banner - Around the World
global  |  1998  |  europe  |  malta  |  valletta

THE ENCHANTED REALM OF CALYPSO

from 'Realms of Fantasy - Folk Tales from Gozo' by George Camilleri

The golden sands of Ramla Bay, beneath which lie hidden the remains of ancient Roman baths, are fringed by two bosky hills which rise on each side of a fertile valley running between the villages of Xaghra and Nadur. A sharp cliff-face overlooks the bay on its western side and at one place this is penetrated by a deep cave. This has long been known as Calypso's Cave, a name which transports the imagination to a distant era when gods fought titanic wars against each other, when nymphs and dryads haunted the pastoral beauty of exotic lands and islands.

Ramla Bay is in fact reputed to be the place where Ulysses, the heroic Greek warrior, met the enchanting queen Calypso. Consequently the island of Gozo is considered by many scholars to be the island of Ogygia described in Homer's classic masterpiece, the Odyssey. After Ulysses took part in the siege of Troy he decided to return home but the gods, not entirely benevolent, decided to make his journey as difficult as possible.

The ship carrying Ulysses home was tossed about by violent gales, sinking and rising on trecherous waves which flung him against the Mediterranean shores. As if this was not enough, his ship was one day struck by a thunderbolt. Everybody on board was killed except Ulysses. For nine whole days he had to struggle single-handedly against the raging storm battering against his ship and pushing it towards an unknown destination.

When the storm had receded Ulysses sighted an island gleaming like an emerald in the sun. He steered the ship towards it and eventually managed to reach the shore safe and sound. He explored the island and was fascinated by the natural beauty surrounding him. He walked through spacious meadows covered with a marvellous variety of flowers, tasted strange fruit which grew abundantly in sheltered places, and drank of the pure water gushing in streams running in green dales.

On the other side of the bay there was a cypress grove scenting the air with a caressing sweetness. Spread here and there amongst the trees there stood quaint temples where young virgins, anxious for their lovers, collected exotic herbs to offer sacrifice to the gods.

In the heart of this Arcadia there was a cave partly hidden by vines laden with ripe grapes. In front of the cave there were four natural springs which spurted their water in the shape of an elegant fountain, and as Ulysses moved closer, he could hear a strange kind of mystic music produced by the fountain. There were girls dancing around a fire in front of the cave's mouth.

Ulysses approached cautiously. The girls stood in his way and asked him about his intentions. Before he could answer he heard the sound of heart-rending song from inside the cave. As the voice grew nearer he suddenly saw the vision of a ravishing lady standing in the mouth of the cave, clad in an attire which left Ulysses speechless in admiration. He was struck by her deep green eyes and the long hair flowing over her shoulders.

She invited Ulysses to take a rest in the cave and led him to a golden throne surrounded by precious ornaments. She ordered her attendants to provide him with new clothes, food, drink and rare perfumes. Ulysses learnt that she was Calypso, queen of Ogygia, famed throughout the whole world for her beauty and her enchanting songs. While the Greek warrior relaxed in her idyllic domain he recounted the adventures of his voyages after ten years' fighting in the Trojan war. He also expressed his desire to return to his homeland, the island of Ithaca, where his wife Penelope and his son Telamon awaited him. The Nymph seemed not to hear the request and spoke at length about herself and the island she ruled where everyone was her subject.

When Calypso thought it was the right moment she asked Ulysses to stay with her permanently, She promised him the kingship of the island as well as eternal youth and happiness. But Ulysses insisted on his desire to return to Ithaca, upon which Calypso wept passionately, imploring him to stay with her for at least a few days. Her tears did not weaken his resolve; he was determined to sail home. But how? When he returned to the coast he discovered that his ship was almost a total wreck and he remembered that all his crew were lost at sea. Calypso, flushed with jealousy, refused to provide a new ship for him.

Thus the brave warrior had to stay in Ogygia for seven whole years. For Calypso they were seven years of bliss with Ulysses by her side. She tried to make his stay as pleasant as possible by offering him all the delights of the island, but he did not give up hope of returning to his wife. He begged the gods daily to fulfil his wishes; and after those seven years his prayers were answered.

Jove, the supreme deity, dispatched his messenger Hermes to force Calypso to release her homesick prisoner. She was constrained to give him up and reluctantly gave him permission to set sail. As a parting gift she rewarded him with a new ship loaded with presents for himself and his family.

She ordered the winds to blow favourably to help him reach home safely. The sad Calypso watched the ship depart and disappear behind the horizon, and then she returned to her exotic grotto and the cypress groves of Ogygia.

Ulysses's departure brings to an end her romance as well as what we may take to be Gozo's brief appearance in classical mythology. There are no more tales about the abode of Calypso, and the thousands of tourists who follow Ulysses's footsteps in to the cave may be disappointed to discover that it is now empty [ Yes - Phespirit ]. But one can always let fancy roam. Then, on some wintry day, when one peers over the high ridge down towards Ramla Bay to watch the ceaseless current breaking and rolling on the deserted beach, one might sense the mystic presence of a lovesick goddess pining vainly for her lost lover .....

text
map
images 1