Book V Summary:
Athena pleads to the gods and Zeus at Mount Olympus on behalf of the imprisoned Odysseus and Telemachus, who is in danger of being ambushed. Zeus tells her to protect Telemachus, and sends Hermes to order Calypso to release her prisoner - although Odysseus must first sail alone on a raft to Skheria, where he will receive lavish gifts from the Phaeacians before returning home in a proper ship.
Hermes races to Calypso's beautiful island. He gives the goddess Zeus' command. She reluctantly agrees, but not before pointing out that male gods are allowed to take mortal lovers while female ones are not, and informs the weeping Odysseus of the new plans. He is suspicious of her sudden help and does not think a raft will be sufficient for the ocean, but she assures him there is no subterfuge. They have dinner, and Calypso tries to convince him that she is better than his mortal wife. Odysseus flatters her but insists he longs for home. They sleep together, as they do every night.
With Calypso's help, Odysseus makes his raft over the next four days and, after receiving some gifts and a magical breeze, he leaves on the fifth day. He sails for 17 more days until he nears Skheria, but Poseidon sees him and realizes the gods have freed him. He conjures a mighty storm, and Odysseus believes he will drown as he is tossed around and thrown underwater. The goddess Ino rescues him with her veil. Odysseus thinks it may be another trick, but after his raft breaks apart, he takes her veil and swims.
Athena calms the storm, and Odysseus swims for two days until he nears shore. But sharp rocks surround it, and he fears dying on them in the rough surf. Athena instructs him to grab hold of an oncoming rock-ledge; he does, tearing the skin on his hands. After he is pulled underwater, he finds a calm river and finally collapses on land. Knowing the river area will be too cold at night, he finds a bed of leaves in a nearby forest - though he may be easy prey for wild animals - and goes to sleep.
Seduction and infidelity take prominence in the beginning of the book, as Calypso makes a last-ditch attempt to convince Odysseus to stay with her. However, "the strategist Odysseus" (223) makes a careful reply, flattering the goddess while simply saying that he "long[s] for home, long[s] for the sight of home" (229), and not mentioning his wife.
Interestingly, though Odysseus knows he will finally return home soon, he still sleeps with Calypso. Homer does not invite us to view his infidelity with any disdain: "and they retired, this pair, to the inner cave / to revel and rest softly, side by side" (235-6). Only Calypso makes the point that the male gods are allowed to take mortal lovers while female goddesses are not - and it seems this double standard persists in the practice of mortal infidelity in ancient Greece (and, often, in the modern world). It is somehow acceptable for Odysseus to sleep with another woman, but Penelope comes across as a morally dubious tease for allowing the suitors to remain in her house (her only justification, that she does not have the power to drive them out, feels weak). Though Homer allows this unfair treatment to remain in his poem, he at least calls our attention to it through Calypso's speech.
Nevertheless, Odysseus regains our sympathy through Poseidon's violent storm-attack. Though he occasionally believes he will die, he proves himself a courageous warrior of immense endurance. His bravery also compensates for our introduction to him - weeping alone. Loneliness, and the need for others and home, is the prevailing theme of The Odyssey, and this is why Homer chooses to portray his hero in such an emasculated manner.
But Odysseus is not only a brave and strong sailor; he is foremost, as we already stated, a strategist. He considers the possibility of trickery twice in this section when offered help - with Calypso and Ino (that both are female may have something to do with his suspicions) - and weighs other decisions under duress (how to navigate the rocks and where to sleep). His decision-making ability defines his identity and makes him, ultimately, a great leader.
Book VI Summary:
At night, Athena visits the Phaeacian princess, Nausicaa, in a dream and urges her to wash her clothing. When Nausiakaa wakens, she takes a mule-cart and her maids, and they wash her clothing in pools by a river. They spread the wet clothing along the beach, then wash themselves and play a game in the nude. Odysseus, naked himself, wakes up when he hears them. He approaches them, but his dirty, wild appearance frightens all of them away but Nausicaa. He asks if she is mortal or a goddess, and praises her surpassing beauty. He asks for her help in directing him to town and providing him clothing. She gladly agrees, and directs her maids to tend to him. Odysseus is modest, however, and wants to bathe in privacy. He cleans up, with Athena making him even more handsome, and the maids give him food and drink.
Nausicaa directs him to walk behind her cart with her maids on the way to town, but warns him that if people in town see him with her, they will gossip that he is her future husband. Therefore, she asks him to hide behind some trees near the city wall when they enter, then to ask direction later to the palace of Alcinous. There he will find her mother, whom he should ask for help; if she likes him, then she will have him home soon. They head to town and pass Athena's grove, where Odysseus prays for to Athena for hospitality from the Phaeacians.
Once again, Odysseus proves himself a shrewd judge of character and decision-maker. After he scares off Nausicaa's retainers with his frightful, naked appearance, he must decide whether to embrace Nausicaa's knees in supplication, a traditional gesture, or use "honeyed speech" (155) to win her over. As he frequently does, he uses words, nearly 40 lines' worth, to extol her beauty and question if she is a goddess and, most importantly: "I stand in awe so great / I cannot take your knees" (180-181). Of course, the real reason he does not do this, at least at the beginning, is because in his present state "he might anger the girl, touching her knees" (159). Words are not merely a substitute for action here, but rather are the only alternative to it.
The scene with Nausicaa and her maids reverses other typical associations we have with femininity in The Odyssey. For one, they are active, fairly independent girls, traveling on their own to wash clothing (even Nausicaa, a princess, seems to help out with her own washing) and play a boisterous game with a ball. That the naked Odysseus frightens the maids is understandable, but Nausicaa's lack of fear is a commendable show of independence.
