Sex, Trees, and the Structure of the Odyssey

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Odysseus begins and ends his journey in groves of trees:


“When morning-born, rosey-toed Dawn appeared,
Then Odysseus immediately donned his tunic and cloak
And the goddess put on her great silvery robe,
Well-made and well-decorated, and she wrapped her belt around her,
A golden, fine piece, and put her band around her head.
Then she was planning out a departure for great-hearted Odysseus.
She gave him a great ax that was well-sized for his hands,
A bronze one, sharp on two sides. And in it was well fit
A smooth, well-made handle.
She gave him the smooth axe and then took him on the path
To the farthest part of the island where the tale trees were growing,
Alder, ash and fir trees reaching to the sky,
Dry for a long time, long-seasoned, perfect for sailing.
Once she showed him where the great trees were growing,
Kalypso, the beautiful goddess, returned to her home,
While he was cutting out planks. The work went quickly.
He picked out twenty altogether and cut them with bronze.
He skillfully planed them down and made them straight with a level.
At the same time, the shining goddess Kalypso was bringing him augers
And he drilled all the pieces and fit them together.
As wide as a man who is skilled in wood-working
Traces out the line of a merchant ship—that’s
How wide Odysseus made his skiff.
Once he set up the deck beams he attached them to the
Close-placed ribs. And then he finished out the raft with long gunwales.
He fashioned a mast and placed on it a yard-arm.
He also made a rudder to steer with and then
He fashioned willow-branches and brush into a wall
To stand against the waves around the vessel.
And then Kalypso brought him a bolt of cloth
To make into a sail. He crafted that too, skillfully.
He tied into the raft braces, and restraints, and sheets
And using levers moved it down toward the shining sea.
It was the fourth day and everything was complete.”

ἦμος δ’ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος ᾿Ηώς,
αὐτίχ’ ὁ μὲν χλαῖνάν τε χιτῶνά τε ἕννυτ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
αὐτὴ δ’ ἀργύφεον φᾶρος μέγα ἕννυτο νύμφη,
λεπτὸν καὶ χαρίεν, περὶ δὲ ζώνην βάλετ’ ἰξυῖ
καλὴν χρυσείην, κεφαλῇ δ’ ἐφύπερθε καλύπτρην.
καὶ τότ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆϊ μεγαλήτορι μήδετο πομπήν·
δῶκε μέν οἱ πέλεκυν μέγαν, ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃσι,
χάλκεον, ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἀκαχμένον· αὐτὰρ ἐν αὐτῷ
στειλειὸν περικαλλὲς ἐλάϊνον, εὖ ἐναρηρός·
δῶκε δ’ ἔπειτα σκέπαρνον ἐΰξοον· ἦρχε δ’ ὁδοῖο
νήσου ἐπ’ ἐσχατιήν, ὅθι δένδρεα μακρὰ πεφύκει,
κλήθρη τ’ αἴγειρός τ’, ἐλάτη τ’ ἦν οὐρανομήκης,
αὖα πάλαι, περίκηλα, τά οἱ πλώοιεν ἐλαφρῶς.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ δεῖξ’ ὅθι δένδρεα μακρὰ πεφύκει,
ἡ μὲν ἔβη πρὸς δῶμα Καλυψώ, δῖα θεάων,
αὐτὰρ ὁ τάμνετο δοῦρα· θοῶς δέ οἱ ἤνυτο ἔργον.
εἴκοσι δ’ ἔκβαλε πάντα, πελέκκησεν δ’ ἄρα χαλκῷ,
ξέσσε δ’ ἐπισταμένως καὶ ἐπὶ στάθμην ἴθυνε.
τόφρα δ’ ἔνεικε τέρετρα Καλυψώ, δῖα θεάων·
τέτρηνεν δ’ ἄρα πάντα καὶ ἥρμοσεν ἀλλήλοισι,
γόμφοισιν δ’ ἄρα τήν γε καὶ ἁρμονίῃσιν ἄρασσεν.
ὅσσον τίς τ’ ἔδαφος νηὸς τορνώσεται ἀνὴρ
φορτίδος εὐρείης, εὖ εἰδὼς τεκτοσυνάων,
τόσσον ἐπ’ εὐρεῖαν σχεδίην ποιήσατ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
ἴκρια δὲ στήσας, ἀραρὼν θαμέσι σταμίνεσσι,
ποίει· ἀτὰρ μακρῇσιν ἐπηγκενίδεσσι τελεύτα.
ἐν δ’ ἱστὸν ποίει καὶ ἐπίκριον ἄρμενον αὐτῷ·
πρὸς δ’ ἄρα πηδάλιον ποιήσατο, ὄφρ’ ἰθύνοι.
φράξε δέ μιν ῥίπεσσι διαμπερὲς οἰσυΐνῃσι,
κύματος εἶλαρ ἔμεν· πολλὴν δ’ ἐπεχεύατο ὕλην.
τόφρα δὲ φάρε’ ἔνεικε Καλυψώ, δῖα θεάων,
ἱστία ποιήσασθαι· ὁ δ’ εὖ τεχνήσατο καὶ τά.
ἐν δ’ ὑπέρας τε κάλους τε πόδας τ’ ἐνέδησεν ἐν αὐτῇ,
μοχλοῖσιν δ’ ἄρα τήν γε κατείρυσεν εἰς ἅλα δῖαν.
τέτρατον ἦμαρ ἔην, καὶ τῷ τετέλεστο ἅπαντα·

Trees are special…


“If truly you are my child Odysseus come home,
Signal to me a clearly-known sign that I might believe.”

