Homer: The Odyssey

Book VI

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.


BkVI:1-47 Athene visits Nausicaa

So noble long-suffering Odysseus lay there, conquered by weariness and sleep, while Athene came to the island and city of the Phaeacians. They had once lived in broad Hypereia, neighbours to the Cyclopes, arrogant men, more powerful than they, who continually attacked them. Godlike Nausithous led the Phaeacians from there to settle in Scheria far from men. He ringed the city with a wall, built houses and temples for the gods, and divided the land into fields, but he had long since died and gone to the House of Hades, and now Alcinous was king, his wisdom inspired by the gods. Bright-eyed Athene came to his house, planning valiant Odysseus’ return. She went to the richly-made room where a girl like an immortal goddess in looks and form, Nausicaa, daughter of noble Alcinous, slept, with her two handmaids by her, blessed with beauty by the Graces, one on each side of the doorway, and the shining doors were closed.

The goddess flew to the girl’s bed like a breath of air, and taking the form of the famed ship owner, Dymas’s daughter, a girl of similar age to Nausicaa, and dear to her heart, she leant over her, and said: ‘Nausicaa, how come your mother bore such a careless daughter? Your lovely clothes are neglected, yet your marriage will soon be here, when you’ll not only need to be dressed in lovely clothes yourself, but provide for those who accompany you. From such things we gain good reputation among men, and our father and dear mother rejoice. Let’s go and wash the garments at daybreak: I will go with you to help, so you can have it done without delay, for you won’t be long unwed. Even now you have suitors, the noblest of Phaeacians, men of your own lineage. Come, early in the morning: ask your noble father to order a mule team and wagon for you, to carry the robes and sashes and bright coverlets. And you yourself should ride rather than travelling on foot, since the washing-pools are far from the city.’

With this, the goddess, bright-eyed Athene, left for Olympus, where they say the gods have their everlasting home. No winds blow there, no rain wets it, no snow falls, but the wide air is clear and cloudless, and over it shines a radiant brightness: there the blessed gods are always happy. There the bright-eyed goddess went, after speaking to the girl.

BkVI:48-109 Nausicaa and her maids wash the clothes

Dawn came, lovely and enthroned, and woke Nausicaa of the beautiful robes who wondering at her dream set off through the palace to tell her dear father and mother. She found them both there, her mother sitting with her handmaids by the hearth, spinning purple-dyed yarn, while Nausicaa met her father about to go and join the noble princes in the council place, called there by the Phaeacian lords. She approached him and said: ‘Dear Father, would you please order them to fetch me a high-sided, strong-wheeled wagon, so I can take my soiled finery lying here to the river for washing? You yourself too really need clean clothes for your councils with the princes, and you have five sons in the palace, two married while three are free and unwed, who always want fresh clothes to wear for the dancing. I have to think of all this.’

She said this, being too shy to speak to her father about the possibility of marriage, but he understood it all and answered: ‘My child I don’t grudge you mules or anything else. Go, and the servants will ready a high-sided strong-wheeled wagon with a hood above.’ So saying he called to the servants, and they obeyed. They readied the smooth-running mule cart outside the palace, led up the mules and harnessed them, and the girl brought the bright clothes from her room, and packed them into the gleaming wagon, while her mother put up a box of food, with everything to content the heart. There she packed delicacies, with wine in a goatskin bag: the girl climbed up, and her mother handed her a gold flask of olive oil, so that she and her maids could use it after bathing. Then Nausicaa took up the whip, and the smooth reins, and flicked the mules to start them. With a clatter of hooves they moved off smartly, carrying the girl and the clothing, and the maids too, to keep her company.

When they came to the river, lovely with streams, and never-failing pools, with enough clear water bubbling up and brimming over to wash the dirtiest clothes, they un-harnessed the mules and drove them along the bank of the swirling river to graze on the honey-sweet grass of the water meadows. They lifted armfuls of clothes from the wagon, carried them down to the clear black water, and trod them thoroughly in the pools, vying with one another. When they had washed the load and rinsed away the dirt, they spread the garments in lines on the beach, where the breaking waves wash the shingle cleanest. After bathing and rubbing themselves with oil, they ate their meal on the riverbank, and waited for the clothes to dry in the sun.

When they had enjoyed the food, Nausicaa and her maids threw off their headgear and played with a ball, white-armed Nausicaa leading the accompanying song. As Artemis with her bow wanders the high mountain ridges of Taygetus and Erymanthus, delighting to chase wild boar and the swift deer, while the Nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, join in the sport, and Leto her mother is glad because Artemis is a head taller than they are, and easily known, though all are lovely, so this unwed girl shone out among the maids.

