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The Queenly Nymph

Kalypso is the daughter of Atlas who is most noted because she helped Odysseus when he came to her island as a destitute wanderer. After the Trojan War ended [circa 1240 BCE], Odysseus set off for home as did all the other Achaean (Achaian) Greeks after they had defeated the Trojans and looted Troy. Odysseus was not the only returning warrior to have difficulties but rather than meeting a cruel death on his way home, he incurred the wrath of Poseidon [lord of the Sea] by wounding the god's son. Zeus would not allow his brother Poseidon to kill Odysseus so Poseidon inflicted ordeal after ordeal on poor Odysseus until all his comrades were dead and he finally washed ashore on the island of Ogygia … Kalypso's home.

Ogygia was the Navel of the Sea which might be interpreted to mean a variety of things but I feel comfortable in assuming that Kalypso's island was simply in the middle of Ocean … that would mean that Ogygia was eastward past the Caucasus Mountains in the now dried up sea which has been called the Asiatic Mediterranean, i.e. an ancient body of water of which all that remains east of the Black Sea are the Caspian and the Aral Seas.

Placing Ogygia in the east instead of somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea actually makes Kalypso's home closer to where her father Atlas was stationed to hold up the heavens … likewise Atlas's brother Prometheus was chained to one of the peaks of the Caucasus Mountains. Another substantial indication as to the eastern location of the island of Ogygia is the fact that when Odysseus sailed from the island, Kalypso told him to keep the constellation of Ursa Major [the Bear] on his right … that would mean that the constellation would have been in the north as Odysseus sailed westward towards Greece.

Odysseus was utterly without hope when Kalypso found him but his rugged good looks and noble character soon affected the lonely goddess and she fell in love. Odysseus stayed with Kalypso for seven years but they were long, sad years for Odysseus. He resigned himself to the fact that there was no escape from the island but he still constantly longed for his wife and son. Kalypso offered Odysseus immortality and eternal youth but he refused to accept her offers.

During their time together, Kalypso and Odysseus had two sons: Nausithoos (Nausithous) and Nausinoos (Nausinous). Perhaps they had a third son named Telegonos (Telegonus) but he might have been the son of the Dread-Goddess Kirke (Circe) and not Kalypso.

Just as Poseidon was determined to punish Odysseus, the goddess Athene (Athena) was always looking for ways to help Odysseus. When she reminded Zeus that Odysseus had been on Ogygia for seven years, Zeus sent Hermes with a message for Kalypso … she was to allow Odysseus to leave … furthermore, she was to give him the assistance he needed to build a seaworthy craft.

Hermes arrived on Kalypso's island and was given a warm welcome … he and Kalypso drank nectar and ate ambrosia. Finally he told her of his mission and gave her Zeus's command. At first Kalypso was indignant … she reminded Hermes of the many gods and goddesses who had taken mortal lovers and wondered why she could not keep Odysseus. Hermes told her that Zeus was adamant … she must help Odysseus leave Ogygia and she was not permitted to use her charms to detain him.

Kalypso accepted her fate and agreed to let Odysseus leave unhindered. By that time, Odysseus was a cautious man. He had endured much trickery at the hands of the Immortals and did not believe Kalypso would actually help him. To insure her sincerity, Odysseus made Kalypso swear a great oath on the waters of Styx that she meant what she said and that she was not trying to deceive him. Kalypso swore the oath and gave Odysseus the tools he needed to build a seaworthy raft. When it came time for him to leave, Kalypso in her loving nature, gave Odysseus provisions and sent him on his way with a fair wind to speed him home.

Text References

Kalypso in The Odyssey

The line numbers listed here correspond fairly well with the Lattimore and Murray/Dimock translations of The Odyssey. Other translations [Fitzgerald, Fagles et al] do not correspond as well but, with a small amount of effort, you should be able to find the reference you need regardless of the translation you use.


Catalogue of Women

[Loeb Classical Library vol. 503, Hesiod II]

Hymn to Demeter II

The Telegony

The Argonautika by Apollonius Rhodius

Description of Greece by Pausanias

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