The Odyssey Read-Along Book V & VI

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book V

Hermes Argeiphontes is sent to Kalypso’s island to inform the nymph that her hold on Odysseus is broken and that she must let him go.  Reluctantly, she agrees but only because she knows resisting the will of Zeus would be fruitless.  Yet when she tells Odysseus that he is a free man, he suspects her of subterfuge but she assures him of her sincerity.  She takes him to a grove of trees where he constructs a raft and loads it full of supplies before he departs.  Eighteen days out on his journey, he is spotted by Poseidon who, angered by the sight of him, causes a great storm to blow up and Odysseus is eventually forced to swim for land.  After swimming for nearly three days, he finally nears a coast, only to find the shoreline rimmed with jutting rock and jagged cliffs.  Poor Odysseus nearly drowns in the surf but, with some help from Athene, he finds a mouth of a river where he finally makes land.  Exhausted with his struggles, he decides to brave the wild animals and finds shelter in the forest to rest and sleep.


It appears that Odysseus initially stayed willingly with Kalypso, living with her as a husband.  Yet as time passed, her charms wore off until he was sorrowfully pining to return home to his wife and country.  In Greek culture, a man who had an affair with a foreigner or slave was not viewed as being unfaithful.

The Assistance of the Gods

Curiously, though the gods choose to help certain mortals, in most cases their assistance is deliberately limited.  They appear to offer just enough help to allow the person to use their ingenuity, strength and perseverance to get themselves out of a dire situation or to learn a specific lesson.


Odysseus has been shipwrecked by Poseidon twice; he has had two monologues; he has had two helpers; and he climbs back into his boat twice.  What does this mean?  I have no idea ….. 😉

Hermes Ordering Calypso to Release Odysseus
by Gerald de Lairesse (1670)
Wikimedia Commons

Book VI

As Odysseus sleeps on remote Phaiakia, Athene comes to Nausikaa, the daughter of king Alkinoös, in a dream, urging her to carry the washing in her father’s wagon down to the river to wash.   When she obeys the next day, Odysseus himself emerges from the bushes, naked but for a branch.  All her handmaidens scatter in terror, yet Nausikaa bravely questions him and finds he is a stranger to their country.  Employing his admirable tact and intelligence, Odysseus charms the girl.  She lends him some garments, waits while he washes and then instructs him to go to the palace of her parents, to grasp her mother’s knees in supplication and thus will he get assistance for his journey.  He prays to Athene that the reception of the Phaiakians will be favourable.


There are numerous scenes of feasting throughout the poem.  If a stranger arrives, a feast is prepared, often before his name is learnt or his circumstances; if he stays, there is more feasting; there is feasting upon his departure; when the gods visit each other, they feast, such as the preparations made by Kalypso for Hermes when he arrived with his message.  In the case of mortals, the feasting is accompanied by sacrifices to the gods.


I am beginning to wonder if the hospitality and reverence offered to guests are not necessarily out of the goodness of the heart of the host.  Whenever a stranger appears, they are never completely certain if they are entertaining a mortal or a god.  It seems like good sense to treat everyone like a god and therefore be certain that they haven’t offended one and that no dreadful punishment will follow for lack of generosity.

The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa
by Jacob Jordaens
Wikimedia Commons
(How Nausicaa and her handmaidens were able to get
ahold of 19th century clothing is a mystery!)

The Odyssey Read-Along Book III & IV

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book III

Telemachos and Athene arrive at Pylos, the home of Nestor.  After Telemachos asks Nestor for news of his father, Nestor describes their homecoming; how a quarrel between Agamemnon and Menelaos sprang up and how half of the forces left with Menelaos, including Nestor and Odysseus.  However, another quarrel began and Odysseus turned back, while Nestor continued on the windswept ocean and, with many prayers and sacrifices, made it home safely without knowing what happened to the other Achaians.  As Athene showed favour towards Odysseus in Troy, so Nestor hopes she will show favour towards his son by helping him rid his house of the unwanted suitors.  When Telemachos states that even the gods couldn’t help him with that problem, he is scolded by Athene whereupon he reveals that he believes his father dead.  Nestor then relates the stories he has learned later of the homecoming of the Achaians who had been with him: Agamemnon was killed by Aigisthos, the lover of his wife, Klytaimestra, upon reaching home, yet 8 years later Aigisthos was killed by Orestes, the son of Agamemnon; Menelaos was blown to Egypt by the gods and there lived many years before recently returning to his kingdom.  Nestor counsels Telemachos to find Menelaos who will speak the truth to him. Offering horses and his sons as guides on the morrow, he gives Telemachos a bed in the palace in which to sleep.  When dawn arrives, another sacrifice is made to the gods and Telemachos departs by chariot for Lakedaimon, the home of Menelaos.
A King and His Kingdom
While the Kings of Greece appear to be well-respected by their people, in Ithaka there is a lack of loyalty and devotion.  Respect comes with a price, and if a king is no longer able to benefit his subjects, they often will look somewhere else for either leadership, or conversely, seek power themselves.