BkVI:110-148 Odysseus emerges from hiding

Now when she was about to yoke the mules, and fold the fine clothes, and start for home, the goddess, bright-eyed Athene, had a different idea, that Odysseus should wake, and see the lovely girl, who would lead him to the Phaeacian city. When the princess threw the ball to one of her maids, she missed the maid, and it landed in deep water. At their cry, noble Odysseus woke, sat up, and thought: ‘Oh, what mortal place have I reached this time? Are they cruel and merciless savages, or god-fearing people, generous to strangers? The noise in my ears sounded like girls shouting, nymphs who haunt the high mountain passes, tributary streams, and grassy meadows. Am I near creatures with human speech? Let me look, and see.’

With this noble Odysseus emerged from the bushes, breaking a leafy branch from the thicket with his strong right hand, with which to hide his manhood. He advanced like a mountain lion, sure of its strength, that defies the wind and rain with blazing eyes, leaping among the sheep and cattle, or following the wild deer’s trail, or even, driven by hunger, attacking the flocks in the strongly-built fold. So Odysseus, in his need, would have faced the crowd of girls with flowing hair, naked as he was. But, streaked with brine, he terrified them so, that they fled in fear, at random, over the sand spits.

Only Alcinous’ daughter stood her ground, since Athene inspired her, and drove the fear from her body. She stood and faced Odysseus, and he debated whether to clasp the knees of this lovely girl, as a suppliant, or whether to keep his distance and try her with courteous words, in hopes she might give him some clothes, and show him the road to the city. As he debated, he thought it better to hold off, and try her with courteous words, in case she should take offence if he clasped her knees: so he spoke to her promptly, with charm and subtlety’

BkVI:149-197 Odysseus and Nausicaa speak

‘Princess, see me at your feet. Are you mortal, or a goddess? If a goddess, one of those who keep the wide heavens, you seem to me most like Artemis, great Zeus’ daughter, in beauty, stature and form. But if you are an earthbound mortal, three times blessed is your dear father and mother, and three times blessed are your brothers. How their hearts must glow with pleasure when they watch so sweet a flower join the dancers. But the man most blessed is he who shall woo and conquer you with his gifts, and lead you homewards. For my eyes have never looked on such a mortal woman or man as you. Only in Delos once I saw the like, a tender palm shoot springing up by Apollo’s altar, for I have been there as well, and an army with me, on that voyage where evil sorrows were my share. Just so I marvelled when I saw it, for never did such a tree grow on earth. And now I marvel at you, lady, in wonder, and am afraid to clasp your knees, though my troubles are harsh enough. Yesterday, the twentieth day, I escaped the wine-dark sea: and all that time the turbulent wind and waves carried me here from Ogygia’s isle. Now fate drives me on shore, so that I may suffer harm here too, no doubt. I don’t expect my sufferings to end yet: the gods will inflict many more before that moment comes. But, Princess, pity me: since I come to you first of all, after my heavy labours, and I know none of the people of this land or its city. Show me the way to town, and give me some rags to throw over me, perhaps whatever wrapped the clothes you brought. And may the gods grant you all your heart’s desire, a husband and a home, and mutual harmony, in all its beauty. Since nothing is finer or better than when a man and a woman of one heart and mind stay together, a joy to their friends, a sorrow to their enemies: their own reputation of the very highest.’

Then Nausicaa of the white arms answered: ‘Stranger, you seem neither unknowing nor ill intentioned: it is Olympian Zeus himself who brings men good fortune, to the virtuous or not as he wills, and since he has brought you this, whatever it may be you must endure it. But, now you are come to our land and city, you shall not go short of clothes or anything else a hard-pressed suppliant deserves from those he meets. I will show you the way to town, and tell you whom we are. This is the Phaeacians’ country and city, and I am the daughter of valiant Alcinous, in whom the Phaeacians vest their majesty and power.’

BkVI:198-250 Nausicaa’s hospitality

With this she called to her lovely maids: ‘Stop, girls, why do you shun the sight of a man? Surely you don’t imagine he’s unfriendly? There will never be mortal man so contrary as to set hostile feet on Phaeacian land, for we are dear to the gods. We live far-off, over the turbulent sea, the remotest of races, and deal with no other peoples. This man must instead be some luckless wanderer, landed here. We must care for him, since all strangers and beggars come from Zeus, and even a little gift is welcome. So bring him food and drink, girls, and bathe him in the river wherever there’s shelter from the wind.’

They halted, then, and called out to each other. As Nausicaa, daughter of valiant Alcinous, commanded, they found Odysseus a sheltered spot. They set out a tunic and cloak for him to wear, and smooth olive oil in a golden flask, and invited him to bathe in the running stream. But noble Odysseus spoke to them, saying: ‘Ladies, stand over there, since I need to wash the salt from my shoulders, and rub myself with oil, since it’s long since oil came near me, but I will not bathe with you here, and I am ashamed to stand naked among lovely women.’

