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!)

2 thoughts on “The Odyssey Read-Along Book V & VI

  1. Oh, good! I'm forcing myself to keep up. I must say I am enjoying this read even more than the first time! The Iliad is still my favourite of the two, though.

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