Homer, The Odyssey.
Translated by Robert Fagles
New York, Viking Penguin, 1996

Copyrighted Material posted for course use only; do not copy or download except for study purposes.

 

Book Six

The Princess and the Stranger

 

One of two surviving paintings showing the meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa, both of which may imitate a painting of Polygnotus in the picture gallery of the Propylaea on the acropolis in Athens (described briefly by Pausanias [scroll to 1.2.6]). Here, Odysseus crouches modestly, holding the veil of Ino about his neck and shoulders, and looks toward Athena, who points him in the direction of Nausicaa. Nausicaa stands calmly facing the stranger; on either side of her, two companions flee in fright while another, occupied with her washing, has not noticed the stranger's approach.

Attic red-figure pyxis lid, attribued to Aison. Boston Museum of Fine Arts 04.18. Ca. 430. From Shapiro, Myth into Art (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 48, fig. 29.

 

 

 




So there he lay at rest, the storm tossed great Odysseus,

borne down by his hard labors first and now deep sleep

as Athena traveled through the countryside

and reached the Phaeacians' city. Years ago

they lived in a land of spacious dancing circles,

Hyperia, all too close to the overbearing Cyclops,

stronger, violent brutes who harried them without end.

So their godlike king, Nausithous, led the people off

in a vast migration, settled them in Scheria,

far from the men who toil on this earth-

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he flung up walls around the city, built the houses,

raised the gods' temples and shared the land for plowing.

But his fate had long since forced him down to Death

and now Alcinous ruled, and the gods made him wise.

Straight to his house the clear eyed Pallas went,

full of plans for great Odysseus' journey home.

She made her way to the gaily painted room

where a young girl lay asleep . . .

a match for the deathless gods in build and beauty,

Nausicaa, the daughter of generous King Alcinous.

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Two handmaids fair as the Graces slept beside her,

flanking the two posts, with the gleaming doors closed.

But the goddess drifted through like a breath of fresh air,

rushed to the girl's bed and hovering close she spoke,

in face and form like the shipman Dymas' daughter,

a girl the princess' age, and dearest to her heart.

Disguised, the bright eyed goddess chided, "Nausicaa,

how could your mother bear a careless girl like you?

Look at your fine clothes, lying here neglected--

with your marriage not far off,

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the day you should be decked in all your glory

and offer elegant dress to those who form your escort.

That's how a bride's good name goes out across the world

and it brings her father and queenly mother joy. Come,

let's go wash these clothes at the break of day--

I'll help you, lend a hand, and the work will fly!

You won't stay unwed long. The noblest men

in the country court you now, all Phaeacians

just like you, Phaeacia born and raised. So come,

first thing in the morning press your kingly father

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to harness the mules and wagon for you, all to carry

your sashes, dresses, glossy spreads for your bed.

It's so much nicer for you to ride than go on foot.

The washing pools are just too far from town."

    With that

the bright eyed goddess sped away to Olympus, where,

they say, the gods' eternal mansion stands unmoved,

never rocked by gale winds, never drenched by rains,

nor do the drifting snows assail it, no, the clear air

stretches away without a cloud, and a great radiance

plays across that world where the blithe gods

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live all their days in bliss. There Athena went,

once the bright eyed one had urged the princess on.

Dawn soon rose on her splendid throne and woke

Nausicaa finely gowned. Still beguiled by her dream,

down she went through the house to tell her parents now,

her beloved father and mother. She found them both inside.

Her mother sat at the hearth with several waiting women,

spinning yarn on a spindle, lustrous sea blue wool.

Her father she met as he left to join the lords

at a council island nobles asked him to attend.

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She stepped up close to him, confiding, "Daddy dear,

I wonder, won't you have them harness a wagon for me,

the tall one with the good smooth wheels . . . so I

can take our clothes to the river for a washing?

Lovely things, but lying before me all soiled.

And you yourself, sitting among the princes,

debating points at your council,

you really should be wearing spotless linen.

Then you have five sons, full grown in the palace,

two of them married, but three are lusty bachelors

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always demanding crisp shirts fresh from the wash

when they go out to dance. Look at my duties--

that all rests on me."

    So she coaxed, too shy

to touch on her hopes for marriage, young warm hopes,

in her father's presence. But he saw through it all

and answered quickly, "I won't deny you the mules,

my darling girl . . . I won't deny you anything.

