Sea Witch

Delphine has been reading The Odyssey. It’s a little evening’s entertainment. Just kidding. She’s been doing it for school.

This is where formal education works for us. If we were doing this homeschool stuff on our own, I’d never make her read The Odyssey. I never read it myself. I knew the story a little, and the premise of it, but never the details, or the linguistic essence of the text. Linguistic always reminds me of linguine. Sorry, delicious side note. As usual, easily distracted.

I never knew for example, The Odyssey is made with epithets: little crafted phrases repeated throughout the epic poem.

Designed to make the poem easier to remember, as it was mostly told in spoken form. And long. The Odyssey must make three-hour Hollywood movies jealous. Handy then to have little descriptive marker clues in it like Hermes, ‘the winged sandals’, and ‘the cunning’ Odysseus. There’s a lot of people and Gods and monsters and nymphs to remember.

I’m grateful to InterHigh for including it in the English curriculum. It is also of course, the first Western ‘hero’s journey’ in our literature pantheon. Almost 3,000 years old! The brain boggles.

We’ve learned that in some amazing way, it manages to feel modern. The character arc Odysseus is sent on for example, needing to prove himself for his acts of human folly which pisses off the universe, the Greeks called hubris. We know it more now as karma. Similar thing. Though in Ancient Greece, Odysseus speared a cyclops, then bragged about it to the cyclop’s dad, Poseidon, God of the Sea. Silly billy.

We also like the story of the sea witch. Calypso is a great character in the Odyssey. She has complex motives. Calypso might do a little hostage-taking, but only after she saves Odysseus. Plus, the rest of the Gods are really mean to this nymph. She isn’t allowed to leave her island prison because she once supported her father, Atlas in the war against the Gods – which Atlas lost. Oops. As punishment, she is mostly left on her island on her own. No fair.

In this way, she is one of the original castaways. Does Calypso have a coconut with a face painted on it? A Greek version of Wilson? The myth goes that, only once in every few thousand years, she gets a visitor. Apparently one – fast-forward a couple of thousand years – has included Sir Francis Drake. Calypso’s epithet in The Odyssey is to be repeatedly called a sea witch.

While Delph’s been doing The Odyssey, I’ve been reading Charlotte Runcie’s Salt On Your Tongue, a memoir about a poet’s relationship with her body and the relationship between women and the sea. It’s a little light on the latter part for me. I dunno, I think I was expecting examples of female sea captains, divers, artists and scientists. It’s more stories about the sea’s mystery and how that has a sort of feminine energy. Deep and changing and mysterious – akin to the experience of pregnancy, which the author is going through.

Anyhow, the sea witch part in the book is good. And there’s our Calypso. Again.

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