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Book 5

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 5 of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The Odyssey | Book 5 | Summary

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Summary

Book 5 opens on Mount Olympus at another council of the gods. Athena once again asks Zeus to assist Odysseus, and Zeus decides to send Hermes to help him break free of his captivity by the "lustrous" Calypso. However, Zeus warns that Odysseus's journey home will not be easy. Athena is also reminded that she must continue aiding Telemachus in his journey home, particularly when it comes to the suitors' plans to murder him.

Calypso is taken by surprise when Hermes arrives with strict instructions from Zeus to free Odysseus and comments on the double standard of male gods, who allow themselves to philander with mortal women but deny the same freedom to goddesses. She grudgingly agrees to let him go. Our first glimpse of Odysseus finds him crying and homesick. He is in disbelief that Calypso would free him. She warns him that his journey home will be difficult and that, if he knew what lay ahead of him, he would stay. But Odysseus says he longs to return to his home and to Penelope. Supplied with tools by Calypso, Odysseus builds himself a ship, which he outfits with a sail using cloth she furnishes. He departs.

Odysseus's difficulties begin soon after leaving Calypso's island. Poseidon conjures up a storm that shatters Odysseus's ship, though, once the hero is forced to swim to land, Poseidon abandons his torment. Athena and a sea nymph come to his rescue, but, when the waters become turbulent again, Odysseus prays to Poseidon for relief. Poseidon finally relents and allows him to reach the island of Scheria, where the Phaeacians reside.

Analysis

Athena wins Zeus's agreement to help Odysseus through her powers of argument and persuasion—powers Odysseus has as well. She appeals to Zeus by pointing to Odysseus's role as a ruler, in which he showed himself "kindly as a father to his children."

The first look at Odysseus may surprise some readers, who expect a gallant and brave hero. He is crying openly, seemingly defeated by the idea that he will ever make it back home to Ithaca. Greek heroes expressed emotion openly; this scene would not have been a shock to Homer's audience.

Odysseus mistrusts Calypso when she first tells him she will let him go, which again raises the theme of deception. She vows not to harm him, which wins his trust, but this challenge to a character's truthfulness is a pattern that will recur in the epic.

Odysseus's ability to build a ship by himself shows his great skill and craftsmanship. This characteristic links him to Athena again, as she was the goddess of skills and crafts. His ability to sail the ship alone is another substantial skill, one that the seafaring Greeks would much admire.

When Calypso rails against the gods' double standard regarding relations with mortals, she gives several examples. In the end, though, she must comply with Zeus, the all-powerful. Poseidon, too, is forced to follow Zeus's command and let Odysseus sail his ship to Scheria, though that doesn't stop him from splintering the ship into pieces and casting the hero into the sea. His frustration at being forced to obey Zeus may have been assuaged somewhat by Odysseus's pitiable plea for mercy.

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