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Calypso in The Odyssey: Summary, Overview

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  • 0:00 Calypso
  • 0:38 The Odyssey
  • 1:52 Background and Depictions
  • 2:19 Analysis
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the ancient Greek nymph, Calypso, and her role in Homer's ''Odyssey.'' Though just a nymph, Calypso challenges the Olympian gods and tries to hold Odysseus captive.

Calypso

Have you ever been in a relationship that you just could not seem to end? The spark was no longer there, you didn't share the same interests anymore, and the two of you just seemed to be going through the motions. Yet, despite that, your partner seemed more into you than ever? The relationships where one person wants out and the other does not can be hard to navigate.

Humans have surely confronted these exact circumstances for millennia. For proof, we can look to classical literature for examples. For example, such a predicament faced Odysseus with Calypso in Book V of Homer's The Odyssey.

The Odyssey

According to Homer, soon after Odysseus landed on the island of Ogygia, Odysseus met the minor goddess and nymph, Calypso. Calypso soon fell madly in love with Odysseus, and she forced the traveler to remain on the island as her husband and hostage. Though Odysseus humored Calypso at first - by taking her to bed - he soon wanted to leave and continue his return home to Ithaca and his family. Athena, who championed Odysseus throughout The Odyssey, saw his plight and brought it to the attention of the other gods. After an impassioned speech, Zeus agreed that Odysseus must be freed.

Zeus then sent Hermes to the island to tell Calypso that the Olympian gods determined that Odysseus must be let go. The irony of a noted adulterer like Zeus forcing Calypso to give up her mortal lover was not lost on Calypso, and she delivered a scathing rebuke of Zeus and the other male gods who often took up relations with mortal women. In the end, Calypso eventually agreed and helped Odysseus to build new boats and supplied him with food and fresh water for his voyage. In all, Odysseus spent seven years on the island as Calypso's captive.

Background and Depictions

Calypso was believed to be the daughter of the Titan Atlas, though speculation varies widely as to who her mother was. Calypso was a nymph and not a full goddess. Her only real role in any Greek literature or myth is in The Odyssey.

Regardless, Calypso's role in The Odyssey often caused her to be the subject of Medieval and Renaissance artwork. She is often depicted showing the passionate love she exhibited for Odysseus.

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