At this they went off to inform the princess, while noble Odysseus with fresh water washed the brine that coated his broad shoulders and back from his skin, and scrubbed his head free of scurf from the barren sea. And when he had washed all over, and rubbed himself with oil, and put on the clothes the virgin girl had given him, Athene, daughter of Zeus, made him seem taller and stronger, and made the locks of his hair spring up thickly like hyacinth petals. As a clever craftsman, taught his art by Hephaestus and Pallas Athene, overlays silver with gold to produce a graceful finish, so the goddess graced his head and shoulders. Then he went some way off and sat on the shore, alight with that grace and beauty: and the girl gazed at him admiringly, and said to her lovely maids:

‘Listen to what I say, my white-armed girls. This man does not come to the godlike Phaeacians without the gods willing it. He seemed rough to me before, but now seems like one of the gods who rule the wide heavens. I wish such a man might be my husband here, if he remains. But come, girls, give the stranger food and drink.’

They listened to her, and readily did as she asked, placing food and drink before Odysseus. Then noble and long-suffering Odysseus ate and drank eagerly, for it was a long time since he’d tasted any food.

BkVI:251-315 Nausicaa gives Odysseus direction

Now Nausicaa of the white arms had another idea. She folded the clothes, and loaded her fine wagon with them, harnessed the strong-hooved mules, and climbed up, herself. Then she called to Odysseus and spoke to him: ‘Stranger, prepare to leave for town, and I will direct you to my wise father’s house, where you will meet the noblest Phaeacians I can assure you. But be sure to do as I say, as you seem an intelligent man: while we are in the country and among ploughed fields, walk quickly behind the mules and wagon with my maids. I will lead the way. But on the approach to the city, which is ringed by a high wall, there’s a fine harbour on both sides, and the causeway between is narrow, and the curved ships are drawn up to the road, each man having his own mooring. There’s a meeting place, as well, next to Poseidon’s fine temple, paved with huge stones bedded deep in the earth. Here the crews are busy with the black ships’ tackle, with cables and sails, and here they carve the their thin oar blades. For Phaeacians are indifferent to bows and quivers, caring only for the graceful ships they delight to sail over the grey sea.

I wish to avoid evil gossip, or anyone’s taunts later, since there are insolent men in the crowd, and one of the cruder sort might say if he saw us: ‘Who is that tall and handsome stranger who trails after Nausicaa? Where did she find him? It’s her future husband no doubt! She must have found some shipwrecked traveller, a foreigner from far off, since we have no neighbours. Or maybe a god has come down from the sky to answer her endless prayers, to make her his forever! Better that she has gone and found a husband from abroad, since she despises the Phaeacaians here, that’s clear, and all her noble suitors!’ So they will chatter, and blacken my name. I would blame any other girl, too, who did the same, who with her mother and father still alive, kept a man’s company before the wedding ceremony. So listen, now, to my words, stranger, so you can win my father’s help to return to your land.

You will find a fine grove, near the road, sacred to Athene, a cluster of poplar trees. A spring wells up in the centre, and there’s a meadow round about. My father has his estate there, his fertile vineyards, within shouting distance of the city. Sit there, and wait till we have reached the city and my father’s palace. When you think we are there, enter the Phaeacian city, and ask for my valiant father Alcinous’ palace. It’s easy to recognise, a child, a mere infant, could show you, for noble Acinous’ palace is nothing like the Phaeacians’ houses.

When the courtyard and palace enclose you, go straight through the great hall, till you come to my mother, who sits at the hearth in the firelight, spinning purple yarn marvellous to see, her chair against a pillar, he maids behind here. My father’s throne rests against the very same pillar, where he sits like a god and drinks his wine. Stride by him, and throw your arms around my mother’s knees, if you want see the day of your return come quickly and joyfully, no matter how far away your home may be. If you win her favour, you may hope to see your friends, and reach your fine house in your own country.’

BkVI:316-331 Odysseus prays to Athene

So saying she gave the mules a flick of her shiny whip, and they soon left the flowing river behind. They trotted briskly, legs flickering away, and she drove carefully so that Odysseus and the maids could follow on foot. As the sun was setting they reached the famous grove, sacred to Athene. There, Odysseus quickly sat down, and prayed to the daughter of mighty Zeus: ‘Hear me, Atrytone, child of aegis-bearing Zeus, and listen to my prayer, for you failed to listen when the great Earth-Shaker wrecked my raft. Grant I may come before the Phaeacians as one to be helped and pitied.’

So he prayed, and Pallas Athene heard, but did not show herself, from respect for her uncle, Poseidon, who would still rage wildly at godlike Odysseus, till he reached his own land.