey waters. If I try to land, the
waves will dash my life out on those
jagged rocks. If I swim further
round the coast and try to find some
inlet, then the storm-winds may
catch me again and bear me onward
far from the land, or the sea-god
may send a monster from the shore
water to devour me.'
But as he was thinking, a great wave
bore him to where the breakers
thundered on the reef. All his bones
would have been broken, and his life
dashed from his body, if Athene had
not put a thought into his heart. As
he was swept in with the rush of the
wave, he clutched hold of the rock
and clung there till the wave had
gone by. But the fierce back-wash
rushed on him, and the furious surge
tore off his clinging fingers and
cast him into the sea. With bleeding
hands he sank under the great waves,
and might have perished there, had
not Athene once again whispered to
him. He rose and swam outside the
line of breakers, always looking for
some inlet, until at length he came
to where a fair river joined the
Then Odysseus called aloud to the
river and begged it to have pity on
him, and to let him at last get
safely to the land.
And the river was kind, and made the
water smooth, and bore him up in its
shining stream until he had reached
All bruised and swollen was his
body, great streams of salt water
gushed from his nostrils, but he lay
on dry land at last, his breath and
speech gone, wellnigh swooning. When
he came to himself, he took the
sea-nymph's veil and let it fall
into the river. Swiftly it swept
down the stream, and the nymph rose
from the sea, caught it in her
hands, and bore it away. Then
Odysseus, kneeling down amongst the
reeds by the river, kissed the earth
for very gladness and thankfulness
'The river breeze blows shrewd and
chill in the morning,' he thought,
'and the frosty night down here by
the river might kill me.'
So he climbed up the hillside to a
shady wood, and crept under the
shelter of two olive-trees that grew
so close together that no keen wind,
nor sun, nor rain could pierce them.
There he made himself a bed of dry
leaves, and lay down and heaped over
himself the warm and fragrant
Then Athene sent sleep to close his
eyes, and at last warmth and comfort
and happy dreams made him forget all
the terrible things through which he
The Legend and Myth about Calypso