What picture of Odysseus does Homer create in the first part of Book 5 of The Odyssey?
Book 5 is the first book in The Odyssey where we are introduced to our hero, Odysseus, although we have already formed some opinions of him through the Telemachi.
The opening scene of book 5 brings us to Mount Olympus, where the Gods are holding a meeting when Athene, Zeus’ daughter brings up Odysseus’ plight. We learn that he is kind, generous and law abiding, although Athene states he “might just as well devote his days to tyranny and lawless deeds” as everyone in Ithaca (as well as the Gods) seem to have forgotten all of the good he has done in his absence. He is also described as a “captive” prisoner on Calypso’s island of Ogygia, “left to languish in misery”. This makes the reader immediately empathise with Odysseus, as most can relate to their good deeds going unrecognised as well as the feeling of being trapped. Although the scene on Mount Olympus is relatively short, it almost puts Odysseus on a pedestal by showing him in this light and evoking this feeling in the reader before we have even arrived in Ogygia.
Throughout The Odyssey, we are given very little description in terms of character’s aesthetics, although their surroundings and homes seem to reflect this indirectly. When we first meet Odysseus, he is “sitting disconsolate on the shore in his accustomed place, tormenting himself with tears and sighs and heartache, and lookin out across the barren sea with streaming eyes”. which is hardly the initial description the reader would have been expecting of the hero Odysseus from what has been said of him thus far. However, it reflects his loyalty to his final quest of returning to the family and land he left so long ago, and how even after 7 years of looking out across the same sea he is still just as hopeful.
Our first description of Ogygia features some intertextuality with stark similarities to the Garden of Eden, full of exotic birds, beautiful flowers and natural springs, leading the reader to see it as a kind of paradise. It is hard at this point to immediately imagine this as a great warrior’s prison, but from what we know of Odysseus so far, the strong, mighty hero, it soon becomes clear; On an Island so serene and almost entirely deserted apart from Odysseus and his captor, it offers very little opportunity for him to do anything remotely heroic, which he may have welcomed initially after his struggles at sea with Poseidon, but enduring it for 7 years would have been nothing short of torture for someone used to living life as a constant uphill battle.
This is largely down to Calypso, who is a strong-willed, fiery minor Goddess, a force to be reckoned with, a woman scorned by being denied the one thing she truly wants; to be loved in return by Odysseus. She is what all men ultimately want and fear, the caring mother figure and the seductive temptress rolled into one.
In Book 5 when Hermes delivers the message from the Gods...