Last updated: February 14, 2019
Topic: FashionBeauty
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In the epic, Odyssey, Homer presents both Calypso and Circe as goddesses who employ not only their divine powers, but also the power of seduction used by mortal women, to hold captive the hero, Odysseus. One way the two, Calypso and Circe, are similar is by divine powers. Although the divine powers of both Calypso and Circe are capturing and detaining Odysseus, Homer treats these vaguely defined powers with little respect, and in the case of Circe, even a hint of scorn.

Other than the trappings of power to seduce Odysseus, Calypso’s direct use of her powers to take and hold Odysseus are not mentioned except to refer to her as bewitching (Homer 1. 17). Circe’s powers to mesmerize, sedate, and magically transform are described much more explicitly in Book 10, yet her drugs and spells fail utterly to capture Odysseus, who is forewarned and forearmed by Hermes (Homer 10. 315-341). Where divine magic fails, Circe, like Calypso, falls back on the powers of seduction and the trappings of power, urging Odysseus to “mount my bed and mix in the magic work of love” (Homer 10. 71). Another way they are alike is seduction of comfort. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach may be a cliche, but the goddesses don’t disdain to the technique in their seductions of Odysseus. Similarly, they also use baths, massages with oils, warm and comfortable bedchambers, and other comforts to aid in their seduction of the hero.

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Calypso sets the stage for her final effort to seduce Odysseus by serving him “every kind of food and drink that mortal men will take” (Homer 5. 216-217). Later, she “bathed and decked him out in fragrant clothes (Homer 5. 90). Circe also lavishes food, drink, and other comforts on not only Odysseus, but also his crew after reversing their transformation to swine (Homer 10. 390-412 and 10. 495-498). Calypso and Circe also use seduction of beauty. The goddesses use not only their own physical beauty, but also the beauty of their homes to entice Odysseus and hold him in their seductive traps. Homer repeatedly mentions their physical beauty, referring to each of them as lustrous goddess and nymph with “lovely braids,” invoking mages of both mature sexual beauty as well as the beauty of youthful innocence. Yet he never describes either in any detail save once for each, and on those occasions, he uses the exact same words, as if the two were interchangeable. Each slips on, “a loose, glistening robe, filmy, a joy to the eye, and round her waist she ran a brocaded belt and over her head a scarf to shield her brow” Homer (5. 254-257 and 10. 598-601). Both island homes of the goddesses are described as beautiful, enchanting, and paradisiacal, though Calypso’s home comes in for special emphasis.

The island of Ogygia is so beautiful that, “even a deathless god who came upon that place would gaze in wonder” (Homer 5. 81-82). Their reliance on beauty as an aid to seduction is underlined by Calypso, when she asks Odysseus about his wife, “Hardly right, is it, for mortal woman to rival immortal goddess? How, in build, in beauty? ” (Homer 5. 234-236). Their emphasis on beauty is key to another tool of seduction, their offer to preserve Odysseus’ own youth and beauty through immortality. They both use seduction of immortality.

Both goddesses believe their offer of immortal youth to Odysseus is one of the most potent elements of the seductive snare, perhaps even the key element to bind him to them forever. Calypso, especially, reveals the importance of this gift in her tirade against the gods, protesting that she had, “even vowed to make the man immortal, ageless, all his days…” (Homer 5. 150-151). However, though both goddesses believe the gift of immortality to be the most seductive gift they can offer, the appeal is lost on Odysseus, who sees immortality as an endless sentence to a gilded cage.

Ultimately, both goddesses must rely on sexual seduction to bind Odysseus to them. Seduction of the flesh is another way they seduce. Both goddesses are sexually aggressive, seductively enticing and even openly urging Odysseus to join with them. And Odysseus, though he seems to be little swayed by all the previously mentioned enticements, is most vulnerable to sexual seduction, succumbing time after time to both. Despite his apparent devotion and longing for his wife, Penelope, Odysseus rarely, if ever, hesitates to climb into the goddesses’ beds.

Although women of the time were generally more passive and submissive in their sexual relationships, Calypso, especially fights against the stereotype, not only by her actions, but in her rant to the gods, “Hard-hearted you are, you gods! You unrivaled lords of jealousy – scandalized when goddesses sleep with mere mortals, openly” (Homer 5. 129-133). Though less defiant of the gods than Calypso, Circe immediately resorts to sexual seduction when her potions and magic wand fail, despite her fear of Odysseus, urging him, “Come, sheathe your sword, let’s go to bed together” (Homer 10. 70). Even Ody sseus own description of Calypso’s home invokes a powerful female sexual image, as he tells the Phaeacians how she held him, “deep in her arching caverns” (Homer 9. 34). And in the next breath, does the same as he tells of Circe, “holding me just as warmly in her halls (Homer 9. 35). Even though Odysseus acknowledges the seductive power of the goddesses, he states emphatically, and correctly, that they never won his heart.

In the epic poem, Odyssey, Homer portrays both Calypso and Circe as powerful goddesses, with both their divine powers, and the powers held by all women, mortal and immortal, to seduce and bind a man. But Homer appears to show that the seductive wiles of all women, especially the power of sexual seduction, is perhaps more powerful than even the divine magic’s of the gods. Yet even that isn’t as seductive to Odysseus as he, “pine(s), all my days – to travel home and see the dawn of my return” (Homer 5. 242-243).