It is a commonplace to say that the heroes of Homeric epic have close bonds with gods and goddesses. Yet the degree to which goddesses are preoccupied with heroes is striking, and this concern is consistently expressed in terms of erotic love. Chapter 4 focuses on the motif of the goddess in love in the Odyssey, a poem structured around a series of encounters between Odysseus and several goddesses. The poem offers three Odyssean versions of the goddess-in-love motif. Odysseus’s rejection of Calypso’s love and offer of immortality is unique: Odysseus is the only Greek hero who rejects a goddess’s advances and survives the experience, a choice and outcome that are central to his status of epic hero. The hero’s relationship with Athene includes nympholeptic aspects and comes close to the ideal marriage described by Odysseus to Nausicaa in Odyssey 6. Finally, the Ithacan sanctuary of the nymphs inspires reminiscences of the cultic and folklore versions of nympholepsy. Each Odyssean version thus highlights different features of the nympholeptic pattern, which in turn help define Odysseus’s distinct form of heroism.
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