Very-clever Odysseus answered him as he spoke:

“First, recognize this scar with your eyes,
The one a boar tore into me on Parnassos with his white tusk
When I went there. You and my queen mother sent me
To her father Autolykos so that I might gain gifts,
The ones he promised and guaranteed to give me when he came her.
Or, come, and let me describe to you the trees in this well-planned orchard
Which you once gave to me as I asked you about each one
When I was a child asking about them throughout the garden.
We walked through them; you described and named each one.
You gave me thirty pear trees, ten apple trees and
Forty fig trees. You set apart fifty rows of vines
To give me too, vines ripening in turn.
There every sort of grape hangs down
Whenever Zeus’ seasons make them heavy from above.”

τὸν δ’ αὖ Λαέρτης ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε·
“εἰ μὲν δὴ ᾿Οδυσεύς γε, ἐμὸς πάϊς, εἰλήλουθας,
σῆμά τί μοι νῦν εἰπὲ ἀριφραδές, ὄφρα πεποίθω.”
“οὐλὴν μὲν πρῶτον τήνδε φράσαι ὀφθαλμοῖσι,
τὴν ἐν Παρνησῷ μ’ ἔλασεν σῦς λευκῷ ὀδόντι
οἰχόμενον· σὺ δέ με προΐεις καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
ἐς πατέρ’ Αὐτόλυκον μητρὸς φίλον, ὄφρ’ ἂν ἑλοίμην
δῶρα, τὰ δεῦρο μολών μοι ὑπέσχετο καὶ κατένευσεν.
εἰ δ’ ἄγε τοι καὶ δένδρε’ ἐϋκτιμένην κατ’ ἀλῳὴν
εἴπω, ἅ μοί ποτ’ ἔδωκας, ἐγὼ δ’ ᾔτευν σε ἕκαστα
παιδνὸς ἐών, κατὰ κῆπον ἐπισπόμενος· διὰ δ’ αὐτῶν
ἱκνεύμεσθα, σὺ δ’ ὠνόμασας καὶ ἔειπες ἕκαστα.
ὄγχνας μοι δῶκας τρεισκαίδεκα καὶ δέκα μηλέας,
συκέας τεσσαράκοντ’· ὄρχους δέ μοι ὧδ’ ὀνόμηνας
δώσειν πεντήκοντα, διατρύγιος δὲ ἕκαστος
ἤην; ἔνθα δ’ ἀνὰ σταφυλαὶ παντοῖαι ἔασιν,
ὁππότε δὴ Διὸς ὧραι ἐπιβρίσειαν ὕπερθεν.”


Both of these tree-moments are preceded by sex:

Od. 5.226-227:

“Then, after going into the deepest recess of the hollow cave
They took pleasure in sex, staying next to one another.”

ἐλθόντες δ’ ἄρα τώ γε μυχῷ σπείους γλαφυροῖο
τερπέσθην φιλότητι, παρ’ ἀλλήλοισι μένοντες.

These lines are very close to the description of his sexual reunion with Penelope in book 23:

“Thus then, after they each had their pleasure from lovely sex,
They took pleasure in words, telling tales to one another.”

τὼ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν φιλότητος ἐταρπήτην ἐρατεινῆς,
τερπέσθην μύθοισι, πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐνέποντες,

Note the differences!

Both scenes are part of six day sequences. From the moment the gods tell Odysseus he can leave until he departs Kalypso’s island, six days pass:

Book 5

Day 1

5.1 the gods gather at dawn and send Hermes to Ogygia; Odysseus is found on the shore (5.151); Kalypso and Odysseus Dine (5.197-201); they have sex (5.227)

Days 2-5

Dawn Rises (5.228); Odysseus begins to build the raft; on the fourth day, the raft is complete (τέτρατον ἦμαρ ἔην, καὶ τῷ τετέλεστο ἅπαντα· 5.262)

Day 6

On the sixth day, Odysseys departs (fifth day from the beginning of the construction (τῷ δ’ ἄρα πέμπτῳ πέμπ’ ἀπὸ νήσου δῖα Καλυψώ, 5.263)

Odysseus sails for 17 days and nears Skheria on the 18th (5.278-9); Poseidon wrecks his ship and he floats for two days and nights and is near the land again on the third (5.388-390) and he falls asleep on the shore (5.492-3)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the time that passes from one Odysseus arrives on Ithaca until the end of the epic should also be counted as 6 days:


Day 1
14: Odysseus goes to Eumaios, they sleep (14.523)

15: Telemachus leaves Sparta, sleeps at Diokles’ house (Simultaneous action shown in parallel)

Day 2
15.301-494: Eumaios and Odysseus dine again and talk through most of the night

15: Telemachus bypasses Pylos for his ship,(15.296-300) (Simultaneous action shown in parallel)

Day 3
15.495-500: Telemachus arrives arrives in Ithaca and goes to Eumaios’ home (16); the suitors return from their ambush; Eumaios, Telemachus and Odysseus sleep (16)

Day 4
17: Telemachus and Odysseus go to their home separately; the suitors go home to sleep (18.427-428); Penelope sleeps (19.600-604); Odysseus sleeps (20.54-55)

Day 5
20.91: Dawn comes and the suitors return; 21: The Bow; 22: Mnesterophonia; 23.342-43: They sleep

Day 6
23.345-349 Dawn comes, Odysseus wakes and goes to see his father; the second Nekyuia; Testing of Laertes; Ithacan Assembly; Final showdown

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