he had no choice—
unwilling lover alongside lover all too willing.
Calypso forces Odysseus to sleep with her against his will. These lines encourage us to condemn the powerful goddess’s abuse of the powerless Odysseus. Later, however, as Odysseus tells his story to the Phaeacians, the poet reminds us that Odysseus, too, has captured and enslaved women. The Odyssey takes place in a patriarchal world, but the poem is alive to the tensions and contradictions of the patriarchal system.
You unrivalled lords of jealousy—
scandalized when goddesses sleep with mortals.
When Zeus commands Calypso to release Odysseus, she complains about the gods’ double standard. Male gods are allowed to take mortal lovers, but Zeus always intervenes to prevent goddesses from doing the same, or to prevent them from enjoying themselves when they do. Calypso’s complaint highlights a similar double standard in the mortal world. Odysseus is allowed to sleep with goddesses, while Penelope is criticized for entertaining the suitors against her will.
My every impulse bends to what is right. Not iron, trust me,
the heart within my breast. I am all compassion.
Calypso tells Odysseus that she is releasing him of her own free will, out of “compassion.” At the same time, she secretly hopes that Odysseus will change his mind and stay with her. She tells him that if he knew the dangers that awaited him, he would think twice about leaving, but Odysseus remains determined to leave, so Calypso helps him go, as she promised.