Off you go, and the men will harness a wagon,

the tall one with the good smooth wheels,

fitted out with a cradle on the top."

    With that

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he called to the stablemen and they complied.

They trundled the wagon out now, rolling smoothly,

backed the mule team into the traces, hitched them up,

while the princess brought her finery from the room

and piled it into the wagon's polished cradle.

Her mother packed a hamper--treats of all kinds,

favorite things to refresh her daughter's spirits--

poured wine in a skin, and as Nausicaa climbed aboard,

the queen gave her a golden flask of stippling olive oil

for her and her maids to smooth on after bathing.

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Then, taking the whip in hand and glistening reins,

she touched the mules to a start and out they clattered,

trotting on at a clip, bearing the princess and her clothes

and not alone: her maids went with her, stepping briskly too.

Once they reached the banks of the river flowing strong

where the pools would never fail, with plenty of water

cool and clear, bubbling up and rushing through

to scour the darkest stains--they loosed the mules,

out from under the wagon yoke, and chased them down

the river's rippling banks to graze on luscious clover.

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Down from the cradle they lifted clothes by the armload,

plunged them into the dark pools and stamped them down

in the hollows, one girl racing the next to finish first

until they'd scoured and rinsed off all the grime,

then they spread them out in a line along the beach

where the surf had washed a pebbly scree ashore.

And once they'd bathed and smoothed their skin with oil,

they took their picnic, sitting along the river's banks

and waiting for all the clothes to dry in the hot noon sun.

Now fed to their hearts' content, the princess and her retinue

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threw their veils to the wind, struck up a game of ball.

White armed Nausicaa led their singing, dancing beat . . .

as lithe as Artemis with her arrows striding down

from a high peak--Taygetus' towering ridge or Erymanthus--

thrilled to race with the wild boar or bounding deer,

and nymphs of the hills race with her,

daughters of Zeus whose shield is storm and thunder,

ranging the hills in sport, and Leto's heart exults

as head and shoulders over the rest her daughter rises,

unmistakable--she outshines them all, though all are lovely.

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So Nausicaa shone among her maids, a virgin, still unwed.

But now, as she was about to fold her clothes

and yoke the mules and turn for home again,

now clear eyed Pallas thought of what came next,

to make Odysseus wake and see this young beauty

and she would lead him to the Phaeacians' town.

The ball--

    the princess suddenly tossed it to a maid

but it missed the girl, splashed in a deep swirling pool

and they all shouted out--

    and that woke great Odysseus.

He sat up with a start, puzzling, his heart pounding:

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"Man of misery, whose land have I lit on now?

What are they here--violent, savage, lawless?

or friendly to strangers, god fearing men?

Listen: shouting, echoing round me--women, girls--

or the nymphs who haunt the rugged mountain tops

and the river springs and meadows lush with grass!

Or am I really close to people who speak my language?

Up with you, see how the land lies, see for yourself now . . ."

Muttering so, great Odysseus crept out of the bushes,

stripping off with his massive hand a leafy branch

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from the tangled olive growth to shield his body,

hide his private parts. And out he stalked

as a mountain lion exultant in his power

strides through wind and rain and his eyes blaze

and he charges sheep or oxen or chases wild deer

but his hunger drives him on to go for flocks,

even to raid the best defended homestead.

So Odysseus moved out . . .

about to mingle with all those lovely girls,

naked now as he was, for the need drove him on,

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a terrible sight, all crusted, caked with brine--

they scattered in panic down the jutting beaches.

Only Alcinous' daughter held fast, for Athena planted

courage within her heart, dissolved the trembling in her limbs,

and she firmly stood her ground and faced Odysseus, torn now--

Should he fling his arms around her knees, the young beauty,

plead for help, or stand back, plead with a winning word,

beg her to lead him to the town and lend him clothing?

This was the better way, he thought. Plead now

with a subtle, winning word and stand well back,

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don't clasp her knees, the girl might bridle, yes.

He launched in at once, endearing, sly and suave:

"Here I am at your mercy, princess--

are you a goddess or a mortal? If one of the gods

who rule the skies up there, you're Artemis to the life,

the daughter of mighty Zeus--I see her now--just look

at your build, your bearing, your lithe flowing grace . . .

But if you're one of the mortals living here on earth,

three times blest are your father, your queenly mother,

three times over your brothers too. How often their hearts

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must warm with joy to see you striding into the dances--

such a bloom of beauty. True, but he is the one

more blest than all other men alive, that man

who sways you with gifts and leads you home, his bride!

