A sampling of comments on Odyssey Rhapsody 5

2017.04.13 / updated 2018.10.07 | By Gregory Nagy

The rhapsody starts with the releasing of Odysseus by one goddess and ends with the mystical saving of his life by a second goddess, who is Leukotheā, the White Goddess. The beautiful Leukotheā saves Odysseus by undoing her hair and giving him as a life-saver the veil that had held her curls in place. As for the first goddess, who is Calypso, her action in releasing Odysseus from their mutual love affair becomes another life-saver for him. That is because the chances of success for such an affair between a mortal man and an immortal goddess would have been minimal, as we will see by observing other myths that tell about other such affairs. If the liaison of Odysseus with Calypso had continued, it is a certainty that he would have been killed off, just as Orion had died because of his liaison with Ēōs the goddess of the dawn. [[GN 2017.04.12.]]

“Leucothea, the White Goddess, Preserving Ulysses” (1805). John Flaxman (1755–1826). Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, 1996. Image via the Tate.  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T11195
“Leucothea, the White Goddess, Preserving Ulysses” (1805). John Flaxman (1755–1826). Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, 1996. Image via the Tate.


subject heading(s): Ēōs, goddess of dawn; Tīthōnos

Only here in the Odyssey is the hero Tīthōnos ever mentioned, O.05.001. In the Iliad, there is a parallel mention of Tīthōnos at I.11.001. The wording of O.05.001–002 here matches the wording of I.11.001–002. The story of the abduction of Tīthōnos by Ēōs, goddess of dawn, is told in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 218–238. The liaison between the mortal man Tīthōnos and the immortal goddess Ēōs is parallel to the liaison between the mortal man Anchises and the immortal goddess Aphrodite. And, as a result of both these affairs, the mortal man is permanently damaged. In the case of Tīthōnos, he loses his youth though he holds on to life, but old age renders him immobile, as we read in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, verse 234. In the case of Anchises, he too is afflicted with immobility—which is why his son Aeneas has to carry him on his shoulders in ancient depictions of that hero’s escape from Troy together with his family (for a splendid example, I refer to a vase painting dated to the early fifth century BCE, British Museum inventory number 1836.0224.138). Such stories of permanent damage are relevant to the story of the affair between Odysseus and the goddess Calypso. In sum, the fact that Rhapsody 5 begins with a reference to an affair between a mortal man and an immortal goddess indicates the dangers that now threaten Odysseus. [[GN 2017.04.12 via GMP 252.]]


subject heading(s): rhabdos ‘wand’; thelgein ‘put a trance on, enchant’

The accusative of ommata ‘eyes’ here, as the direct object of thelgein, indicates that the idea of looking is built into this verb. Accordingly, it can be argued that the Lithuanian verb žvelgiù ‘look’ is a cognate of thelgein, which I translate as ‘put a trance on, enchant’. I interpret the enchantment here as an effect of visual attraction. [[GN 2017.04.13 via Nagy 2008:50 and HC 1§121.]]


subject heading(s): Ēōs; Orion; rhododaktulos ‘rosy-fingered’; thugatēr Dios ‘daughter of Zeus’

The myth about the liaison between the mortal man Orion and the immortal goddess Ēōs is retold by Calypso herself as an example of the double standard shown by the divine powers in not tolerating a relationship where the immortal lover of a mortal is female, not male. It is to be noted that Ēōs, at the moment when she takes the initiative in seducing Orion at O.05.121, is described with the epithet rhododaktulos ‘rosy-fingered’ instead of the epithet thugatēr Dios ‘daughter of Zeus’, which would have been appropriate if the seducer had been a goddess like Aphrodite. See the anchor comment at O.12.001–010. [[GN 2017.04.13 via BA 197, 201–203; GMP 207, 242, 251–252.]]


subject heading(s): heleto ‘took’

The verb heleto ‘took’ referring here at O.05.121 to the seduction of Orion by Ēōs the goddess of the dawn is neutral in comparison to other verbs indicating an abduction by force, as when Ēōs hērpasen ‘seized’ Tīthōnos in Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 218. For more on the links of heroes like Orion and Tithōnos with Ēōs, see the comment on O.15.250–251. [[GN 2017.04.13 via GMP 242, 244, 248, 251.]]


