Poseidon was on his way home from Ethiopia when he happened to look down and saw Odysseus in his small craft. Blood boiling, the great god shook his head and said to himself “The other gods changed their minds about Odysseus while I was away and look, there he is near the Phaeacia’s shores where he’s fated to escape his noose of pain. But I can still give him great trouble!” And with that he rammed the clouds together and churned the waters into chaos with his great trident and suddenly the waves rose and roiled and the sky darkened and Odysseus was numb with fear.
“It’s just as the nymph foretold,” he thought, “I am not done with this cup of pain. Look at this monstrous storm. What a wretched death to drown here! How I wish that I had died a hero’s death with my comrades on the plains of Troy.” A massive wave came crashing down on his head. His mast was split, his raft smashed. Odysseus struggled to stay afloat in the heaving water. His clothing weighed him down as he gasped for breath and clung to a piece of the wreckage.
It was Cadmus’s daughter Ino, who had once been a mortal woman but was now an immortal being of the sea, who saw him and took pity. She came to Odysseus and what was left of his raft. “Poor man,” she said, “Why does the god of the sea hate you so? Ah, but as much as he wants to destroy you, he cannot. So do as I say. Take this scarf, wrap it around you, and swim for shore. Safety awaits you there. Leave the raft and swim, and when you get to the beach untie my scarf and toss it quickly, back into the wine-dark sea. Do not watch where or how it falls.” She handed him the scarf and dove back down beneath the waves.
Scarf in hand, Odysseus considered her advice. “I don’t know if I can trust yet another immortal,” he thought, “especially one who urges me to abandon my raft. The shore that I glimpsed is too far away. So I will hang on here a while longer and get closer if I can before I throw myself into this deadly sea.”
Just then Poseidon sent another huge crashing wave and brave Odysseus was left with nothing but a timber to ride. The time had come. Odysseus stripped off his sodden clothing, tied on the scarf, and stretched his arms for the shore. Poseidon whipped the winds one last time and grumbling went on to Olympus. But the goddess Athena smoothed the water and calmed all but the north wind, to aid Odysseus on his way.
Still he was afloat for two days and often thought that he would die. Finally, when Dawn with her rose-red fingers brought on the third day, Odysseus looked up to the land just ahead. Filled with joy he found the strength to swim, anxious to plant his feet on solid ground. But the island was well protected with sharp rocks and breakers and pounding surf. Odysseus imagined himself smashed against jagged reefs and his heart sank. He wondered if he would have the luck and stamina to swim along the coast to find a sheltered cove without being crushed against the rocks or carried back out to sea.
In this moment of fear a huge wave rolled in and he would indeed have been smashed if the goddess Athena had not inspired him to fight back, to grab hold of a reef although it tore his skin. When the swell rolled back and cast him back out into the open water she gave him courage and he swam away from the breakers, scanning the coast. At last he saw the mouth of a river and prayed to the river god to let him in. “Rescue me," he prayed, “even an immortal god will show a man respect, when a wanderer needs their help---pity me lord!” The river god stemmed his current and Odysseus swam into the mouth of the river and reached the bank. He crawled out onto the earth and kissed the ground. Then he loosed the goddess's scarf and sent it back out to the sea where Ino caught it in her hands.
“I must rest,” thought Odysseus, “but if I stay here on the bank it will grow cold and that will kill me. But if I go into the brush a wild beast may drag me off.” He decided that cover was the better choice and dragged himself into the woods, where he found a small grove and crawled beneath two olive bushes, sprung from the same root. There he would be shielded from wind and cold and rain and sun. He made himself a bed of leaves and buried himself in them. The goddess Athena sent him a deep, sweet sleep to shield him from his many pains.
Odysseus is on his way. or is he?
(The painting is Raft of Odysseus by N.C. Wyeth, 1929).