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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 5

Summary

Athena again appeals for pity on Odysseus at the council of the gods. Zeus asks Hermes to go to Calypso in Ogygia and command Odysseus' release. When Hermes delivers Zeus' command, Calypso becomes angry, telling Hermes that the gods are jealous of goddesses mating with men, but, as she cannot defy Zeus, she agrees to release Odysseus.

Calypso goes down to the sea shore, where Odysseus is weeping, and tells him that she will help him build a raft to carry him home. He is initially suspicious of her intentions, but is convinced when she swears an oath that she means him no harm. It takes four days to build the raft. On the fifth day, Odysseus leaves the isle and travels peacefully for seventeen days. On the eighteenth day, Poseidon sees him and rouses great storms in anger. Odysseus curses his fate and wonders why he did not die on the battlefield. In the midst of his trouble, Ino, a goddess, takes pity on him and gives him a veil, which will not let him drown. He leaves his raft and swims for two days and two nights before he sees land. After great difficulty, he finally reaches the shore with the help of Athena and a nameless river god. He throws Ino's veil back into the sea and goes to sleep on a heap of dry leaves in a thick wood away from the shore.

Notes

The middle section of The Odyssey starts with Book 5, which has a notably distinctive character. Odysseus' departure from Ogygia and arrival in Phaecia are told in the third person with an outstanding objectivity. Odysseus emerges in all his glory and dominates the scene. The events in this Book provide a skillful transition to the wonders that are to follow later. Here the events are not yet marvelous, nor are there any monsters, but Odysseus does show his physical powers and his endurance in building the raft, braving the storm, and then swimming for two days and nights. Rather than appear as a stock hero, however, Odysseus emerges as a complex being, capable of both homesickness and wanderlust, bravery and cowardice, despair and hope, nobility and deceitfulness, and, as such, becomes not only an interesting character in and of himself, but can stand as a symbol of either individual man or humanity in general.


The Odyssey deals twice with the ancient theme of a female superhuman who detains the hero by making him live with her. She appears in two quite different forms, as Circe (in Book 10) and Calypso. Both live alone on remote isles. Apart from this, the differences between the two are great. Circe keeps Odysseus for a year and releases him without complaint. Calypso keeps him for eight years, hoping to make him immortal, but is told by the gods to give him up, which she does unhappily, but graciously. Circe has a sinister glamour while Calypso does not. The adventure with Circe is exciting, whereas the sojourn with Calypso has much charm and beauty, but lacks dramatic variety. However, it is needed to fill a gap in the story. Odysseus is away from home for a total of twenty years. By the time of his shipwreck and the loss of all his companions, only twelve years have passed, and the remaining eight have to be accounted for. This is done by confining him to Calypso's island where nothing can be heard of him. His fate remains a mystery to his family and his friends, and he is almost forgotten by the gods.

Gods again play an important role in this Book. It is Athena who initiates the action by asking the other gods to help Odysseus. Zeus agrees and sends Hermes to Calypso. Calypso is a goddess herself. Poseidon, the god of the sea, makes things difficult for Odysseus, and Ino, a sea nymph, aids him. Finally, a river god and Athena once again help the hero to reach the shore. But Odysseus, a mere mortal, does manage to hold his own in comparison to these immortal ones.

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