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Twenty years has past since Odysseus departed his Kingdom to fight in the Trojan War. When he returns to Ithaca, Odysseus masks his identity allowing him to test those whom he use to know. Odysseus is specifically interested in testing his wife Penelope, whom he holds many concerns. Humans often falsely conceptualize desire for love, as in the famous saying love is blinding. Love is not blinding, it is good and true in nature. People often fools themselves into thinking they love another to appease their desires. This is not love, rather self-satisfaction. When the mind falls trap to its desire it can instill a false veil of happiness. Overpowering emotions circumvented in the mind blind those with weak emotional intelligence and self -control. Odysseus has thought and dreamed about Penelope consistently throughout his journey, he built her up in his mind. Odysseus tests Penelope to make sure she is the same person that he left in his youth, his true love. He does not want to be blinded by desire, but only seeks true love. This is further demonstrated in Odysseus’ affairs with Calypso and Circe.

      Zeus destroyed Odysseus’ ship with a lightening bolt, killing the last of his shipmates. Odysseus survived by utilizing the ship’s keel as a raft. He drifted alone for nine days before the gods cast him ashore to the Island of Ogygia, home of the seductive goddess Calypso. Odysseus recognizes Calypso’s beauty, he repeatedly describes her as a “nymph with lovely braids.” (7.286). Calypso is a gorgeous and kind goddess, making her seductive nature even more dangerous to men. The nymph remains dangerous for she is easily able to trap  men by their desires with her sexual promotion and promises of immortality. Odysseus, however, was forced to have sex with Calypso as he did not desire the temptress. Odysseus spends most of his time mourning for his homeland, however, the Achaean positively narrates his encounter with the goddess when describing his relationship with the nymph. In Book VII Odysseus states that, “the goddess took me in in all of her kindness, welcomed me warmly, cherished me, even vowed to make me immortal, ageless, all of my days—but she never won the heart inside of me, never” (7.293). Even though Calypso is capable of satisfying Odysseus’ desires, the Achaean remains unhappy longing for the wife he loves. In this case Calypso is unable to distinguish desire from love, making it difficult for her to understand Odysseus’ yearning pain for Penelope. The goddess questions Odysseus “I might claim to be nothing less than she, neither in face nor figure. Hardly right, is it, for mortal women to rival immortal goddesses? How, in build? in beauty?” (5.233). Odysseus explains to the nymph that she is correct, however, Penelope is part of his home. He has been through so much pain and suffering through the Trojan War and in his journey back to Ithaca, and only in returning to Penelope and his kingdom, his suffering will be relinquished.

Odysseus is able to effectively communicate with Calypso in distinguishing love from desire. The goddess is confused to why Odysseus wants to return to his wife. Calypso points out that she, being an immortal, has beauty uncomparable to a mere mortal like Penelope. Odysseus agrees with the goddess, “All that you say is true, how well I know. Look at my wise Penelope. She falls short of you, your beauty, stature…”(5.240). The problem with the nymph is that she focuses on the superficial elements of attraction, those which fuel desire. Whereas, Odysseus explains that love is is not found in physical attraction, but in the wisdom of the soul. Love overpowers sexual desire; for love Odysseus readily chooses to embrace the wrath of the gods and endure all its pains, rather than live a peaceful lifestyle indulged in sexual desire and luxury. Odysseus explains, “I pine, all my days–to travel home and see the dawn of my return. And if a god will wreck me yet again on the wine-dark sea, I can bear that too, with a spirit tempered to endure.” (5.243) The relationship dynamic between Calypso and Odysseus shift after this discussion. Homer makes it more clear at this point, that Odysseus willingly sleeps with Calypso “withdrawing into the caverns deep recess, long in each other’s arms they lost themselves in love.” (5.250). While Calypso is no longer distraught by Odysseus’ departure, displaying a new “joy to the eye.” (5.255). She is happy because she understands now the truth in Odysseus’.

Odysseus, although the wiser, falls victim to the trappings of desire, succming to the false veil of happiness. It has been some time since the Achaean’s encounter with Calypso, and in that duration Odysseus falls deeper into despair. He even considers killing himself after his men further delay the journey; while Odysseus sleeps the crew wrongly opens the bag of winds given to him by the god Aeolus. When Odysseus awakes he responds despairingly, “ I woke up with a start, my spirit churning–should I leap over the side and drowned myself at once or grit my teeth and bear it, stay among the living?” (10.56). Even the wisest of men have moments which weaken their emotional intelligence. Odysseus has sunken deep into depression, leading him to skew his travels for a year choosing to reside with the goddess Circe on the Island of Aeaean.

