Odyssey Funmaries #4: Calypso (Book V)

by BEN VORE

With the Calypso episode, we now confront the sensitive topic of mortal/immortal relationships. Few have ever embarked on so thorny a courtship, which is why Odysseus and Calypso’s relationship bears scrutiny. What are the red flags to watch out for when dating a mortal? The pitfalls of bedding up with a goddess? Are humans and gods, in fact, sexually compatible? Who wears the pants in this relationship? Does the dishes? Oh yeah – what about the fact one person will shuffle off this mortal coil while the other won’t?

To put this in context, let’s compare Odysseus and Calypso to their modern day equivalent: Bella and Edward from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.* Consider the similarities:

  • An immortal (Calypso/Edward) with a thing for a mortal (Odysseus/Bella) offers the gift of life everlasting so their romance can slip the bonds of time.
  • The immortal, despite her/his undying love, knows love and immortality must be chosen, and so yields her/his romantic desires to the mortal’s free will. 
  • The immortal is really flippin’ hot and graces all the gossip magazine covers.
  • The movie versions of both The Odyssey and Twilight feature cheesy special effects.
  • Though challenged by scholars both ancient and modern, Homer – like Stephenie Meyer – may have been Mormon.

 

Special thanks to my Twilight research assistant and lovely wife, Erin, for her rigorous counsel on these matters.

If you accept the Odyssey/Twilight parallels, then Homer’s equivalent of Jacob is Hermes**, only Hermes actually succeeds in breaking up the steamy, mortal/immortal relationship. Dispatched by his father Zeus, Hermes “minces no words” and tells Calypso she’s got to break it off with her mortal boy toy. Calypso does a little pouting but agrees to let Odysseus go. She dispatches him with rations and clothing but not before telling her unwilling lover

If only you knew, deep down, what pains

are fated to fill your cup before you reach that shore,

you’d stay right here, preside in our house with me

and be immortal. [5.228-231]

 

Then comes the awkward break-up. Calypso makes one last ditch try for Odysseus’s affections, asking how the mortal Penelope could rival a willing goddess nymph like herself. (It’s a fair question.) Fagles translates it as, “How, in build, in beauty?” Other translators*** have opted for the more street version: “What that bitch got that I ain’t got? Her ass is way bigger than mine.”

Odysseus gives what scholars think is the very first “It’s not you, it’s me” break-up speech in human history. He tells Calypso she’s way hot and that Penelope’s ass is in fact bigger, it’s just that Penelope happens to be back home, and Odysseus is homesick and all and even if he has to suffer more and labor longer (and he will) to return to Ithaca, he’ll do it. Surely part of his motivation is to once again be on even ground, mortally speaking, with his mate.

Thankfully (for himself, and the reader), Odysseus regains a little of his military hero swagger once he’s freed from the draining, high maintenance clutches of Calypso. Which just goes to show: Even the adventurous, libidinous goddess nymphs can get you down.

The Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin (see here for a rather disturbing self-portrait) rendered this episode in his painting (Odyssey V): Calypso and Odysseus:

Arnold_Böcklin_008

 

Böcklin apparently didn’t hang out with very attractive women, as Calypso sort of looks like a dude. 

For extra credit, listen to John Denver’s “Calypso” and comment below on how the Greek nymph and “her breathtaking voice” influenced Denver’s divinely-inspired melodic yodeling.

Countdown to Bloomsday…

We read page 1 of Ulysses in 15 days!

Become a better friend by telling your friends all about Wandering Rocks!

———-

* = This is my attempt to pull in the teenage female demographic to Wandering Rocks.

** = Admittedly, this is a stretch. Jacob is not immortal, while Hermes is not a werewolf. Point being, Jacob/Hermes are the exterior forces that inflict change on the mortal/immortal relationship.

*** = In this particular instance, Candace Bushnell.

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3 Responses

  1. Bernadette Peters, Vanessa Williams, and Eric Roberts!!!!

    Forget about it…..best movie adaptation ever. Also thought the Scylla’s acting was vastly superior to anything Nic Cage has done.

  2. I may be betraying my age here, but to my mind the more relevant film reference would not be “Twilight,” but “Superman 2” (1980) … but with the mortal/immortal roles reversed. Beyond General Zod’s bloviations (and that Superman Saran-wrap thing) was an important story how relationships can disempower the very qualities in the other you were attracted to in the first place, and how we need to establish a relationship dynamic that is mutually empowering. Odysseus has this dynamic with wily Penelope, but not with the cloying Calypso.

    “The Odyssey” is now in my Netflix queue, though Armand Assante turns my stomach.

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