subject heading(s): killing of Orion by Artemis

The goddess Artemis shoots Orion with her arrows. [[GN 2017.04.13 via GMP 251.]]


subject heading(s): athanatos ‘immortal’; agērōs ‘ageless’; Ganymedes

At O.05.136, Calypso says that she was intending to make Odysseus athanatos ‘immortal’ and agērōs ‘ageless’. Similarly in Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 214, Zeus when he abducts Ganymedes makes him athanatos ‘immortal’ and agērōs ‘ageless’. By contrast, in Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 221, Ēōs forgets to ask for agelessness after she abducts Tīthōnos and asks only that her mortal lover be athanatos ‘immortal’. So, she forgot to ask that he should have lasting hēbē ‘youth’, Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 224. [[GN 2017.04.13 via BA 197.]]


subject heading(s): aiōn ‘life-force, lifetime’; phthinesthai ‘wilt, perish’

At O.05.160, aiōn ‘life-force, lifetime’ is a potential recycling of time: see the comment on I.01.052. But such a recycling is threatened at O.05.161 by a linear prolongation of life, which would result in what is indicated here by the verb phthinesthai ‘wilt, perish’. [GN 2017.04.13 via GMP 126.]


subject heading(s): swearing by the Styx

For a god to swear by the Styx is to reaffirm the absolute permanence of its waters, as indicated by the epithet aphthito– ‘imperishable’ in Hesiod Theogony 389, 397, 805. See the comment on I.02.046; also the comment on Homeric Hymn to Demeter 259, where Demeter swears by the Styx that she would have made the child Demophon athanatos ‘immortal’ and agērōs, 260, if the mother of this child had not spoiled what the goddess intended. [[GN 2017.04.13 via BA 187.]]


subject heading(s): harmoniā ‘joint’ (in woodworking)

We see here a specialized sense of this noun harmoniā ‘joint’, derived from the root ar– as in arariskein ‘join’. [[GN 2017.04.13 via BA 299.]]


subject heading(s): Odysseus as stargazer; Ēōs; Arktos

If Odysseus could read the stars correctly, he would see that the constellation of Orion shows him what would have happened if his liaison with Calypso had been prolonged: Odysseus too would have been killed off, like Orion. The astral configuration of Orion the Hunter and Arktos the Bear here at O.05.273–275 is pictured also at I.18.487–489. The stars in this configuration are re-enacting the myth of Orion: how Ēōs the goddess of dawn made Orion her lover and how the goddess Artemis the huntress then shot Orion with her arrows and killed him. The myth, as we have already seen, is narrated at O.05.121–124. A special point of interest in the description of Arktos the Bear at O.05.274—also at I.18.488—is the expression dokeuei: it appears that this she-bear is ‘taking aim’ at Orion. It can be argued that this pose of Arktos the she-bear reveals her to be a stand-in for the goddess Artemis herself at the moment when the goddess takes aim at Orion in order to shoot him dead with her arrows. It can also be argued that the dangerous liaison of Ēōs with Orion at O.05.121–124 is viewed as a relevant parallel to the liaison of Calypso with Odysseus. [[GN 2017.04.17 via BA 201–203; GMP 207, 253; PH 232.]]


subject heading(s): the wish of Odysseus to have died at Troy

The formulation of this wish shows that Odysseus is longing to be defined by an epic that is limited to the happenings in the Trojan War, excluding the happenings that he experiences in the Odyssey. But this is not to be. For Odysseus to be hero in his own epic, he must have a safe homecoming from Troy. [[GN 2017.04.13 via BA 35.]]