Upon the Achaeans’ initial arrival to the Aeaean Island Odysseus organizes a party, lead by Eurylochus, to go and explore Circe’s hall. The men approach the hall doors, and in hearing the nymph’s spellbinding voice they immediately call out to her. Circe warmly invites the Achaeans into her domain, however, cautious Eurylochus remains behind while the other men eagerly enter the hall. Eurylochus watches in secret as the men eat Circe’s poisoned food transforming them into swine. Eurylochus runs back to the ship and reports the event to Odysseus. Prior to reaching Circe’s hall, Odysseus is visited by the god Hermes. He gives the Achaean a magical herb to block Circe’s spell instructing him to there after draw his sword on the goddess. Hermes warns Odysseus to not refuse the nymph’s sexual advances, however, before going to her chambers the Achaean must have Circe swear on the oath of the gods to do him no harm. With Hermes’ advice Odysseus is able to withstand Circe’s wrath.

After intercourse the goddess bathes the Achaean and gives him food, but Odysseus will not eat until his men are freed. Circe releases the Achaeans from her spell, and the men are reunited with their king. Odysseus notes, “ they knew me at once and each man grasped my hands and a painful longing for tears overcame us all, a terrible sobbing echoed through the house…” (10.440). Circe was stricken by the Achaeans’ grief and urges Odysseus and his crew to stay with her in her hall. In response to the Achaeans’ immense heartache Circe asserts, “Odysseus, man of action, no more tears now, calm these tides of sorrow. Well I know what pains you bore on the swarming sea, what punishment you have endured from the hostile men on land. But come now, eat your food and drink your wine till the same courage fills your chests, now as then, when you first set sail from the native land, from rocky Ithaca! Now you are burnt-out husks, your spirits haggard, sere, always brooding over your wanderings long and hard, your spirits never lifting from any joy–you have suffered far too much.” (10.500-10). Circe wins over Odysseus’ spirit with her human voice, providing a compelling argument to delay the journey. The goddess empathizes with Odysseus’ hardship, encouraging him to stay on the island so that his courage and spirit can be lifted. Circe gives the Achaeans an opportunity relish in their desires in order to relieve their pain. Odysseus easily falls prey to his lasciviousness, misconstruing debauchery for love. Infatuated by desire Odysseus wastes a year succubing to Circe’s exstasy. At first the Achaean shipmates do not to mind breaking from their travels, “day in, day out…feasting on sides of meat and drafts of heady wine…” (10.512). When a year passes, however, the crew confronts Odysseus on the importance of their departure. The shipmate assert, “Captain this is madness! High time you thought of your own home at last, if it really is your fate to make it back alive and reach your well-built house and native land.”(10.520). Odysseus’ loyal comrades distinguish the difference between love and desire, reminding their captain that is heart belongs in Ithaca. At last the Achaeans depart, however, Circe tells Odysseus that he and his men must first travel to the underworld if they wish to go home. In hearing this Odysseus’ heart is crushed as he has “no desire to go on living and see the rising light of day.” (10.548). The year spent in Cire’s hall failed to fill Odysseus’ spirit; indulging in self-satisfaction blinds him from reality. Once the false veil of happiness is lifted Odysseus, once again contemplates suicide returning to his melancholy state.

Odysseus’ encounter with Circe demonstrates the ease in which a mind is trapped by desire, instilling a false veil of happiness. The Achaean’s weak emotional state suppresses the truth in his heart; but once Odysseus is reminded of his headache, he becomes overwhelmed with sadness. Odysseus would have not been happy staying with Circe in the long run. For she is only capable of distracting him from pain, but cannot give the Achaean the love he mourns. Odysseus tests Penelope to make sure that he still sees truth in her mind. He does not want to fall trap to desire, living a life to distract him from his real pain.

 

20 Responses to “Vida – On Odysseus and Circe”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Vida,

    I agree that Circe and Calypso are important encounters for Odysseus, and I like your distinction between love and desire (this is especially relevant to Odysseus’ preference of Penelope to Calypso).

    Does Odysseus never desire Calypso? Or has his desire simply faded by the end of their time together? I agree that some compulsion is involved (can he say no?).

    Though Odysseus is able to withstand Circe’s magic (with the help of the moly [and thus Hermes]), it does seem as if he succumbs in some sense, doesn’t he? He stays there a year, after all, and his men have to remind him of the voyage home. To what extent he actually triumphs in this encounter is unclear; perhaps Circe has been in control all along.

    This is solid work which uses the text well enough, but remember the deadline.

    KH

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