What Was Calypso's Power in Greek Mythology?
In his epic poem “The Odyssey,” ancient Greek poet Homer describes the travels of Greek hero Odysseus and his decade-long journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Odysseus is detained for seven years on the island of Ogygia, where he lives with a beautiful nymph named Calypso. That the isolated Calypso was able to live with Odysseus for so long was not necessarily due to any powers she had, and was more a result of Odysseus' limited resources.
1 Calypso's Early Life
Homer writes that Calypso’s parents were an unidentified goddess and Atlas, a Titan god who was forced to uphold columns that supported the heavens. Little else is said about Calypso until she meets Odysseus, who describes her as living in luxury on an island apart from gods and humans.
2 Calypso's Limited Powers
While many of the Olympian gods had specific powers or areas -- for example, Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Athena was the goddess of wisdom and battle -- Calypso was a lesser goddess, also referred to as a nymph. Homer described her as a goddess of strange power and beauty whose divine parentage allowed her to offer the gift of immortality. As Odysseus did not wish to live forever with Calypso, however, her powers were limited.
3 Calypso and Odysseus
According to Homer, Odysseus was shipwrecked and sought refuge on the island of Ogygia, where he was welcomed by Calypso, described as a cunning and powerful goddess. Calypso fell in love with Odysseus and hoped to make him her husband. At first, their affair was simply a matter of seduction and distraction. In "The Odyssey," the goddess Athena described how Calypso used her charms to make Odysseus forget his home. The distraction was short-lived, however.
4 The Affair
Although Homer describes Odysseus as initially enchanted with Calypso, the attraction quickly waned and he was eager to return to his wife, Penelope, and his throne. Odysseus was forced to stay with Calypso because he had no ship, crew or other means to leave. In "The Odyssey," the sea god Proteus reports seeing Odysseus crying and begging to be allowed to leave. The gods at Olympus ultimately intervene, and send the messenger god Hermes to demand Calypso release Odysseus. With Calypso’s guidance, Odysseus builds a boat and sails away.
- 1 The Odyssey; Homer
- 2 Tufts University: Atlas
- 3 The Theogeny; Hesiod
- 4 Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations: The Odyssey; Harold Bloom