Book Six

Odysseus had washed up in the land of the Phaeacians. Athena now intervened to make these people foster his journey home. She went by night to the palace of their king and appeared in a dream to the princess, Nausicaa.

The goddess prompted her to give thought to her wedding day. Shouldn't she journey to the pools down by the river and wash her bridal gown?

In the morning Nausicaa awoke with this idea in mind. But being modest, she asked her father instead if she might launder the family linen. Could she have the mule cart for the day? This was ordered and Nausicaa departed with her serving maids.

At the river, they soaked and thrashed the linen and laid it out to dry. Then they bathed in the river and anointed themselves with oil. After lunch they began to toss around a ball.

It was while they were playing that Odysseus woke to the sound of their laughter. Tearing off an olive branch to cloak his nakedness, he approached the group.

The maids ran away at the sight of the brine-encrusted stranger, but Nausicaa stood her ground. Odysseus had to choose between touching her knees in the gesture of a suppliant or staying back and trusting to words. He decided that words were the safer course.

"Are you a goddess or a mortal?" he inquired. "If the latter, your parents must be proud. I've never seen your like in beauty. I don't dare embrace your knees. Could you just tell me the way to town?"

In her candid way, Nausicaa sized him up and saw that he meant no harm. "As strangers and beggars are in the hands of Zeus, I'll not refuse comfort to a castaway." She called back her maids and told them to feed and cloth Odysseus. They gave him oil to rub on after he had bathed in the river.

And now Athena added further luster to the hero's freshly anointed skin and made him seem almost a god. So the princess wished that her own husband might in some way resemble Odysseus.

"Now here is what you must do," she told him. "On the way to my father's palace we will pass between the boatyards. The last thing I want is for some shipwright to see you following along behind my cart and think that there is something going on between us.

"But just before town is a roadside grove, sacred to Athena. Wait there until you're sure I'm gone, then enter the city gate. Ask directions to the palace, and when you've found it do not hesitate. Come straight into the hall and seek out my mother.

"She'll be seated by the fire. Clasp her knees. If she accepts your supplication, you're as good as home."

Book number: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24


Phaeacians (fee-AY-shunz) (back)

Nausicaa (naw-SIK-ay-uh) (back)

home Nausicaa assumes that home is what any castaway wants most. Toward this end, Odysseus calls on Athena to help him engratiate himself with the girl's parents. "Even if you saw fit to stand back and let Poseidon almost kill me," he prays, "please make these people help me." The goddess intends to do just that, although she can't reveal herself to Odysseus at this point out of respect for Poseidon. (back)

Book number: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24