I have never laid eyes on anyone like you,

neither man nor woman . . .

I look at you and a sense of wonder takes me.

    Wait,

once I saw the like--in Delos, beside Apollo's altar--

the young slip of a palm tree springing into the light.

There I'd sailed, you see, with a great army in my wake,

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out on the long campaign that doomed my life to hardship.

That vision! Just as I stood there gazing, rapt, for hours . . .

no shaft like that had ever risen up from the earth--

so now I marvel at you, my lady: rapt, enthralled,

too struck with awe to grasp you by the knees

though pain has ground me down.

    Only yesterday,

the twentieth day, did I escape the wine dark sea.

Till then the waves and the rushing gales had swept me on

from the island of Ogygia. Now some power has tossed me here,

doubtless to suffer still more torments on your shores.

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I can't believe they'll stop. Long before that

the gods will give me more, still more.

    Compassion-

princess, please! You, after all that I have suffered,

you are the first I've come to. I know no one else,

none in your city, no one in your land.

Show me the way to town, give me a rag for cover,

just some cloth, some wrapper you carried with you here.

And may the good gods give you all your heart desires:

husband, and house, and lasting harmony too.

No finer, greater gift in the world than that . . .

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when man and woman possess their home, two minds,

two hearts that work as one. Despair to their enemies,

joy to all their friends. Their own best claim to glory."

"Stranger," the white armed princess answered staunchly,

"friend, you're hardly a wicked man, and no fool, I'd say--

it's Olympian Zeus himself who hands our fortunes out,

to each of us in turn, to the good and bad,

however Zeus prefers . . .

He gave you pain, it seems. You simply have to bear it.

But now, seeing you've reached our city and our land,

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you'll never lack for clothing or any other gift,

the right of worn out suppliants come our way.

I'll show you our town, tell you our people's name.

Phaeacians we are, who hold this city and this land,

and I am the daughter of generous King Alcinous.

All our people's power stems from him."

She called out to her girls with lovely braids:

"Stop, my friends! Why run when you see a man?

Surely you don't think him an enemy, do you?

There's no one alive, there never will be one,

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who'd reach Phaeacian soil and lay it waste.

The immortals love us far too much for that.

We live too far apart, out in the surging sea,

off at the world's end--

no other mortals come to mingle with us.

But here's an unlucky wanderer strayed our way

and we must tend him well. Every stranger and beggar

comes from Zeus, and whatever scrap we give him

he'll be glad to get. So, quick, my girls,

give our newfound friend some food and drink

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and bathe the man in the river,

wherever you find some shelter from the wind."

    At that

they came to a halt and teased each other on

and led Odysseus down to a sheltered spot

where he could find a seat,

just as great Alcinous' daughter told them.

They laid out cloak and shirt for him to wear,

they gave him the golden flask of stippling olive oil

and pressed him to bathe himself in the river's stream.

Then thoughtful Odysseus reassured the handmaids,

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"Stand where you are, dear girls, a good way off, "

so I can rinse the brine from my shoulders now

and rub myself with oil . . .

how long it's been since oil touched my skim

But I won't bathe in front of you. I would be embarrassed--

stark naked before young girls with lovely braids."

The handmaids scurried off to tell their mistress.

Great Odysseus bathed in the river, scrubbed his body

clean of brine that clung to his back and broad shoulders,

scoured away the brackish scurf that caked his head.

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And then, once he had bathed all over, rubbed in oil

and donned the clothes the virgin princess gave him,

Zeus's daughter Athena made him taller to all eyes,

his build more massive now, and down from his brow

she ran his curls like thick hyacinth clusters

full of blooms. As a master craftsman washes

gold over beaten silver--a man the god of fire

and Queen Athena trained in every fine technique--

and finishes off his latest effort, handsome work,

so she lavished splendor over his head and shoulders now.

260

And down to the beach he walked and sat apart,

glistening in his glory, breathtaking, yes,

and the princess gazed in wonder . . .

then turned to her maids with lovely braided hair:

"Listen, my white armed girls, to what I tell you.

The gods of Olympus can't be all against this man

who's come to mingle among our noble people.

At first he seemed appalling, I must say--

now he seems like a god who rules the skies up there!

Ah, if only a man like that were called my husband,

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lived right here, pleased to stay forever . . .

