Leaving poor Telemachus hanging from a figurative cliff, Homer switches over to see what Odysseus has been up to all this time. Books 5-8 tell of Odysseus’ escape from Calypso’s island and his reception by the Phaeacians. In fact, the events of Books 5-8 parallel Telemachus’ own journey up to this point.  

For seven years, Odysseus has been held captive by the nymph Calypso who desires to wed the man. In spite of the nymph’s beauty and promises of immortality, Odysseus still yearns for his own wife, Penelope, and the island of Ithaca. Finally, the Olympian gods order Calypso to release the man.

Calypso notes the double standard for males and females. For the male gods are permitted to lie with whom they choose while the lovers of the female gods are torn away. This is a startling bit of insight for that time period. This point is further accentuated by the fact that Odysseus and Calypso immediately retreat to her bed after he is granted his freedom in contrast to Penelope who must remain chaste to preserve her honor. I am actually not sure if Homer is writing according to the morals and expectations of his time or if he is pointing out a moral fault in Odysseus.

In the end, Calypso does allow Odysseus to go free, telling him to construct a raft while she supplies the provisions. Odysseus, wily and crafty, nevertheless fears the guile of others. Suspicious of Calypso’s motives, he demands her oath, an attitude for which she chides him. He is after all treating those who would help him with unwarranted suspicion. Of course, learning of Poseidon’s fury towards Odysseus we can hardly blame the man. After a horrific sea crossing he manages to reach the shores of Phaeacia, a blessed though isolated people and encounters the princess, Nausicaa.  

The contrast between the reception he finds on the island of Phaecia and the reception he will find when he returns to Ithaca is startling. The Phaeacians don’t even know Odysseus’ name and still they honor him with feasts and games. For all they know he could be Joe nobody, but they treat him like a king. Such are the laws of hospitality in the time of Homer. Ironically his own people to whom he was like a father will greet Odysseus quite differently. There he will encounter greed and treachery.  

Throughout Odysseus’ stay with the Phaeacians he alludes to the sufferings he has endured along the way. The story up until now has been peppered with such references, teasing us with their mystery. However, we must wait until Book 9 for Odysseus to tell of his journey.