Indeed, the prevalent nudity in this book twists another motif in the poem. For once, femininity is not used for seduction; in fact, it is Odysseus who somewhat seduces Nausicaa, first with his honeyed words, then with his cleaned-up good looks. Nausicaa even comments that she wishes her "husband could be as fine as he" (259) and worries that the townspeople will think she has found a husband in Odysseus, perhaps some wishful thinking on her part.
Odysseus does not bear any resentment toward Athena for remaining "so aloof / while the Earthshaker wrecked and battered me" (345-346). Though Athena did not interfere for the most part with Poseidon's abuse of Odysseus during his recent sea voyage, Odysseus still recognizes he needs her help and prays to her.
Book VII Summary:
After he waits for Nausicaa to go to her father's palace, Odysseus makes his way alone and encounters Athena in the form of a little girl. He asks her for directions to the palace, and she leads him there while shrouding him in mist so no one can see him. She tells him Alcinous and his revered queen Arete are at supper. He enters the lush, ornate palace and finds the king and queen. He embraces Arete's knees and asks her for passage to his home. Alcinous leads Odysseus to the table, where he is fed. Alcinous says they will make a sacrifice in the morning, then think of how to send Odysseus home. He also wonders if Odysseus is a god; Odysseus assures him he is not, and that he has suffered great pains.
Later at night, alone with Alcinous and Odysseus, Arete recognizes Odysseus' clothing as her own creation and asks him who he is and who gave him his clothing. He relates his story from Calypso's island until Nausicaa's help earlier that day. Alcinous says Nausicaa should have taken him home with her directly, but Odysseus says it was his idea to follow her separately. Taken with Odysseus, Alcinous vows to help him get home.
Odysseus again uses his wit in taking responsibility for Nausicaa's plan of their going to the palace separately. He so adeptly and humbly sidesteps the subtext behind their separate routes - that Nausicaa, somewhat hopefully, perhaps, thought people might think they were betrothed - that Alcinous even offers him Nausicaa as his wife should he stay.
Odysseus also wisely chooses this time to embrace Arete's knees; previously he did not do so with Nausicaa for fear of frightening her. He understands proper decorum and, as always, he mixes his actions with noble, moving words.
But he is also a man of appetite, scarfing down food and justifying it with an unusually terse sentence: "Belly must be filled" (237). However, this comes in the midst of a longer speech that explains his suffering and need to eat. Still, we see that Odysseus is a man of passion, but his lust for life has long been dimmed without any cause for celebration.
Book VIII Summary:
In the morning, Athena, in the form of a crier, calls the townspeople to assemble to meet a stranger. The crowd gathers and sees Odysseus cast in a godly light by Athena. Alcinous asks them to provide a ship and crew for their anonymous guest, and then prepare for a festival celebrating the stranger. His instructions are followed, and at a feast for Odysseus, the blind bard Demodokos sings a song about the battle between Odysseus and Achilles at Troy. Odysseus furtively cries at the memories it stirs, and Alcinous notices, stops the music, and starts up the pentathlon trials.
Various games are played, and Prince Laodamas asks Odysseus to join. With so much on his mind, Odysseus is reluctant to play, and one of the athletes, Seareach, accuses Odysseus of having no athletic talent. Odysseus takes up the challenge and throws a discus farther than anyone else. Inspired by his throw and by the disguised Athena's praise of it, Odysseus dares anyone to best him in any athletic contest, especially archery. He silences the crowd, and Alcinous praises his prowess and suggests a dance performance. Demodokos sings about a tryst between Ares and Aphrodite, which ended when the cuckolded Hephaestus forged chains and snared them when they went to bed together. He then invited the other gods to witness the adulterers caught in the act.
Odysseus enjoys the story, and is impressed by the following dance Alcinous' sons perform. Alcinous gives Odysseus a great bounty of clothing and gold, and Seareach, by way of apology, gives him a fine silver-and-ivory broadsword. On Alcinous' orders, maids bathe him. When he returns to the main hall, Princess Nausicaa asks him to remember her; he tells her he owes her his life. During the feast, Odysseus praises Demodokos' song about the Akhaians, and asks him to sing about the wooden horse Odysseus used to invade Troy. He does, and Odysseus again weeps and only Alcinous notices. Alcinous stops the music, questions why the stranger has cried despite all the gifts he has received, and asks him for his name and his full story.
The various songs-within-the-poem shed light on identity and themes in this book, as is typically the case with interior texts frequently throughout The Odyssey. The slow revelation of Odysseus' identity emerges through the first and last songs as he betrays his intimate familiarity with the fate of those who died at Troy. The middle song about Ares and Aphrodite is yet another tale of adultery and comeuppance (the one previously used was about Orestes), and should have great relevance for Odysseus, who has been unfaithful to his wife and whose wife is perilously close to being unfaithful to him. However, for once he is not strategically aware of the ramifications, and he finds only "sweet pleasure in the tale" (395).
We see Odysseus in a rare moment of rage when Seareach wounds his pride. The Greeks viewed excessive pride, or ‘hubris’, as a major personality defect, and it constitutes one of the main themes of The Iliad. Hubris is not as prominent in The Odyssey, although we see it pop up occasionally - Poseidon's grudge against Odysseus seems somewhat hubristic, even. But more importantly, Odysseus demonstrates some hubristic tendencies, especially later on when, as a leader, he has occasional slips in judgment.
Within Odysseus' riled up speech to Seareach and the others, he mentions how great an archer he is. His mention of this skill foreshadows his confrontation with the suitors near the end of poem and creates a satisfying ending.
The legend that Homer was blind - generally discredited now - may have its roots in the appearance in this book of the blind bard Demodokos. Homer - and, apparently, those who believe Homer was blind - takes the idea that lack of visual sight leads to increased mental insight.