Calypso or Circe Essay
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Nausicaa is the first normal woman Odysseus sees in nearly twenty years, the last of whom being the women from Ismarus, the city he sacks directly after leaving Troy, and understandably he is very weary of her. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he treats her with the utmost respect and keeps his distance from her, both physically and emotionally. He admires her beauty, respects her decisions and listens to her like an equal, despite her age and sex, which shows respect, although not necessarily feelings.
Despite his lack of show of affection towards her, he is kind and shows his appreciation for her saving him from death – ‘I do indeed pray to Zeus… to let me reach my home… If he does, then I will pray you as a divinity all the rest of my days. For it was you lady, who gave me back my life. ‘ showing how he does indeed respect what she has done for him, and is grateful towards her. After Odysseus leaves Nausicaa in the town, Homer does not mention her anymore but for their goodbyes, despite the fact they are staying under the same roof. This indicates Odysseus’s lack of interest in Nausicaa’s comings and goings.
When Odysseus begins to explain his adventures to Alcinous, in particular he mentions Calypso and Circe, and how he never had any affection for them – ‘The divine Calypso was certainly for keeping me in her cavern home because she yearned for me to be her husband and with me the same object Circe…. but never for a moment did they win my heart. ‘ Here Odysseus states in his own words that he was never won over by either, and although he may have found pleasure in staying with them, it could never compare with the pleasure of seeing his wife again; any feelings he had towards Calypso or Circe were not genuine or heart-felt.
Similarly to Calypso, Circe is first seen as ‘singing with her beautiful voice’ and ‘weaving one of those delicate, graceful and dazzling fabrics that goddesses make’, and the temptation to stay with her (as he then does with Calypso) would have been immense. Hermes warns her that ‘she will… invite you to her bed. You must not refuse… if you want her to free your men and look after you’. The fact that Odysseus obeys this shows the extent of what he would do to free his men and return home; going to bed with Circe would have been merely another obstacle for him on his journey home, his feelings towards her being limited.
Although he describes the ‘comfortable heat’ and the way ‘all the painful weariness was gone’ from his limbs, his ‘thoughts were elsewhere’ and ‘mind was full of forebodings’ showing how he cannot feel content without knowing his crew is safe and his chances for ever reaching home are still tangible. In addition, the way in which he prioritises Circe’s actions towards him and his crew is also relevant, seeing as it is Odysseus recounting the story to Alcinous. He first says Circe ‘graciously bathed the members of my party in her palace and rubbed them with olive-oil.
She gave them tunics and warm cloaks’, showing how to him, the women he encounters are mostly beneficial to him for the reason that they give him and his crew shelter, food and drink, and there is no implication of any feeling towards them. They stay on the island for a year, and by the end the crew are frustrated – ‘What possesses you to stay on here? It’s time you thought of Ithaca’. It is only when Ithaca is mentioned that Odysseus is persuaded to leave – ‘my proud heart was convinced’; if he did have any feelings towards Circe, he would have stayed, or at least contemplated staying for a little longer.
Overall I consider that Odysseus does not care about these women. He loves his wife dearly – ‘[Penelope] is never out of your thoughts’- and is happy to leave every island he sets foot upon if he thinks he is heading for home. Circe does seem to hold a certain place in Odysseus’ heart, because she is the one he stays with voluntarily and has to be persuaded to leave, but Odysseus leaves the others without a backward glance – ‘with a happy heart’ in fact, in the case of Calypso.
Odysseus’s affection and respect for Nausicaa seems to be purely polite and possibly only to suit his own means, or at the most brotherly- he wants the best for her. As for Arete, Odysseus never had affectionate feelings for her. He needs her support to get home, and this is the only reason he shows respect for her, except perhaps because she is a wise woman. Throughout the Odyssey, Odysseus longs for his homeland, and is unable to feel much but grief at his prolonged absence.