One of Oceanides sea nymphs, Calypso was the daughter of the Titan god Atlas and her mother was Tethys. Her name is related to the Greek word καλύπτω, which means “to conceal” and she symbolized the forces that divert men from their goals. The Greek myth of Calypso and Odysseus (Ulysses) is full of intrigue and moments of seduction.
Calypso, in Greek mythology, seduced Odysseus and kept him for years away from his wife, Penelope, until Athena intervened; eventually Calypso had to let him go and even helped him to build his boat. She has both negative and positive connotation in Greek mythology: as a concealer and seductress, Calypso is a negative symbol, but as a rescuer she is a positive one. She is always compared with Penelope and thus ended up being a force of diversion and distraction.
Calypso and Odysseus in Ogygia
Calypso lived in Ogygia, where she was ousted as a prisoner because she supported her father in the battles between Titans and Olympians. Where the island was is still unknown, and there are many versions of its possible location. The story of Calypso and Odysseus in Ogygia was introduced by Homer and the common belief among many historians and scholars is that Homer’s locations were mostly fictional, mythical, so this one was too. Some believed that the island was located in the western Mediterranean Sea, or more precisely – in the Ionian Sea. Anyway, in the island Ogygia, Calypso welcomed the exhausted Greek hero, Odysseus, who was drifted for nine days in the open sea after losing his ship and his army to the monsters of Italy and Sicily when coming back home from Troy.
Mythical Calypso fell for Odysseus and wanted to make him her immortal husband and give him the eternal youth. But Odysseus didn’t accept her generosity – he was dreaming about going back to his Ithaca and his wife. Calypso was so much in love with him that despite his refusal of her offers, she kept hoping and seducing Odysseus. Eventually, she made him her lover.
They lived together for seven years in her breath-taking cave-home, and according to Hesiod, Calypso even gave birth to two kids: Nausithous and Nausinous. Apollodorus said that Calypso bore Odysseus a son, Latinus. Was Odysseus really imprisoned by Calypso, or his longings weakened over the years and comfort and love that Calypso provided him with?
If goddess Athena hadn’t asked Zeus to “save” Odysseus from Ogygia and Calypso, what could have happened? Zeus sent the messenger of the gods, Hermes, to persuade Calypso to let Odysseus go. Calypso couldn’t refuse Zeus, the King of the gods, but being somewhat fearful of Zeus’ s powers, somewhat angry because of her loss to come, she had something to say to Hermes: “Cruel folk you are, unmatched for jealousy, you gods who cannot bear to let a goddess sleep with a man, even if it is done without concealment and she has chosen him as her lawful consort.” (Homer, Odyssey 5.120). So, she helped Odysseus build the boat that would take him back to his wife and his Ithaca. She provided enough food and wine for the long journey, and good winds.
Calypso, who believed that she saved Odysseus, after losing her lover of seven years tried to kill herself. But being immortal, she only went through terrible pain and suffering.
If Athena and Zeus hadn’t intervened, what could have been the end of this story? Would Odysseus have ever thought of building the boat to leave the island? Did Calypso, a sea nymph, really have such a power to tie Odysseus’s free will to leave? Could she have kept him against his own, presumably strong will? Was Calypso really the myth of diversion or the eternal temptation of passion?