Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

D. Snider
A Commentary on the Odyssey of Homer - Part I

From, Homer's Odyssey: A commentary
[Please note that the Table of Contents here published, is created by Elpenor and is not to be found in the print version]

Table of Contents \ Odyssey Complete Text \ Greek Fonts \ More Greek Resources













Page 59

2. The messenger Hermes begins his flight down to Calypso, holding his magic wand, with which he puts men to sleep or wakens them, imparting the power of vision or taking it away. He reaches the wonderful island with its grot, the account of which has been a master-stroke in literature, and shows that the description of nature was not alien to the Greek poet, though he rarely indulges in it. One thinks that the passage contains a suggestion of much modern writing of the kind.

It is to be noted that this island is mostly a wild product, it has had very little training from its resident. A natural house and garden we see it to be in the main; the senses, especially sight and smell, are gratified immediately by physical objects. There is little indication of Art, possibly a beginning in the singing and weaving; rude nature may have been transformed somewhat in the four fountains and in the trailing grape-vine. But this description is not made for its own sake, as are many modern descriptions of nature; the whole is the true environment for Calypso, and suggests her character.

Her name means the concealer, concealed herself in that lone sea-closed island, and concealing others. Undeveloped she is, like nature, yet beautiful; sunken still in the life of the senses, she dwells in her little paradise without any inner scission. But it must be recollected that Ulysses is not native to the island, he has come or rather fallen hither, from a higher condition. He, therefore, has the scission in himself, he longs to leave and be restored out of this realm of mere nature.

With such a longing the Gods must coincide, for they are the Gods of culture, of the rise out of the physical. The long Journey of Hermes hints the distance between Olympus and Calypso's isle—a distance which has its spiritual counterpart. The command of the Olympians is borne to this lower Goddess; Hermes is the voice of the higher ethical divinity to the lower one of mere nature. But even the higher God has his physical counterpart, is not yet wholly a spirit; so Hermes eats his ambrosia and drinks his nectar set before him by Calypso in true Greek fashion and misses the smoke of sacrifices along his barren route.

It is curious to see how Hermes plays with polytheism, hinting ever so slyly the contradiction in the Greek Pantheon. "Why dost thou a God ask me a God why I come?" It is indeed an absurd question, for a God ought to know in advance. In numerous places we can trace a subtle Homeric humor which crops out in dealing with his many deities, indicating a start toward their dissolution. Then with a strong assertion of the supremacy of one God, Zeus, Hermes utters the unwilling word: Ulysses must depart from this island.

The answer of Calypso is significant, she charges the Gods with jealousy; "Ye grudge the Goddesses openly to mate with men," which proposition she nails by several examples. But the Gods reserve to themselves the privilege of license with mortal women. A complaint still heard, not in the Olympian but in our Lower World; men are not held to the same code of morals that women are! But Calypso yields up her lover whom she "thought to make immortal and ageless." What else can she do? It is true that she saved him once and has preserved him till the present; she is, however, but a stage which must now be transcended. Appetite may preserve man, still he is to rise above appetite.

Previous Page / First / Next

Cf. Pharr, Homer and the study of Greek * Odyssey Complete Text
Iliad Complete Text * Homer Bilingual Anthology and Resources * Livingstone, On the Ancient Greek Literature
More OnLine Resources on Greek History, Places, Texts, Language

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Greek Literature - Ancient, Medieval, Modern

Learned Freeware

Reference address :