HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 12 Cherry Fan
The Realm of Myth
The Odyssey does not follow a continuous time line. As the structure outlined at the end of the last Unit
suggests, in book 5 Odysseus leaves the island of Calypso, where he has been for seven years, and
travels to Phaeacia, where he is deposited on the shore, naked and covered in brine. He clearly
experiences a rebirth into human culture. The Phaeacians he visits from book 6 to book 13 are a sort of
liminal, utopian culture (6.200-2), a transition from the "realm of myth", if we can call it that, to the
human civilization that he left when he and his crew were blown off course on their way home to Ithaca
from the Trojan War. Odysseus himself becomes the storyteller of these events - no one else witnessed
them and survived - and he relates them in book 9-12, the end of the first half of the epic.
We meet him for the first time in book 5 on the island of Calypso. (Te first four books of the pic trace his
son Telemachus' enquiries after him. They are often called the Telemachy for him.) Calypso's island is an
oasis of immortality (5.208-9). Odysseus has the opportunity to be immortal and rejects it.
"Him she found on the shore, and his eyes were never dry of tears, and his sweet life was ebbing away,
as he longed mournfully for his return, for the nymph was no longer pleasing in his sight. By night indeed
he would sleep by her side perforce in the hollow caves, unwilling beside the willing nymph, but by day he
would sit on the rocks and the sands, racking his soul with tears and groans, and he would look over the
sea, shedding tears."
He not only rejects immortality, but he rejects a goddess in favour of his wife Penelope.
"Mighty goddess, don't be angry with me for this. I know full well that wise Penelope is meaner to look
upon than you in beauty and stature, for she is a mortal, while you are immortal and ageless. But even so
I wish and long day by day to reach my home, and to see the day of my return."
When Odysseys emerges from the sea, he encounters the daughter of the Phaeacian king Nausicaa.
Emphasis is put on the fact that she should be preparing for marriage. She appears both brave and
intelligent. Her portrayal is one of the most enduring in Greek literature:
"I beseech thee, O lady, - you are a goddess, or are you mortal? If you are a goddess, one of those who
hold broad heaven, to Artemis, the daughter of great Zeus, do I liken you most nearly in beauty and in
stature and in form. But if you are one of mortals who dwell upon the earth, thrice-blessed then are your
father and honored mother, and thrice-blessed your brethren."
Page 1 of 6 HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 12 Cherry Fan
This passage is actually cited most often because it suggests most strongly how Artemis was imagined by
Nausicaa directs Odysseus to go as a suppliant to her mother. No particular reason seems given, but
Nausicaa is confident of his success if he follows her advice, and he goes. Book 6-8 are largely devoted to
the hospitality that Odysseus receives from the Phaeacians. They portrayed an idyllic world, free from
war and devoted to feasting, poetry, and athletic contests. The rules of hospitality are such that no
questions are asked about Odysseus' identity until all the requirements of hospitality have been met.
In book 8 Odysseus listens as the Phaeacian bard Demodocus sings about Odysseys' own feat in the
Trojan War. In book 9 it is finally time for Odysseus to reveal himself and tell the story from there.
"What, then, shall I tell you first, what last? For woes full many have the heavenly gods given me. First
now will I tell my name, so that you too may know it, and that I hereafter, when I have escaped from the
pitiless day of doom, may be your host, though I dwell in a home that is far away. I am Odysseus, son of
Laertes, who am known among men for all manner of tricks, and my fame (kleos) reaches heaven."
Odysseus' name is actually one of the great themes of the poem. Scholars believe it is based on the verb
odyssomai, to hate. He is thus the one "hated by gods and men". Perhaps there is a pun at 1.62: "Why
then did you come to hate him so, O Zeus?" But it does not seem that the meaning of his name is so
important as simply the fact that he has a name. Since he emerged from the brine in book 5, Odysseus
has been anonymous, as everyman figure. He now asserts his name, and of course the Phaeacians know
instantly who he is because their bard has just sung of his exploits at Troy. So, unlike Achilles, Odysseus
need not worry about fame. He already has it.
Odysseus describes leaving Troy. One of the first place where they arrived was the land of the Cicones:
"From Ilium the wind bore me and brought me to the Cicones, to Ismarus. There I sacked the city and
slew the men; and from the city we took their wives and great store of treasure, and divided them
among us, in order that so far as lay in me no man might go defrauded of an equal share."
Odysseus is clearly no peace lover. But the point seems to be that Odysseus gave out equal shares of the
geras. He thus cuts through the issue that caused such strife in the Iliad between Achilles and
Agamemnon. However, it's important to recognize that when ancient Greeks talk about equality in these
contexts, they don't actually mean that everyone gets the same amount. Equality conforms to the
amount of aratê or timê each person or god has. In our democratic age, one man gets one vote, but the
Homeric Greeks are not democratic.
Page 2 of 6 HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 12 Cherry Fan
The Realm of Myth
When rounding Malea, the southern point of the Peloponnesus in southern Greece, Odysseus and his
fleet are blown off course, for nine days. That essentially removes them from their civilization and places
them in a realm of fantasy or myth. All the stories Odysseus tells about this realm - remember that all
the stories at this point are being told by him - are laden with folktale motifs, including monsters and
magic. The first people they encounter in this realm are the Lotus-eaters, whose magical plant makes its
eater forget any notion of returning home (9.80-105). From there they arrive at the land of the Cyclopes,
not those in Hesiod, but a pre-civilized folk. Homer's description of them is almost like Hesiod's
description of Golden Age people, for whom the earth provided everything spontaneously (9.107-16).
Odysseus' encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus ('big-talker")is one of the most telling incidents in the
epic. It is based on the folktale motif of "the Ogre blinded".
A robber is captured by a giant (or ogre) with nine of his men. The giant ate all the men except the
robber. The robber offered to heal the giant's ailing eyes, but blinds him instead and escapes by
clutching a ram. The giant threw him a magic ring, which betrayed the robber's whereabouts and could
not be removed. Finally the robber cut off his finger and escaped.
When Odysseus enters the Cyclops' cave, it is as if he is entering hell. None of the laws of society or
respect of the gods holds good there. The Cyclops immediately asks his name, a sure sign hat he is a
poor host. Odysseus answers that his name is "Nobody" (9.364-6). Just as when he emerges from the
brine in book 6, he becomes nameless. When he finally escapes from the cave, he jeers the Cyclops and
reveals his name (9.504-5). This act of pride ends up costing him because Polyphemus can now curse
him by name.
"Hear me, Poseidon, earth-enfolder, dark-haired god, if indeed I am your son and you declared yourself
my father; grant that Odysseus, the sacker of cities, may never reach his home, indeed the son of Laertes,
whose home is in Ithaca; but if it is his fate to see his friends and reach his well-built house and his native
land, late may he come and in evil case, after losing all