By Albert Fenech
I am born and bred Maltese, but I have some Gozitan descent and still have relatives in Gozo – and I am very proud and boastful of it.
My maternal grandfather George Mallia was Gozitan and as a young boy I spent many summer days with his relatives in Rabat in Gozo and these have remained deeply impressed on my mind for their honest and pious simplicity and their great kindness and as the dreams of a then young boy.
At the time being intellectually and literary incapable (aged about six) I was not aware of this wonderful heritage story that has engraved the beautiful island of Gozo in the realms of the mists of romantic times.
Now, I treasure it.
High above the golden sands of Ramla Bay in Gozo one can still find the legendary Cave of Calypso partly hidden inside the high cliffs that overlook the bay on the western side. The bay is enclosed by two green hills which rise on each side of the fertile valley winding between the villages of Xaghra and Nadur.
The name Calypso transports the imagination to a distant era when mighty gods and deities ruled the universe and their sons and daughters had the free run of the whole earth.
In Homer’s classic Odyssey, the island of Ogygia is the place where the heroic Greek warrior Ulysses met the goddess Queen Calypso and Gozo is reputed to be this very Isle. After Ulysses took part in the siege of Troy he longed to return home but the Gods decided to make his journey utterly difficult. His shipmates were all killed and he struggled single-handed for nine whole days and nights while his ship was battered by a raging storm and blown towards an unknown destination.
The ship carrying Ulysses home was tossed about by violent gales, sinking and rising on treacherous waves which flung him against the Mediterranean shores. As if this was not enough, his ship was one day struck by a thunderbolt. When the storm had subsided Ulysses sighted land in the distance and eventually managed to reach the shore safe and sound.
Ulysses slept for many hours on the sun-drenched golden sand and when he awoke and started looking around he was moved by the beauty of his surroundings. He could even hear strange music and high up on a hill at the mouth of a dark cave he could clearly see several girls dancing merrily around a blazing fire.
Ulysses approached cautiously and as he drew nearer he was speechless at the sudden sight of a ravishing lady standing in the mouth of the cave, clad in an attire which did not leave much to the imagination. Her poise and figure, the deep blue-grey eyes and her long golden hair almost gave him a heart attack.
She invited Ulysses inside the cave and provided him with princely attire, food and wine. Her name was Calypso, the Queen of Ogygia, daughter of Jupiter, the God of War. He related about his maritime adventures and his participation in the Trojan War and expressed his strong desire to find his way back to his homeland Itaca and back to the arms of his beloved wife Penelope whom he knew in his heart yearned for his return.
He also longed to see his son Telamon again, but the selfish Nymph paid no heed to his request and instead spoke at length about herself and the island she ruled and promised him the Kingship of the island as well as eternal youth and happiness.
Ulysses was adamant about his desire to return to Ithaca and this made Calypso weep passionate tears. In vain she implored him to stay with her and finally out of jealousy she plain refused to provide a new ship for him. Thus the brave warrior became a prisoner of love and stayed 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 seeing his wife, son, and home again. He prayed for deliverance every day and finally his prayers were answered.
Jove, the supreme deity, dispatched his messenger Hermes to force Calypso to release her homesick prisoner and finally she reluctantly gave him permission to set sail on a new ship loaded with presents for himself and his family. She even ordered the Westerly wind to blow steadily to enable him to reach home safely.
Sadly Calypso watched the ship depart and disappear as a speck upon the horizon while she sang of her hero and the blissful years she had spent with him.
We know of no more tales about Calypso, but whenever one sets foot inside her cave, cut deep into the cliffs of Xaghra, one can still feel her presence and imagine her blue-grey eyes smiling down upon her much-beloved Ulysses.
What a wonderful story of dreams, romance and make believe and whenever I visit beloved Gozo and Calypso’s Cave all of these filter through my mind and make me so proud of my heritage.
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“Everything can rise and fall”
Said of an indifferent person that come what may does not bother them.
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