Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TFBT: By the Way, She Didn’t Promise Eternal Youth

Passing Out Goblets of Nectar 

Stay here and keep this house with me, and wouldest be immortal,” Calypso to Odysseus in book 5 of his epic 
We know that eternal youth and immortality can’t be generally given without the permission and consensus of the Olympians.[i]  So it is kind of weird that Calypso thinks she can give Odysseus immortality.  I was thinking that Circe, daughter of Aeetes offered him immortality, but that was wrong.  You know who could offer someone immortality?  Medea, Circe’s niece.  There is no indication that the “dice ‘em, throw ‘em in a pot and pluck them out whole and beautiful” stunt that she[ii] and the Fates[iii] pulled off, could not be done over and over again as necessary.   

The thing that Medea, daughter of Aeetes and the goddess Calypso have in common is that Homer calls their immortal fathers Atlas and Aeetes oloofrwn. (Homer, Odyssey 1. 52 and 10.137, respectively.) No one seems to know what that word means; anything from denoting animal savagery, to “malignant” to sorcerer to crooked.  The only other time oloofrwn is used in the Odyssey referring to a being is when Homer sang of Minos, husband of the immortal witch Pasiphae. (Od. 11.322 )  Pasiphae is another daughter of  oloofrwn Aeetes.[iv] 

During recent discussions at the Kosmos Society 

https://kosmossociety.chs.harvard.edu/?p=39493). Greg Nagy observed that within certain places in a Homeric line of text that “every wizard who is described in the genitive case is always ‘baneful minded’”.  In the Greek “ὀλοόφρονος”.

William Ewart Gladstone (Studies on Homer and the HomericAge) says Homer confides the epithet to those beings that belong to the outer geography of the Odyssey.  

Okay, maybe Calypso has another thing in common with Circe they share epithet of “Aiaia: A surname of Calypso, who was believed to have inhabited a small island of the name of Aeaea” and   “Aiaia. A surname of Circe, the sister of Aeëtes.  Her son Telegonus is likewise mentioned with this surname.[v]  Presumably, Circe gets the title because she is Aeaian, her brother ruling the city of Colchis in the land of Aea at the far eastern end of the Black Sea. 

Guardians of the Galaxy
"Atlas the baleful (oloophron); he knows the depths of all the seas, and he, no other, guards the tall pillars that keep the sky and earth apart." Homer, Odyssey 1.52 (trans. Shewring)
 My friend Maya made the observation that some scholars think Atlas wasn’t condemned to hold up the heavens for all eternity, but rather assigned the honor of guarding the demarcation of the western end of the world or inherited the honor (time) from his father Iapetus.[vi]  This makes a little more sense when you compare Atlas to his brother Prometheus.  Prometheus, called The Titan, was bound to a snow topped crag in the middle of nowhere with an eagle gnawing on his liver daily.  Atlas was stationed in one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, tended by his daughters.   

Another little interesting thing; the line as translated by Shewring doesn’t say the pillars (or Atlas) held up the sky, but rather keep the earth and sky apart.  Presumably so Uranus could be up to his old tricks.    

Here’s the other thing, if we assume that Atlas was not being tormented with his job on the Western edge of the world, but assigned it by lot at Mecone,[vii]  likewise if we acknowledge the Hecatoncheires weren’t sent back by Zeus to Hades or the bottom of the Aegean as a punishment, but rather as guards.  Can’t we assume that Atlas and Aeetes were guarding the western and eastern boundaries of the world and Minos doing something similar in Hades?    

Prior to the Hecatoncheires guarding the gates of Tartarus, the jailress was named Campe. [viii]  Robert Graves say the name means “crooked”.  If Minos was one of those who took over the dragoness’ duties it is interesting that Andrew Dalby refers to “fair Ariadne, child of crooked Minos.”[ix]    


I don’t know what to think here.  “Magician” has never looked right to me when reading oloofrwn and the explanation for the other possible definitions of the word are just too complex and unconvincing to a feather-weight intellect like mine.  Here’s what I do all the daemons called oloofrwn are closely related to a powerful witches.  All three are assigned to extreme locations on the earth.  If we conclude that Atlas, Aeetes and Minos were “guards” this might lead to “crooked” being a better meaning of oloofron

[i] .Apollod. iii. 6. 8, Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 251, Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 218     
[ii] Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 182 and  Ovid, Metamorphoses 7. 294
[iii] Pindar, Olympian Ode 1. 24  
[iv] I think  Matthews make a mistake in associating Ariadne and Minos In his argurement.  ( Atlas, Aietes, and Minos ΟΛΟΟΦΡΩΝ: An Epic Epithet in the Odyssey)
V. J. Matthews
[v] Both references come from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.  
[vi] see theoi.com on the elder titans and the four corners of the world.
[vii] In Homer, Atlas merely guards the pillars…”  History of Ancient Geography by J. Oliver Thomson  According to some versions Atlas was released from his punishement by Zeus or by Heracles and was required to merely guard the two tall pillarsEnclyopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology by Luke and Monica Roman page 93
[viii] Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 6
[ix] Bacchus: A Biography  By Andrew Dalby


  1. Calypso, however, says that she had promised eternal youth to Odysseus. She tells Hermes:

    "I welcomed him generously and fed him, and promised to make him immortal and un-aging."

    I wondered how she could speak of making a mortal immortal without first negotiating with Zeus - it looked to me what we call "making one's calculations without the bar keeper". However, after we found out that she is the original goddess of death and daughter of one of the most important individuals in the Cosmos, I've changed my opinion. She has ambrosia and nectar, as if she were an Olympian, and surely could immortalize anyone she wished. In Odysseus' case, she apparently decided that a mere mortal was not worth a new theomachy. Had she decided otherwise, I'm not sure who would win.

    A little earlier in the same book, there is something that puzzled me. Athena tells Zeus how unjust and cruel it is that Odysseus is held captive by Calypso, and Zeus replies:

    "My child, what words escape your lips? Was this not of your own devising, that Odysseus might return and take vengeance on them all (i.e. the suitors)?"

    This puzzles me. Technically, it is Poseidon who takes care to postpone Odysseus' return, as a revenge for the blinding of his dear cannibal son. On the other hand, Athena definitely hates the Ithacans. It is her wish that not one suitor survives. I even wonder whether to exonerate Odysseus for their slaughter; after all the trouble with Poseidon, he could hardly risk pissing off another Olympian. What have the poor Ithacans done to Athena? Possibly distributed too many bones to their dogs and too few to her altar? Or she simply hates humans?

  2. Maya,

    So Calypso says one thing to Odysseus and another to Hermes? Interesting.

    As to Athena's devising, at any point in the Odyssey where our hero is not actively under the control of Poseidon, Calypso or Circe, Athena could have stuffed him in her pocket and taken him back to Ithaca. This is all about attaining " unfailing glory" for her pet Odysseus. She is prompted to speak when she does, not because Poseidon is off on the far side of the world, but rather because Telemachus is coming of age and the potential for violence in Ithaca reached a crescendo perfect for the hero's entrance to the final scene of the play.

  3. So Athena kept Odysseus away from home for long years and then instigated him to mass-murder his subjects just to give him aristeia and kleos! Which he could not even use in his island, because the gods had to impose amnesia for the sake of peace. Actually, most of Athena's protégés ended up worse than this.
    Reminds me of a story by Stanislaw Lem where a newly Christianized population, listening to their missionary praising early martyrs and how their souls went to Paradise because of their endurance, conclude that this is what any pious Christian wants most, and torture him to death to send him to Paradise.