Lesson Nine: Book 5 of Homer’s Odyssey. Main events

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Lesson Nine: Book 5 of Homer’s Odyssey.

Main events

Zeus’s instructions to Hermes

Hermes’ conversation with Calypso

Odysseus prepares for departure from Ogygia

Odysseus’s difficult journey to Scherie.
Zeus’s instructions to Hermes

After another Council of the Gods. Hermes must give Calypso the following instructions from Zeus:

  1. Odysseus must set out for Ogygia.

  2. Neither men nor gods are to help him.

  3. He will build a raft by his own hands.

  4. He will have great hardship on the seas.

  5. He will reach Scherie on the 20th day. The Phaeacians who live there will treat him like a god. They will take him home by ship and give him magnificent gifts.

  6. Odysseus is destined to see his friends, home and native land again.

Hermes’ conversation with Calypso.

Calypso greets Hermes hospitably. He delivers his message from Zeus and she responds indignantly. Calypso’s argument has a feminist ring to it – why are goddesses not allowed to love mortal men? She lists the things she has done for Odysseus:

  1. She has rescued him from death when he was drifting alone on the sea.

  2. She welcomed him to her island and tended him.

  3. She offered to make him immortal and ageless.

These and other good deeds show that she loves Odysseus, but she knows she cannot disobey Zeus.
Although unwilling, she will comply with the order graciously and give Odysseus clear directions for making his way home.

Questions: The Visit of Hermes

  1. Identify and comment on the effect of the use of features of oral poetry found in the description of Hermes in the paragraph “Zeus has spoken. His messenger … [down to]… lovely locks was living.”

Eg. His Messenger, the Giant Killer
The lovely sandals of untarnishable gold
Like a sea-gull…unharvested deep
The nymph of the lovely locks

  1. What features of Hermes’ treatment by Calypso show that he is a god?

Hint: what was he offered to eat and drink? How did Calypso speak to him?

  1. A) List the goddess and b) their lovers mentioned by Calypso in her complaints to Hermes.

Odysseys prepares for departure from Ogygia.

Homer’s descriptions of Odysseus show that he is unhappy on the island:

  1. He would sit on the short, weeping and looking out to sea.

  2. His tears are for his native land.

  3. Calypso no longer pleases him.

  4. He longs for his wife, who is never out of his thoughts.

  5. He longs for his home.

Calypso tells him she will help him by stocking the raft he is to build with bread and water and red wine and by giving him clothing and by sending a favourable wind.
She then dispels his suspicions that she is plotting some mischief against him (Odysseus has no knowledge of Herme’s visit). Her words “For I have some sense of what is fair, and my heart is not made of iron. I know what pity is” tell us that she knows right from wrong and has compassion for others.
Their last meal together reflects that she is a goddess and he a mortal. The reader can see the irony in the fact that the now happy Odysseus sits in the chair just vacated by Hermes, the bringer of such bad tidings for Calypso.
Questions: Odyseus departs

  1. What tools did Odysseus use to build his raft?

  2. A) How many trees did he use?

b)What sort were they and what made them suitable for building the raft?

3. How long did it take him to build his raft?

4. What does the description of the raft-building tell us about Odysseus? Give at least three qualities and support your answer with evidence from the text.

5. Name the constellation by which Calypso told Odysseus to navigate.

6. Which of Calypso’s gifts prove to be a hindrance to Odysseus in the storm?

Odysseus’s difficult journey to Scherie

Poseidon sends a violent storm to prevent Odysseus reaching Scherie. Odysseus fears that his death will be lacking in glory, and, for this reason, wishes he had died among the glorious heroes at Troy so that his fame would have spread.

Odysseus is helped by two goddesses, Ino and Athene, to make land safely.
Ino of the slim ankles, also known as Leucothoe the White Goddess, tells him to:

  1. Take off his clothes

  2. Abandon his raft.

  3. Swim to the short.

  4. Wind the veil she gives him around his waist.

  5. Once on dry land, undo the veil and throw it out to sea, keeping eyes averted.


  1. Calms the winds causing the storm

  2. Orders the North Wind to flatten the waves in Odysseus’s path.

  3. Gives him the idea of clinging to a rock to counter the surge of the surf against the reed.

  4. Gives him the idea of swimming along behind the breakers until he sees a harbor with a safe beach.

  5. Closes his eyes in sleep when he is safely ashore.

Odysseus also uses his own intelligence to rationalize the problems confronting him nearer land, and when he reaches the shore he has to decide where it is safe to sleep.
Questions: Odysseus’s decisions

  1. A. What thoughts go through Odysseus’s mind after the visit from Ino?

b. What decision does he come to?

2. What thoughts go through Odysseus’s mind when he sees the rocky coastline of Scherie?

3. a. What plan does he adopt?

b. With whose help/

4. a. What two choices does Odysseus have once he reaches land?

b. Which one does he take and why?

Odysseus’s desire to leave Calypso and go home.

There are three main reasons why Odysseus wants to leave the comfort of Calypso’s island and the company of the beautiful goddess.

  1. His own character – Odysseus is determined to go home because his happiness lies with his wife, son and household. Although Calypso is beautiful, divine and can give him immortality, she can never be the partner that Penelope is. Penelope is described as wise and it is her intelligence which makes her the perfect lover for Odysseus, the clever and resourceful hero of the poem.

  2. The heroic ethos – to stay on the island would be a denial of his identity as hero. He cannot be a hero if there is no-one there to give him the public recognition his heroism warrants . The immortality offered would be a life without challenge, and to Odysseus would be a kind of death in life.

  3. Basic Homeric value – man lives in a society and forms part of a community working together for the good of that community. Man cannot live alone without this network of support, to which he also contributes. Man’s mortality sharpens his awareness of life. Odysseus intensely desires to be part of this society again.

Questions: Similes in Book 5

There are a number of similes in Book 5 eg:

“Like the North Wind at harvest-time tossing about the fields a ball of thistles that have stuck together, the gusts drove his craft hither and thither over the sea. Now the South Wind would toss it to the North to play with, and now the East would leave if for the West to chase.’
The points of similarity are as follows:

  1. The ball of thistles is the craft of Odysseus.

  2. The lightness of the ball is compared with the frailty of Odysseus’s raft in the face of the winds.

  3. The tossing of the ball is compared with the constantly violent motion of the raft lurching about in the waves.

  4. The tossing of the craft suggests that Odysseus’s raft is regarded as a plaything by the winds much as a ball would be.

Quote one other simile in Book 5, and explain what things are being compared.

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