During the short time Telemachos and Athene spend on Pylos, Nestor has two sacrificial feasts to the gods.  The detailed explanation of these offerings shows Nestor’s piety and generosity.  His devoted worship of the gods is perhaps one of the reasons he was able to return home from Troy with very few delays, unlike the rest of the Achaians.

Telemachus departing from Nestor
by Henry Howard
source Wikipedia

Book IV

Telemachos and Athene arrive at the house of Menelaos in Lakedaimon. The couple show hospitality to their guests, bringing them into the palace to feast.  Menelaos tells of their 8 year delay in Egypt before returning home and laments the death of his brother, Agamemnon, at the hands of his wife’s lover.  When he begins to reminisce about the Trojan War, he brings everyone to tears.  Helen relates how Odysseus came to her from out of the Trojan horse, extracting a promise of silence about their presence, yet Menelaos contradicts her, accusing her of trying to lure the Achaians out of the horse and to their deaths.  The next morning Telemachos shares his troubles with Menelaos, whereupon Menelaos tells him the story of the Old Man of the Sea, Proteus, who revealed the death of two of the Achaians, Aias and Agamemnon, but acknowledged that Odysseus was alive, though a captive of Kalypso (which means “I cover” or “I conceal” in ancient Greek) on her island.  Meanwhile, on Ithaka, the suitors discover that Telemachos has sailed and are stupefied at his daring.  Antinoös recovers and plots to take a ship to set an ambush upon Telemachos’ return, to take his life.  Penelope learns of the journey of Telemachos and of the suitors plans, and while initially distraught, she has a dream that all will be well because Athene is with him.  When she asks if Odysseus still lives, she is told: “I will not tell you the whole story whether he still lives and looks upon the sun’s shining, or whether he has died and is in the house of Hades.”

Fame and Glory

Menelaos states that he would gladly be happy with one-third of the riches he returned with, if only it would bring back the fallen heroes of the war. Spoils and riches are equated with glory in this culture and it is interesting that he would not give up everything for his fallen comrades.  Fame and glory can often be more important than life itself.

Trust and Betrayal

The interaction between Menelaos and Helen seems at once, comfortable and strained.  Each tell a conflicting story about Helen’s actions during the end of the war, and it is apparent that her husband does not believe her rendition.  After 10 years, they have learned to live together but trust is certainly lacking.  Is Helen telling the truth?   After such a long time, Helen’s character is still elusive.

A King and His Kingdom

Penelope, half pleading with, half scolding the suitors says:

“…….. Nor have you listened to what you heard from your fathers before you, when you were children, what kind of man Odysseus was among your own parents, how he did not act and spoke no word in his own country that was unfair …..”

Odysseus has been gone so long that the suitors have never known him personally, and this is partly from where their disrespectful attitudes stem. Their king is like a myth or dream, and there is nothing to tie their allegiance to him, except stories passed down from their elders.


Menelaos, when recounting his adventures in Egypt, reveals that the reason for his long detour was that he had neglected to render complete hecatombs (offerings) to the gods, angering them.  This is in contrast to Nestor, who made the proper sacrifices and arrives home quickly and safely.

Telemachus in the Palace of Menelaos
source Wikimedia Commons

The Odyssey Read-Along Book I & II

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

And so we start our journey with Odysseus in his quest to find his way home after the long Trojan War, to be reunited with his wife and son, and to re-establish his reputation as the king of Ithaka.  Plethora of Books is kindly hosting this read-along and has done a wonderful introductory post overflowing with important background information to better understand and enjoy The Odyssey, so please check it out!

I’m going to be posting two books at a time, in spite of the four-books-a-week pace, because I have a strong feeling that my posts will get too long, trying to fit four books into one post.

Greek text of The Odyssey’s opening passage
source Wikipedia

Book I

Homer invokes his Muse to tell the story of “a man of many ways” who after the sack of Troy, spends much time fighting for his life and those of his companions to accomplish their homecoming.  Yet Homer quite handily and conveniently makes Odysseus a lone hero by relating the story of his companions’ fateful actions as they foolishly abuse the hospitality of Helios the Sun God by eating his cattle and, therefore, meet their death.

On Olympus, Athene pleads with Zeus to remember the struggles of Odysseus, in spite of the anger of Poseidon, kindled after Odysseus blinded his son, Polyphemus, the Cyclops.  Zeus agrees to send Hermes to him and Athene departs for Ithaka, the home of Odysseus, where his wife is being beseiged by suitors and his son, Telemachos, stands helpless.  Announcing herself as a man named Mentes, Athene counsels Telemachos to take a ship and search for his father, who is being held captive on a sea-washed island.  Her instructions will send him first to visit Nestor on Pylos and then Menelaos at Sparta.  Before leaving, she reprimands him for his childish acceptance of the raucous disrespectful behaviour in his household.  A transformed Telemachos returns home to lightly scold his mother, Penelope, and admonish the suitors for their behaviour, astonishing both parties with his newly acquired forcefulness and strength of mind.  We find later that Telemachos has ascertained that it was Athene in the form of Mentes, then he retires to bed, deliberating the upcoming voyage.



