The Sons of Odysseus, Part 5: Kalypso’s Brood

Over the past month or so I have been a little obsessed with the children of Odysseus. We’ve looked at the children attributed to him from Penelope (yes, there’s more than one) and Kirkê. There’s a range of additional children—a handful from various princesses, and a pair from Kalypso.

Hesiod names the sons of Kalypso at the end of the Theogony:

“Kalypso the shining goddess gave birth as well to Nausithoos
And Nausinoos after having lovely sex with Odysseus.”

Ναυσίθοον δ’ ᾿Οδυσῆι Καλυψὼ δῖα θεάων
γείνατο Ναυσίνοόν τε μιγεῖσ’ ἐρατῇ φιλότητι.

The Byzantine scholar Eustathius records this genealogical information alongside other fantastic bits, calling them “extraordinary and empty titillation” (περιττὰ ταῦτα καὶ κενὴ μοχθηρία, Commentarii ad Homeri Od 2.117). Apart from Hesiod and Eustathius’ citation of the Theogony, there is no other mention of Nausinoos in extant Greek literature.

Both names are ‘speaking names’ for sea people (“Swift-Ship” and “Ship-Minded”) which are echoed in the name of the Phaeacian Princess Nausikaa. It seems entirely possible that the pair are simply ancient place-holders for children rather than indicating actual mythical traditions. And yet, Homer has Phaeacian Nausithoos in the Odyssey.

At the beginning of book 6, as Odysseus sleeps the narrator tells us about the people whose land he has come to occupy (6.1-12)

“So godly and much-enduring Odysseus slept there
overcome by exhaustion and weariness. But Athena
Went to the land and the city of the Phaiêkian men
who once lived in broad-floored Hyperiê
Near the arrogant Kyklopean men who
Used to raid them since they were superior in strength.
God-minded Nausithoos took them from there
And led them to Skheria, far from other grain-eating men.
He raised a wall around the city and built houses;
He founded temples to the gods and divided the ploughlands.
When he was overcome by death and went to Hades,
Alkinoos, who knows the thoughts of the gods, ruled.”

῝Ως ὁ μὲν ἔνθα καθεῦδε πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
ὕπνῳ καὶ καμάτῳ ἀρημένος• αὐτὰρ ᾿Αθήνη
βῆ ῥ’ ἐς Φαιήκων ἀνδρῶν δῆμόν τε πόλιν τε•
οἳ πρὶν μέν ποτ’ ἔναιον ἐν εὐρυχόρῳ ῾Υπερείῃ,
ἀγχοῦ Κυκλώπων ἀνδρῶν ὑπερηνορεόντων,
οἵ σφεας σινέσκοντο, βίηφι δὲ φέρτεροι ἦσαν.
ἔνθεν ἀναστήσας ἄγε Ναυσίθοος θεοειδής,
εἷσεν δὲ Σχερίῃ, ἑκὰς ἀνδρῶν ἀλφηστάων,
ἀμφὶ δὲ τεῖχος ἔλασσε πόλει καὶ ἐδείματο οἴκους
καὶ νηοὺς ποίησε θεῶν καὶ ἐδάσσατ’ ἀρούρας.
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἤδη κηρὶ δαμεὶς ῎Αϊδόσδε βεβήκει,
᾿Αλκίνοος δὲ τότ’ ἦρχε, θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδώς.

There are some obvious parallels between this Phaeacian Nausithoos and Odysseus: they both are marked off as intelligent (as opposed to strong); they travel beyond the realms of men; and they suffer violence (at the hands of the Cyclops). But this is not the only appearance of Nausithoos in the epic. Later, when Odysseus is about to enter the Phaeacian palace, Athena provides a fuller genealogy (7.56-68):

“Earth-shaking Poseidon first fathered Nausithoos
With Periboia, one of the prettiest women alive and
The youngest daughter of great-hearted Eurymedon
Who ruled as king among the haughty giants.
When he destroyed his reckless host, he perished as well.
Then Poseidon had sex with her and gave birth to
Great-hearted Nausithoos, who ruled among the Phaiacians.
Nausithoos fathered Rhêxênor and Alkinoos.
Silver-bowed Apollo struck down the first one
when he had no son and left only a single daughter in his home,
Arete. Alkinoos made her his wife and he honors her
As no other woman on earth is honored
However many women there are who keep homes for men.”

