Odysseus at Sea

Ruth Scodel

University of Michigan

            The misfortunes of Odysseus after Poseidon notices him on his boat at Od. 5.282-290 constitute a confusing sequence, including the intervention of Ino/Leucothea, a divnity who plays no other part in the poem.  Odysseus initially disregards her advice, yet he suffers no ill consequences, as folktale patterns would lead one to expect.  Also, this part of the poem includes an unparalleled series of monologues (although, of course, since Odysseus is by himself, monologue is the only plausible form of speech).  This paper will attempt to elucidate the structure of this section and to place Ino's appearance with it.

             The entire journey falls into a set of discrete episodes.  (1) Poseidon brings on a storm, and Odysseus reacts with a despairing monologue in which he wishes he had died at Troy.  The boat is then hit by a wave that knocks Odysseus off.  Though weighed down by  clothing, he makes his way back to the boat, which is driven around aimlessly.  (2) Ino appears, and tells him to strip, leave the boat, and swim, relying on her veil.  She enters the water, and Odysseus' second monologue debates whether to trust the goddess or not.  He decides to wait as long as the boat holds.  But even as he thinks, Poseidon sends another great wave that breaks the boat into pieces.  At this point Odysseus removes the clothing, puts on the veil, and begins to swim.  Poseidon then drives to Aegae.  (3) Athena intervenes to calm the sea and provide a good wind, so that Odysseus goes on for two days and nights.  On the third day he sees land, but the coast is rocky and hit by pounding surf.  Odysseus delivers a monologue debating whether to try to swim to land or try to find a more favorable spot, thereby exposing himself to Poseidon's further intervention.  Even as he thinks, a wave drives him against the land, but Athena tells him how to save himself.  (4) The goddess then gives him the idea of swimming parallel to the shore, and he eventually reaches a river.  Praying to the river, he swims upstream—the unnamed river god has answered his prayer by stopping its current—and comes to land, and in final monologue debates whether to sleep by the shore or in the grove of trees.

            Certain repetitions appear immediately from this summary:   Waves define the sequence:  a wave knocks Odysseus from the boat; a wave breaks the boat into pieces; a wave drives Odysseus onto the rocks, while calming of the river's current is the reversal of the waves.  Twice, in the two central sections, Odysseus ponders what to do, but the wave comes before his decision can have any effect (there is thus a chiastic effect).  Furthermore, each section shows a different interaction between Odysseus and the gods.  In the first, Odysseus recalls the predictions of Calypso, but attributes his present difficulties to Zeus (as J├Ârgensen's rule demands).  Then, when Ino intervenes to help him, he suspects a trick, and hesitates to follow her directives.  When he sees land, his monologue is framed by his reference to Zeus, who has allowed him to reach land, and Poseidon, whose hatred he fears if he is pulled out to sea.  (The narrator plays a typical trick in repeating the wave-motif even after Poseidon has left.)  Athena intervenes by giving him ideas, but does not appear herself, nor does he seem to recognize her.  Finally, he prays to the river-god and and successfully supplicates him. 

            The entire sequence is thus tightly organized as a set of variations on the themes of gods, helpful and antagonistic, and internal debates, productive or overtaken by events, culminating in Odysseus' successful prayer and deliberation.  Ino's intervention, and Odysseus' mistrust, are not so surprising within this thematic nexus.

 

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