Odysseus meets Nausicaa. 7426: Michele Desubleo 1602-1676: Ulisse e Nausica. Capodimonte Palace and National Gallery, Naples.
"Father dear, will you not make ready for me a wagon, with strong wheels, that I may take to the river for washing the fine clothes that I have lying dirty here?" (Nausicaa to Alcinous. Homer, Odyssey 6.57).Nausicaa is the Phaeacian princess who met the shipwrecked Odysseus when she was washing clothes on the shore. This young princess was looked after by Eurymedusa, a woman from Aperaea.
Of all gods only Poseidon was angry against Odysseus when he returned from Troy, and the reason was that, at the beginning of his homeward way, Odysseus blinded the wild Cyclops Polyphemus 2, who was son of the god. So, on account of Poseidon's wrath against him, Odysseus went through countless troubles, and having lost all his comrades (for there was nothing left of his army when he later came back to Ithaca), he landed in the island of Ogygia, where he become the lover and prisoner of the goddess Calypso 3.
The Golden Cage
Some may think that such a prison is not such a great trouble, and would not refuse the love of a goddess. However, Odysseus not only refused the love and company of Calypso 3: he also renounced immortality, which could have been the goddess' gift, had he been nice and stayed with her. But instead he passed his days in longing, not being able to forget Penelope and Ithaca. Now Athena, who cherishes civilized, intelligent and self-possessed mortals such as Odysseus, never deserted this favorite of hers, and when Poseidon was distracted visiting the Ethiopians, she managed to get Odysseus out of his golden prison, and he could leave Ogygia in a boat, which Calypso 3 filled with wine, water, corn and meats, after seven years.
Poseidon wrecks him once more
But when Odysseus was sailing near the island of the Phaeacians, which is Corcyra off the coast of Epirus, Poseidon wrecked his boat, and Odysseus found himself in the midst of mountainous waves with nothing in store for him except sudden death. And some would say that had it not been for Cadmus' daughter Ino, who at her death was turned into the sea-goddess Leucothea, he had perished at sea; yet Ino appeared, and what otherwise could have been if things had been different falls into the realm of endless speculation. The goddess said:
"Swim for your life to the Phaeacian coast ... Take this veil and wind it round your waist. With its divine protection you need not be afraid of injury or death." (Leucothea to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 5.345).
In the land of the Phaeacians
That is why, in spite of the tremendous waves, which threatened to crush him against the rugged shore, he finally was able to land at a river's mouth on the Phaeacian beach. And as soon as he got his breath back, Odysseus unwound Leucothea's veil from his waist and let it go down the river's current into the sea, as the goddess had told him to do. Finding himself completely exhausted, with his flesh swollen and brine gushing from mouth and nostrils, Odysseus used his remaining strength to evaluate his plight and make a plan. For a man in such a condition may die of sheer exhaustion, or may be finished during the night, if he stays awake in the river-bed, by frost, dew, or the chilly wind that blows up from a river in the early morning. But on the other hand, Odysseus reasoned, sleeping off his fatigue in the dense undergrowth of the woods near by, could turn him into a meal for beasts of prey. This was, however, the course he chose, creeping under a pair of olive bushes which grew, not so far from the river, from the same stem and whose closely intertwined branches offered an excellent shelter. There he covered his naked body with dead leaves and fell asleep.
The Phaeacian princess
In that place he was found by Nausicaa the day after, which was devised by Athena; for this goddess who never deserts her favorites, came into the dreams of the beautiful Phaeacian princess disguised as one of her friends and told her that she might soon be married and for that reason she should wash her clothes first thing in the morning. This is how heaven arranges what mortals call coincidences, and when Nausicaa woke up she asked her father King Alcinous for a wagon with a couple of mules to be filled with waistbands, robes and wraps, not mentioning her marriage, for she was too shy for that, but saying instead that she would take care of all the beautiful clothes and linen that her father wore when discussing state affairs with important people.
Nausicaa playing ball with her maids | od123flax: "Then when they had had their joy of food, she and her handmaids, they threw off their head-gear and fell to playing at ball, and white-armed Nausicaa was leader in the song." (Hom.Od.6.100). John Flaxman (1755 – 1826).
This kind of pretence does not delude those who are observant, and if they also are experienced they do not take that as a pretext to begrudge the young their wishes. And that is why Nausicaa could soon climb into the cart, carrying a flask of olive-oil so that she and her maids could, once the washing was done, anoint themselves after bathing; for work and enjoyment are not enemies to be kept apart, but instead, when they are combined, a gentler and richer life comes about. It was by the pools of the river near the place where Odysseus had landed that the girls had planned to clean their clothes. And after rinsing them all and having spread them out in a row along the sea-shore, they bathed and rubbed themselves with olive-oil, and took a meal by the riverside while the sunshine dried the clothes. And after enjoying their food they began playing with a ball.
