Odysseus arrives on the shore of Scheria, the land of the Phaecians, naked and seaworn, having survived 20 days at sea and Poseidon’s wrath. As he looks about for shelter, he catches sight of two olive trees close by:
One wild, one planted, their growth intertwined,
Proof against blasts of the wild, wet wind,
The sun unable to needle light through,
Impervious to rain, so thickly they grew
Into one tangle of shadows. (5.483-488, Lombardo)
With a glad heart Odysseus scrapes out a makeshift bed beneath the branches of these olive trees and covers himself with the leaves that have piled up there. That the trees are olive represents Athena’s care for our hero, but that one is wild and the other planted makes the reader think of the relationship of Odysseus and Penelope, the wandering hero and the wife at home. It is their love for each other that preserves them: Penelope from submitting to the vulgar suitors and Odysseus from all the tempting women he meets along the way, especially the beautiful Calypso whose offer of eternal youth he spurned in the hope that one day he will re reunited with his wife.
The simile that follows the description of the two olive trees compares Odysseus to a solitary man who seeks the preserve his fire for another day:
A solitary man,
Who lives on the edge of the wilderness
And has no neighbors, will hide a charred log
Deep in the black embers, and so keep alive
The fire’s seed and not have to rekindle it
From who knows where. (5.493-498, Lombardo)
The fire’s seed is Odysseus’ undying desire for home and hearth that yet burns within him. The reader anticipates the day when the fire will rekindle and blaze in its full glory – the day Odysseus returns home disguised as Aethon (‘burning’) to reclaim his wife and home and slaughter the suitors. The wayworn hero will discover his and Penelope’s bed remaining rooted as ever by its olive post in the earth of his beloved Ithaca.