“Odyssey” by Homer: Book V – Sweet Nymph and Open Sea

N.C. Wyeth

N.C. Wyeth

This is the first book in the epic where we actually encounter Odysseus. After Athena convinces Zeus to intervene on Odysseus’ behalf, Zeus sends Hermes to Calypso’s island and instructs her that it is Zeus’ will that Odysseus is released. Calypso helps Odysseus build a raft and give him provisions. After leaving the island, Odysseus spends 18 days at sea (18 being 2×9; remember the importance of the number 9 in Book III). Poseidon then creates a storm that strands Odysseus on the island of Scheria.

So for this post, I want to focus on the final passage in this section:

A man in a distant field, no hearthfires near,
will hide a fresh brand in his bed of embers
to keep the spark alive for the next day;
so in the leaves Odysseus hid himself,
while over him Athena showered sleep
that his distress should end, and soon, soon.
In quiet sleep she sealed his cherished eyes.

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 95)

This passage was the most interesting for me. I interpret this as a symbolic rebirth of Odysseus. The ember is the spark of consciousness that continues to live after one’s physical body dies. Odysseus is then buried under leaves, which represents death. Even the fact that Athena “sealed his cherished eyes” implies something more than just normal sleep, adding a sense of permanence to his state. But the spark of the divine consciousness remains, and when the new day dawns, it will reignite Odysseus’ consciousness and resurrect him from his grave beneath the leaves.

The symbolic rebirth of the hero is not uncommon in epic literature, and I would not be surprised if this theme presents itself again further on in the text. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, and have a blessed day!


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17 responses to ““Odyssey” by Homer: Book V – Sweet Nymph and Open Sea

  1. Great overview… I am truly enjoying your posts on Homer’s “Odyssey” dear Jeff! … Thank you! ⭐ Best wishes… happy sunday & week ahead! Aquileana 😀

    • Thank you, Aquileana! I figured that this series would appeal to you, Feel free to add any of your insights or wisdom, I always love hearing from you.



      • I have just checked out Book V and what really amazed me was the fact that already all throughout the first books, Athena shows her support to Odysseus…
        Plus in this book in particular Poseidon appears as well but he tried to make things difficult to the hero, as he sends a swamping storm that nearly drowns him. Finally he made it through but that is all merit of the Goddess Athena plus one of the Nereids, Leucothea
        Bottom line what calls my attention is the gods/ goddesses endorsement or rivalry here, since the very beginning and how they are present and decide how thing will be … Thanks again for sharing, Jeff!!!!… Best wishes. Aquileana 😀

      • Great point. It’s like there is tension and struggle between the gods/goddesses, just as there are between humans.

  2. Just finished it myself, Good analysis Jeff.

  3. As Aquileana already noted, it’s striking that the gods seem (so far) to pretty much call the shots, and they don’t agree. (I’m wondering what Poseidon’s gripe with Odysseus is all about. Do we know that at this point?) In modern literature, it’s all about human decisions and consequences. These gods, as you pointed out earlier, Jeff, represent human qualities — drives, youmight say, and the disagreements between the gods might therefore be analogous to the conflicts we humans feel between one desire and another. I’m watching, now, to se just how such analogies play out — whether they eventually seem to mesh with our current understanding of psychology. Or, maybe the ancients did not feel that people were the ultimate arbiters of their fates, and would scoff at our notion that their gods were mere aspects of human nature. I suspect they would scoff, much as current day believers see God as supernatural and real, even while attributing to Him many and sundry human qualities. Anyway, glad to see Odysseus himself finally show up!

    • Hi Jerry. You pose some great questions, and I do not claim to have the answers to them. But the questions are important. Personally, what makes this such a great work in my opinion, is that we can have these discussions and debates, that we can direct universal questions to this work of literature. It’s what I also love about Shakespeare. Did he intend for us to read into all the nuances of Hamlet? Who can say? But I am certainly glad that we have it (and the Odyssey) to inspire us.

      Thanks for your comment!!


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