The guest-host relationship is an important aspect of Greek culture.  In The Iliad, we get an example of how complex this social ritual is when we see Diomedes of the Achaean (Greek) warriors and Glaukos of the Trojan warriors, not only refusing to fight each other, but exchanging armour simply because the grandfather of Diomedes had hosted Glaukos in the past and they had exchanged gifts.  Their actions demonstrate that the guest-host relationship is sacred.  Perhaps this example makes it easier to understand why the Sun God would slaughter all of Odysseus’s men, and it also makes the behaviour of the suitors in the home of Odysseus that much more appalling.  Odysseus was/is the king of Ithaka, yet it is obvious by his absence, the island is completely lacking leadership and the societal rules and traditions have degraded into a type of anarchy.

Fame & Glory

It appears that if Odysseus would have died the death of a warrior during the Trojan War, his namesake would have been respected and the problems with the suitors would probably have not existed.  The glory he would have won in death would have been passed to Telemachos:

“…….. I should not have sorrowed over his dying
if he had gone down among his companions in the land of the Trojans,
or in the arms of his friends, after he had wound up the fighting.
So all the Achaians would have heaped a grave mound over him,
And he would have won great fame for himself and his son hereafter.” (236 – 240)


When we first meet him, he is a boy, without any power or prestige.  The suitors have taken over his house and, in fact, his inheritance, as they make free use of his goods.  While he complains to third parties about the mens’ insolence and discourtesy, he does not seem to have made any resistance against them in word or deed.  Yet after his conversation with Mentes (Athene), she imbues him with courage and spirit, which he immediately puts to use and attempts to establish himself as the power in the household, first by demonstrating control over his mother, and then by threatening the suitors with consequences if they don’t return to their own homes.

Telemachos & Mentor
source Wikipedia

Book II

Telemachos calls a meeting of the men of Ithaka, where he castigates them for abusing his home and provisions, and for pressuring his mother to marry yet not being willing to take the proper steps of asking her father for her hand.  Yet Antinoös contests his views, agreeing to allow Penelope and her father to choose one of them, and accuses her of the ultimate deception: conceiving of a ploy to delay her marriage, she begins weaving a shroud, agreeing she will marry one of the suitors when it is finished, yet she unravels the shroud each night.  Countering the charge by avoiding the issue, Telemachos states he cannot make his mother marry against her will without invoking the rage of the furies and the displeasure of the people.  Hmmmm ……. some of his father’s wiliness seems to be springing up in his character …..

As they are speaking, two eagles overhead tear at each other, and wise Halitherses, reading the omen, warns the suitors that Odysseus will return and that they will suffer great pains.  Scorning his words, Eurymachos states that they will continue their harassment, whereupon Telemachos requests a ship and men to journey to find his father, promising that if he learns of his death, he will return and give his mother in marriage.  Mentor, the steward of Odysseus, then accused the people of Ithaka of not speaking up against the suitors’ ignoble actions.  Leokritos, scoffing, dares anyone to go against them, even Odysseus himself, and the meeting breaks up accordingly.

In response to Telemachos’ prayer, Athene appears in the form of Mentor and promises him a ship.  When Telemachos arrives home, Antinoös attempts to persuade him to feast with them, but he replies that he will work towards their destruction and, as he leaves, the suitors ponder if he is going to seek a way to bring about their murders, or if perhaps, he may perish on his upcoming voyage.

Meanwhile, Athene secures men and a ship, returns to place a “sweet slumber over the suitors”, which allows them to leave unseen.


Ithaka Without A King

It’s apparent that without a king, the island kingdom has fallen into a sorry state of disorder and rebellion.  The suitors, by abusing the code of hospitality, are acting in a way that they would never act if there had been proper leadership.  Aigyptios mentioned that the meeting called by Telemachos was the first since Odysseus had gone away (nearly 20 years before!), more evidence of a lack of government which allows the suitors free license in their conduct.


He still needs to rely on leadership from Athene, but if she gives him a task, he is ready to complete it.  The suitors still aren’t taking him seriously …… yet …..

Men Crying

“So he (Telemachos) spoke in anger, and dashed to the ground the scepter
in a stormburst of tears; and pity held all the people
Now all the rest were stricken to silence, none was so hardy
As to answer, angry word against word, the speech of Telemachos.” (80 – 83)

This scene occurred in the middle of Telemachos’ speech to the suitors at the meeting.  Is this a childish tantrum?  I’m not sure.  The corresponding emotions felt by the people were pity and restraint.  I know from reading The Iliad, that tears from a Greek warrior are not unusual, and a crying man was not viewed by the ancient Greeks in the negative light that we would view one today.  Yet hurling the sceptre to the ground with tears perhaps shows a youthful frustration and petulance …?  What does everyone else think?

Penelope & the Suitors
by John William Waterhouse (1912)
Public Domain