    Enough.

Give the stranger food and drink, my girls."

They hung on her words and did her will at once,

set before Odysseus food and drink, and he ate and drank,

the great Odysseus, long deprived, so ravenous now--

it seemed like years since he had tasted food.

The white armed princess thought of one last thing.

Folding the clothes, she packed them into her painted wagon,

hitched the sharp hoofed mules, and climbing up herself,

Nausicaa urged Odysseus, warmly urged her guest,

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"Up with you now, my friend, and off to town we go.

I'll see you into my wise father's palace where,

I promise you, you'll meet all the best Phaeacians.

Wait, let's do it this way. You seem no fool to me.

While we're passing along the fields and plowlands,

you follow the mules and wagon, stepping briskly

with all my maids. I'll lead the way myself.

But once we reach our city, ringed by walls

and strong high towers too, with a fine harbor either side . . .

and the causeway in is narrow; along the road the rolling ships

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are all hauled up, with a slipway cleared for every vessel.

There's our assembly, round Poseidon's royal precinct,

built of quarried slabs planted deep in the earth.

Here the sailors tend their black ships' tackle,

cables and sails, and plane their oarblades down.

Phaeacians, you see, care nothing for bow or quiver,

only for masts and oars and good trim ships themselves--

we glory in our ships, crossing the foaming seas!

But I shrink from all our sea dogs' nasty gossip.

Some old salt might mock us behind our backs--

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we have our share of insolent types in town

and one of the coarser sort, spying us, might say,

'Now who's that tall, handsome stranger Nausicaa has in tow?

Where'd she light on him? Her husband to be, just wait!

But who--some shipwrecked stray she's taken up with,

some alien from abroad? Since nobody lives nearby.

Unless it's really a god come down from the blue

to answer all her prayers, and to have her all his days.

Good riddance! Let the girl go roving to find herself

a man from foreign parts. She only spurns her own--

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countless Phaeacians round about who court her,

nothing but our best.'

    So they'll scoff . . .

just think of the scandal that would face me then.

I'd find fault with a girl who carried on that way,

flouting her parents' wishes--father, mother, still alive--

consorting with men before she'd tied the knot in public.

No, stranger, listen closely to what I say, the sooner

to win your swift voyage home at my father's hands.

Now, you'll find a splendid grove along the road--

poplars, sacred to Pallas--

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a bubbling spring's inside and meadows run around it.

There lies my father's estate, his blooming orchard too,

as far from town as a man's strong shout can carry.

Take a seat there, wait a while, and give us time

to make it into town and reach my father's house.

Then, when you think we're home, walk on yourself

to the city, ask the way to my father's palace,

generous King Alcinous. You cannot miss it,

even an innocent child could guide you there.

No other Phaeacian's house is built like that:

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so grand, the palace of Alcinous, our great hero.

Once the mansion and courtyard have enclosed you, go,

quickly' across the hall until you reach my mother.

Beside the hearth she sits in the fire's glare,

spinning yarn on a spindle, sea blue wool--

a stirring sight, you'll see . . .

she leans against a pillar, her ladies sit behind.

And my father's throne is drawn up close beside her;

there he sits and takes his wine, a mortal like a god.

Go past him, grasp my mother's knees--if you want

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to see the day of your return, rejoicing, soon,

even if your home's a world away.

If only the queen will take you to her heart,

then there's hope that you will see your loved ones,

reach your own grand house, your native land at last."

At that she touched the mules with her shining whip

and they quickly left the running stream behind.

The team trotted on, their hoofs wove in and out.

She drove them back with care so all the rest,

maids and Odysseus, could keep the pace on foot,

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and she used the whip discreetly.

The sun sank as they reached the hallowed grove,

sacred to Athena, where Odysseus stopped and sat

and said a prayer at once to mighty Zeus's daughter:

"Hear me, daughter of Zeus whose shield is thunder--

tireless one, Athena! Now hear my prayer at last,

for you never heard me then, when I was shattered,

when the famous god of earthquakes wrecked my craft.

Grant that here among the Phaeacian people

I may find some mercy and some love!"

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So he prayed and Athena heard his prayer

but would not yet appear to him undisguised.

She stood in awe of her Father's brother, lord of the sea

who still seethed on, still churning with rage against

the great Odysseus till he reached his native land.


Odyssey, Book Seven


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Last updated 29 January 1998