Ναυσίθοον μὲν πρῶτα Ποσειδάων ἐνοσίχθων
γείνατο καὶ Περίβοια, γυναικῶν εἶδος ἀρίστη,
ὁπλοτάτη θυγάτηρ μεγαλήτορος Εὐρυμέδοντος,
ὅς ποθ’ ὑπερθύμοισι Γιγάντεσσιν βασίλευεν.
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ὤλεσε λαὸν ἀτάσθαλον, ὤλετο δ’ αὐτός•
τῇ δὲ Ποσειδάων ἐμίγη καὶ ἐγείνατο παῖδα
Ναυσίθοον μεγάθυμον, ὃς ἐν Φαίηξιν ἄνασσε•
Ναυσίθοος δ’ ἔτεκεν ῾Ρηξήνορά τ’ ᾿Αλκίνοόν τε.
τὸν μὲν ἄκουρον ἐόντα βάλ’ ἀργυρότοξος ᾿Απόλλων
νυμφίον, ἐν μεγάρῳ μίαν οἴην παῖδα λιπόντα,
᾿Αρήτην• τὴν δ’ ᾿Αλκίνοος ποιήσατ’ ἄκοιτιν
καί μιν ἔτισ’ ὡς οὔ τις ἐπὶ χθονὶ τίεται ἄλλη,
ὅσσαι νῦν γε γυναῖκες ὑπ’ ἀνδράσιν οἶκον ἔχουσιν.

A few things from this: yes, it seems that Arêtê is both Alkinoos’ wife and niece (something untroubling to commentators on the Odyssey). But also notice the themes coalescing around this family: Nausithoos is born from Poseidon and the daughter of the King of the Giants who perished because of his reckless army. The language here (ἀτάσθαλον) echoes the deaths of Odysseus’ men and the suitors (all of whom are said to perish because of their own recklessness). In their commentary on the Odyssey, Heubeck, West and Hainsworth (324) suggest it is “idle to enquire how a scion of [giants] should become king of the gentle Phaeacians”. Rather than being idle, I think, the question points to the malleable nature of myth and the extents to which Homer will go to create parallels and advance the themes of his poem.

In this vein, the death of Alkinoos’ brother is also interesting: the name Rhêksênôr (“breaker of men”) appears most commonly as an epithet of Achilles (Iliad e.g. 4.5, 13.324). So, perhaps we can see this family of the Phaeacians as being positioned to contrast with Homer’s Odysseus. By this I mean that where Odysseus is presented as a mortal son of mortal son who inhabits cities and bears witness to the boundaries of civilization (thereby asserting what they may be), the Phaeacians are intentionally connected to a divine lineage that it marked out as savage and cosmically destabilizing.

Such a genealogy does more to separate this Odysseus of Homer from other possible iterations of the same hero. (And it is important that here Poseidon is the father of Nausithoos–the very god who is in conflict with our Odysseus is now also in competition over genealogy.) If Homer and his audiences were conscious of another tradition, one that made Nausithoos the son of him and Kalypso, wouldn’t it be in the interest of this poem to distance itself from that tradition thematically and even aggressively? West in his commentary on the Theogony (1966, 436) notes that it would be “absurd” for the Phaeacians to be descended from Odysseus in Homer, but “typical” for Hesiod. (Whatever that means)

But that’s about as much as can be said in brief to imagine that Homer is flyting with Hesiodic tradition (or one known to both poems) rather than Hesiod building off Homer’s tale. One thing in favor of another suggestion, that Homer presents an innovation with Kalypso.

Hesiod, fr. 13.30-31

ἔς τε Κεφαλλ]ήνων ἀγερώχων φῦλον ὄρουσαν,
οὓς τέκεν ῾Ερ]μάωνι Καλυψὼ πότνια νύμφη•

They went to the tribe of gathered Kephallenians
Whom queen Kalypso gave birth to with Hermaon.

Here, in one of the few other places where Kalypso appears, she is made a possible forebear of the very people associated in Homer with Odysseus. Although Kalypso appears in some genealogies, she is less involved in mythical genealogies than her thematic counterpart Kirkê. (And since Wilamowitz and earlier, Calypso has been scene as a “reduplication of the Circe-motif” (West 1966, 436)). The limited range of her appearances strengthens the possibility that Kalypso’s narrative function orbited almost exclusively around Odysseus (and was perhaps created for his narrative).

Nausithoos does appear in one other tradition that’s worth mentioning in moving on to other children. According, to Plutarch, the Greek historian Philokhoros, says that “Theseus took him as a steersman of his ship to Skiros from Salamis…because the Athenians were not yet accustomed to the sea….” ((fr. 56 B4). Φιλόχορος (FGrH 328 F 111) δὲ παρὰ Σκίρου φησὶν ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος τὸν Θησέα λαβεῖν κυβερνήτην μὲν Ναυσίθοον, πρωρέα δὲ Φαίακα, μηδέπω τότε τῶν᾿Αθηναίων προσεχόντων τῇ θαλάσσῃ, Plutarch, Theseus 17)

2 thoughts on “The Sons of Odysseus, Part 5: Kalypso’s Brood

  1. Pingback: CHS Open House: The Children of Odysseus, with Joel Christensen | Kleos@chs

  2. Pingback: Video—CHS Open House: The Children of Odysseus, with Joel Christensen | Hour 25

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