Odysseus wakes up
It was while playing that Nausicaa passed the ball to one of her maids, who missed it, dropping it into the current. When this happened they all gave a loud shriek, which awoke Odysseus, who had been sleeping under the olive-tree. And he, coming suddenly to his senses, wondered whether he was among lawless savages, or in some place haunted by NYMPHS, who are also to be feared, for all know what happened to Hylas. So, wishing to see with his own eyes, Odysseus, still begrimed with salt, crept out from under the bushes, carrying just a leafy bough to conceal his naked manhood. This was the gruesome sight that appeared in front of these gentle girls, and when they saw what must have looked like a savage ready to act with his usual brutality, they all escaped in every direction, except for Nausicaa, who stood firm in front of the naked stranger. For looks may or may not be in accordance with the person, and by checking herself and confronting him, she gave the stranger a chance to explain himself and thereby reveal whether his shabby appearance came from his nature or from other circumstances. For even kings have a naked body under their clothing, but neither clothing nor body tell everything that can be said about a man. Now Odysseus, rightly judging his own predicament, decided not to embrace her knees as a suppliant, lest she might take offence, but instead he deemed it better to keep his distance and plead his case with polite words. And knowing that words reach farther than any physical contact, Odysseus praised her beauty, grace and stature, saying that Nausicaa looked as a goddess, but that if she was a mortal then her parents and her brothers were most lucky, and luckiest of all was the man who would marry her. And declaring that
"... never have my eyes looked upon a mortal such as you. I worship as I look." (Odysseus to Nausicaa. Homer, Odyssey 6.160).
he added that because of this same extraordinary sight, he did not dare, despite the seriousness of his troubles, to clasp her knees.
Ordeals sent by Zeus
It was then that Nausicaa learned the details of Odysseus' plight, and having observed his manners, she understood that the man was no fool. And he who thinks by himself and understands beyond appearances does better, for as Nausicaa herself said, this kind of ordeal is often sent by Zeus,
"... who follows his own will in dispensing happiness to people whatever their merits." (Nausicaa to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 6.189).
Now, it is up to him who suffers to know how to endure; but it is up to those who have the power to soothe the pain to provide relief. That is why Nausicaa did not care about who or what was behind Odysseus' afflictions, but instead declared that he, having come to such a country and city as hers, would not want for clothing or whatever else an outcast naturally may expect from whomever he meets.
For it is a greater shame for a state to have outcasts roaming among the citizens than for the outcasts themselves to be deprived of what all mortals need. But such a land which is proud of taking care of its citizens, protecting also the weak and the outcasts, lives in safety and strength, enjoying the reverence and respect of all nations. And that is why Nausicaa, after having this talk with Odysseus, called back her frightened maids, saying:
"Where are you flying to at the sight of a man? Don't tell me you take him for an enemy, for there is no man on earth, nor ever will be, who would dare to set hostile feet on Phaeacian soil." (Nausicaa to her maids. Homer, Odyssey 6.199).
Odysseus follows Nausicaa's wagon. oooo: Drawing by John Flaxman, 1755-1826.
Fortune and misfortune
As it happens, unfortunate wanderers often put to the test the halls of safety, bringing to light by their mere presence the values that have been cultivated in these, and revealing whether those who are prosperous have learned that the outcasts' misfortune commands their care. For he who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth should be the first to know its value, and say like Nausicaa:
"... all strangers and beggars come under the protection of Zeus, and the help that is a trifle to us can be precious to others." (Nausicaa to her maids. Homer, Odyssey 6.206).
Having said this she ordered her maids to provide the guest with food and drink, and bathe him in the river.
Odysseus, being ashamed to stand naked in the girls' presence, cleaned himself alone, but when he returned, rubbed with oil and dressed, he was no longer the sorry figure Nausicaa and her maids had met. And the princess, having found him most handsome, commented to her attendants:
"This is the kind of man whom I could fancy for a husband, if he would settle here. I only hope that he will choose to stay." (Nausicaa to her maids. Homer, Odyssey 6.244).
This is how Nausicaa received the stranger.When Odysseus had eaten and drunk, she directed him to his father's palace which was in a city surrounded by high battlements and two harbors, asking him to go by himself the last part of the way in order to avoid the vulgar talk of the sailors, who would no doubt start gossiping, saying things like these:
"Who is this tall and handsome stranger Nausicaa has in tow?" (Homer, Odyssey 6.275ff.).
"Where did she run across him? Her future husband no doubt."
"She must have rescued some shipwrecked foreigner."
"She obviously despises her countrymen here, though so many of the best would like to marry her."
Sent to the palace alone
Some could argue that these men talking in such an unpleasant way are quite right; for it is not likely that someone like Nausicaa would marry the owner of such a malicious tongue. So, wishing to avoid the prattle, the girls and Odysseus traveled together through the farmers' lands, but parted before they entered the city, and when Odysseus thought that Nausicaa had reached her father's house he, following her instructions, went by himself to Alcinous' palace.
This is the meeting that the goddess Athena arranged between Nausicaa and Odysseus, so that he would be introduced in the Phaeacian court and there receive assistance to return to Ithaca. The Phaeacians did treat their guest in the best way, and sent him home in a miraculous ship with many gifts. And when Nausicaa saw the King of Ithaca, preparing himself to sail away with the gifts of the twelve Phaeacian princes and that of King Alcinous himself on board she greeted him:
"Good luck, my friend ... and I hope that when you are in your own country you will remember me at times, since it is to me before all others that you owe your life." (Nausicaa to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 8.461).
And Odysseus replied:
"I will never fail to worship you all the rest of my days. For it was you, lady, who gave me back my life." (Odysseus to Nausicaa. Homer, Odyssey 8.466).