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“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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