Q&T via H24H 24§42

|333 τὸν δὲ ἴδεν Κάδμου θυγάτηρ, καλλίσφυρος Ἰνώ, |334 Λευκοθέη, ἣ πρὶν μὲν ἔην βροτὸς αὐδήεσσα, |335 νῦν δ’ ἁλὸς ἐν πελάγεσσι θεῶν ἐξέμμορε τιμῆς. |336 ἥ ῥ’ Ὀδυσῆ’ ἐλέησεν ἀλώμενον, ἄλγε’ ἔχοντα· |337 αἰθυίῃ δ’ εἰκυῖα ποτῇ ἀνεδύσετο λίμνης, |338 ἷζε δ’ ἐπὶ σχεδίης καί μιν πρὸς μῦθον ἔειπε· |339 “κάμμορε, τίπτε τοι ὧδε Ποσειδάων ἐνοσίχθων |340 ὠδύσατ’ ἐκπάγλως, ὅτι τοι κακὰ πολλὰ φυτεύει; |341 οὐ μὲν δή σε καταφθείσει, μάλα περ μενεαίνων. |342 ἀλλὰ μάλ’ ὧδ’ ἕρξαι, δοκέεις δέ μοι οὐκ ἀπινύσσειν· |343 εἵματα ταῦτ’ ἀποδὺς σχεδίην ἀνέμοισι φέρεσθαι |344 κάλλιπ’, ἀτὰρ χείρεσσι νέων ἐπιμαίεο νόστου |345 γαίης Φαιήκων, ὅθι τοι μοῖρ’ ἐστὶν ἀλύξαι. |346 τῆ δέ, τόδε κρήδεμνον ὑπὸ στέρνοιο τανύσσαι |347 ἄμβροτον· οὐδέ τί τοι παθέειν δέος οὐδ’ ἀπολέσθαι. |348 αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν χείρεσσιν ἐφάψεαι ἠπείροιο, |349 ἂψ ἀπολυσάμενος βαλέειν εἰς οἴνοπα πόντον |350 πολλὸν ἀπ’ ἠπείρου, αὐτὸς δ’ ἀπονόσφι τραπέσθαι.” |351 ὣς ἄρα φωνήσασα θεὰ κρήδεμνον ἔδωκεν, |352 αὐτὴ δ’ ἂψ ἐς πόντον ἐδύσετο κυμαίνοντα |353 αἰθυίῃ εἰκυῖα· μέλαν δέ ἑ κῦμ’ ἐκάλυψεν.

|333 He [= Odysseus] was seen by the daughter of Cadmus. She is Ino, with the beautiful ankles, |334 and she is also called the White Goddess [Leukotheā], but she had been a mortal before that, endowed with a special voice [audē]. |335 But now, in the depths, she had a share in the honor [tīmē] that belongs to gods. |336 She took pity on Odysseus, lost at sea and suffering pains [algea]. |337 Appearing as a winged diving bird [aithuia], she emerged from the waters |338 and perched on the raft, addressing him with this set of words [mūthos]: |339 “Unfortunate man, why on earth is Poseidon the earth-shaker |340 so terribly hateful toward you, creating so many bad experiences for you? |341 But I now see that he will not destroy you, much as he wants to. |342 Do as I tell you, and I think you will not miss in your mind what I tell you: |343 get out of these clothes of yours and let your raft be carried off by the winds. |344 Just let it go. Then start paddling with your hands and strive for your homecoming [nostos] |345 by heading for the land of the Phaeacians, where your destiny [moira] for escape awaits you. |346 Here, take my veil [krēdemnon] and wrap it around your chest. |347 It is a veil that is immortalizing [ambroton], and there is nothing to be afraid of: you will not suffer anything or be destroyed. |348 But as soon as you touch land with your hands, |349 at that moment take off the veil and throw it into the wine-colored sea [pontos]. |350 Throw it as far back as you can into the sea, while you turn in the other direction.” |351 Speaking these words, the goddess took off her veil [krēdemnon] and gave it him. |352 Then she plunged down again into the seething sea [pontos], |353 looking like the diving bird [aithuia], and vanished beneath the dark waves.

