Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Calypso and Odysseus


Calypso's Isle, Herbert James Draper, 1897
Calypso is a nymph of the Ocean whose name comes from the Greek kalyptō which means "to hide ". In accordance to her name, she lives alone in a cave in Ogygia, a mysterious island located somewhere in the Western Mediterranean sea. Her eternal life, rather than going through the days and the seasons, seems to be a single instant far away from the rest of the world. A world, in any case, not able to understand Calipso’s charm and beauty.

One day, brought by the waves, the shipwrecked Odysseus lands to Ogygia. This does not seem real to Calipso: she takes care of him, she restores and charms him in that little corner of paradise in the middle of the sea. On the island there is abundance of any wealth: food, comfort, satisfaction and old age are not a nightmare to wash away with the water of an unobtainable spring. On this new land the decay does not occur.

Yet Odysseus eventually gets bored and all this comfort becomes dull and unbearable to his eyes. Some sources report how Calypso managed to keep the hero in Ogygia for seven years, other texts state less. But, as a matter of fact, Odysseus will at last go away, helped in this by the gods. Urged by Athena, Zeus sent the god’s messenger Hermes to Ogygia with the order for Calypso not to hinder the departure of Ithaca’s hero. On the contrary, the voice that comes from the Olympus is clear: Calypso shall collaborate!

The nymph does not disobey; she understands and helps by preparing the supplies and the barrels of wine for the voyage. She also shows to Odysseus where to take the wood to build his raft, so that the hero becomes suspicious and makes her swear that it is not a trap. There is no deception in the heart of the nymph and Calypso swears on the holy waters of the river Styx without resistance.

Once again Odysseus faces the waves, but differently from the past this time he is alone. Nevertheless, he will always bring with him the everlasting remembrance of his lost companions. Eternity has been rejected; flattery and ease have had the same response. Once again days will always bring something new and there will never be an end to discovery.