Jennifer has taught 9th grade ELA and AP Literature for over 8 years. She has a dual master’s in English Literature and Teaching Secondary Ed from Simmons University. She is also a contracted freelance writer and certified AP Test Reader.
Distractions can be considered great coping mechanisms in the fast-paced world we live in, but sometimes distractions aren't asked for, or even wanted. On the island of Ogygia, Odysseus was held captive for more than seven years by a beautiful sea nymph, Calypso, and while the distraction may have been pleasant at first, her selfish desire for his companionship quickly turned sour. Let's take a look at Odysseus's time on the island of Ogygia and analyze the island's significance and symbolism in The Odyssey as a whole.
Odysseus fights the tumultuous sea for nine days after losing his ship and men and washes ashore on the island of Ogygia. A sea nymph and sorceress, Calypso, rules the island. Calypso is the daughter of Atlas, the Titan who was thought to hold up the sky and/or the heavens as punishment for taking part in the Titan war against Zeus. It has been thought that Calypso was banished to Ogygia due to her loyalty to her father during the war, but minimal information has been found regarding her background or the origin of the mythical island.
The name Ogygia connects to the oldest known ancient Greek King Ogynes. The word itself translates to primal, ancient, or primeval, but not much else is documented regarding the word and its origin. The island is seemingly fictional, yet over the years scholars have mentioned the island dating back to Greek antiquity. From a random island in the middle of the Mediterranean, to a mythical island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, this island seems to only exist in fiction.
Regarding location, Zeus' messenger Hermes tells Calypso that he didn't want to send the message to release Odysseus because her island is so far from the rest of the world, reminding the reader that even the gods don't wish to travel there. The distance is also significant because it points out the severity of Odysseus' punishment for harming Helios' cattle. This comment made by Hermes shows the reader just how far away Odysseus is from home.
Significance in The Odyssey
In the epic poem, Odysseus is held prisoner on Ogygia for seven years. Calypso refuses to help him get home, offering him everything from sex to immortality to persuade him to forget Penelope and his family in Ithaca. Calypso's greedy heart wants Odysseus to stay with her forever as her husband.
The island is described as having luxurious fruits and vegetation, lush fields and meadows, and caves for shelter. Odysseus has everything he could ever want and need, but his loyalty to his wife and home could not be broken. While he did act as Calypso's lover, that love soon faded from Odysseus. He is described crying every day, wishing he could return home to his wife. Odysseus, our epic hero, is forced to live a life of isolation, fulfilling no purpose as a warrior or leader. The island forces Odysseus to have no purpose except as Calypso's forced companion.
After leaving Troy, Odysseus goes on a journey from island to island with his men, working his way back to Ithaca. At times, he is stopped by forces beyond his control, but he also makes choices along the way that prolong his arrival home. This stop, however, was nothing close to choice. It seems his tears represent the realization that nothing can replace his family and home, and the isolation is a constant reminder of the loss of his old life. Ogygia awakens Odysseus' heart to the only place he could ever call home.
Scholars have found no proof that Ogygia exists, so as a reader, we must think about the symbolism in this epic tale. If Odysseus is removed from his life for seven years, then we can look at Calypso as a distraction from one's responsibilities and the island as a stagnant limbo. Odysseus does enjoy some of his time with Calypso and enjoys the sexual encounters they partake in, but his loyalty cannot be shaken from his heart for his wife and family. Even with the mistakes he has made along the way, it's clear Odysseus has repented his sins and wishes to follow his heart back to Ithaca. This island seems to symbolize distraction, limbo and recognition of one's self, all of which play a part in Odysseus' epic hero cycle and return home.
In the epic hero cycle, Calypso plays the role of a villain keeping the hero from completing his quest. While on the island, Odysseus is unable to fulfill his destiny of returning home; this segment of the poem fits into the paradigm of the epic hero archetype.
The island of Ogygia is where Odysseus was held captive for more than seven years. It's ruled by the beautiful sea nymph Calypso, who wishes to have Odysseus as her husband. The island is said to only exist in mythical tales and is far from the mainland of any country.
While Odysseus enjoys his new companionship, the lust fades, and he is left to ponder his family back home. The island symbolizes distraction and a sense of recognition that one can only find when removed from their reality. This portion of the poem reflects the epic hero cycle's villain that aims to stop the hero in his quest. While the poem recounts a mythical tale of an epic hero, we can all learn from Odysseus' time on Ogygia. In this symbolic distraction, Odysseus found out what was truly important to him, something we can all do with space, time, and reflection.
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