Odyssey 5.333–353

subject heading(s): Ino; Leukotheā ‘White Goddess’; krēdemnon ‘headdress’ or ‘veil’

Odysseus is saved from drowning by Ino, O.05.333, who was once a mortal woman but who has become immortalized after death by becoming the Leukotheā or ‘White Goddess’, O.05.334. The White Goddess gives to Odysseus her krēdemnon, that is, her headdress or ‘veil’, which becomes his life-saver: O.05.346, O.05.351, O.05.373, O.05.459. In order to give the hero her headdress, she would first have to undo her hair, as we can see by comparing the scene where Andromache lets fall from her head her own headdress, the word for which is, here again, krēdemnon, I.22.470. See the commentary on I.22.460–474, where I noted that the undoing of a woman’s hair, caused by the undoing of her krēdemnon, produces what I called an Aphrodisiac effect. So long as a woman’s krēdemnon is in place, her sexuality is under control just as her hair is under control. When the krēdemnon is out of place, however, her sexuality threatens to get out of control. Also, while saving the hero, the goddess assumes the form of a diving bird called aithuia, O.05.337 and O.05.353. These actions of Ino in saving Odysseus from the mortal dangers of the sea are parallel to the actions of the goddess Athena herself. [What follows is epitomized from Nagy 1985:80–81 (= §78).] Ino as aithuia has a parallel agent in ensuring the salvation of Odysseus from the sea: Athena herself redirects the storm sent against the hero by Poseidon, O.05.382–387, and then she saves him from immediate drowning by giving him a timely idea for swimming to safety, O.05.435–439. The hero submerges but then emerges from a wave that would surely have drowned him had it not been for Athena, O.05.435 and O.05.438, and this detail corresponds closely to the preceding emergence and submergence of Ino herself, O.05.337 and O.05.352–353. Such a correspondence suggests that Ino, the former mortal who is now a goddess, O.05.334 and O.05.335, is a model for a transition from death to life anew. See also the comment on O.05.333. [[GN 2017.04.13 via BA 203; H24H 11§53.]]


O.05.333 / anchor comment on: kallisphuros ‘having beautiful ankles’
subject heading(s): kallisphuros ‘having beautiful ankles’

Daniela Winkler (1977 [2017] ch. 3) has made a remarkable discovery about this epithet kallisphuros ‘having beautiful ankles’, as applied here at O.05.333 to Ino the White Goddess. In Homeric diction, the application of this epithet to women or goddesses signals that their presence is essential for the salvation of men who have the good fortune of making contact with them. [[GN 2017.06.01.]]


subject heading(s): tēkesthai ‘melt away, dissolve’

Here the verb tēkesthai ‘melt away’ refers to wasting away in illness. For other metaphorical applications, see especially the comment at O.19.204–212. [[GN 2017.04.13 via HC 2§256n.]]


subject heading(s): Odysseus as octopus

The comparison of Odysseus to an octopus here is a signature, as it were, of his reputation for being polutropos ‘turning-into-many-different-selves’. This epithet is analyzed in the comment on O.01.001–010. On the polytropic nature of the octopus, I cite two relevant passages: Theognis 215–218 and Pindar F 43 SM. [[GN 2017.04.13 via PH 425.]]


subject heading(s): epiphrosunē ‘impulse of wisdom’

For this translation of epiphrosunē, ‘impulse of wisdom’, see HPC 45n33. [[GN 2017.04.13.]]


subject heading(s): ana-pneîn ‘take a breath, breathe in’

This verb expresses the idea of revival, ana-pneîn (ἄμπνυτο) in the sense of ‘taking a breath’ or ‘breathing in’. See the comment on I.05.696–698. [[GN 2017.04.13 via GMP 90.]]


subject heading(s): ponos ‘pain’; kamatos ‘pain’

The elements ponos ‘pain’ and kamatos ‘pain’ in the expression δυσπονέος καμάτοιο at O.05.493 are conventional designations of the life-and-death struggles of a hero. [[GN 2017.04.13 via PH 139.]]


Bibliographical Abbreviations

BA       = Best of the Achaeans, Nagy 1979/1999.

GMP    = Greek Mythology and Poetics, Nagy 1990b.

H24H   = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Nagy 2013

HC       = Homer the Classic, Nagy 2009|2008

HPC     = Homer the Preclassic, Nagy 2010|2009

HQ       = Homeric Questions, Nagy 1996b

HR       = Homeric Responses, Nagy 2003

LSJ      = Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones. 1940. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford.

MoM    = Masterpieces of Metonymy, Nagy 2016|2015

PasP    = Poetry as Performance, Nagy 1996a

PH      = Pindar’s Homer, Nagy 1990a



See the dynamic Bibliography for AHCIP.


Inventory of terms and names

See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for AHCIP.