Textbook Leftovers

The Princess by the River

Posted on: November 7, 2011

Hello! So sorry about the unexpected hiatus there – things got so crazy! I’m back now though, and this week, I’m recapping Book VI of The Odyssey. Just one book this week, and it’s a short one.


Image from Nice Art Gallery

While Odysseus is sleeping in the underbrush, Athena goes to the city of the Phaiákians (the people who inhabit this island) to pave his way forward, so to speak. She enters the home of Alkínoös (their king) and takes the form of his daughter Nausikaa’s best friend, who is a daughter of a shipman and otherwise doesn’t appear in this book.

Athena speaks to Nausikaa, and bids her to bring her clothing to the river in the morning to wash them. She also mentions something about wedding preparations and courtship, and it’s somewhat unclear why. I think Nausikaa thinks it was a dream, and her friend that Athena was pretending to be is not one of her companions in the morning, so it’s all just slightly odd. In any case, Nausikaa does go to her father in the morning and gets permission to go to the river with her servants and companions. They all set off, with the laundry in a mule cart. Nausikaa’s mother sends a hamper of food along with them, as well as a bottle of oil to rub on their skin after they bathe in the river.

When they arrive at the river, they do the laundry, have a swim and a picnic, and then start playing a game with a ball while they wait for the clothes to dry. Soon it was time to go home, but “Athena made [Nausikaa] tarry” and they keep playing their ball game. On her turn, Nausikaa’s throw is off and lands in the stream. The girls squeal and laugh, and Odysseus awakes.

Odysseus emerges from his nest, naked and covering himself with an olive branch. Surprised and scared, all the girls run away, except Nausikaa. Here’s this naked man, who has obviously been living wild, with bulging muscles and a hungry look in his eye… and Nausikaa stands there and looks at him. She’s a flipping idiot.

Luckily for her, Odysseus is not a murderer or rapist (or, you know, isn’t planning on doing those things today anyway), and stands at a distance, debating what to do. He decides that the best thing to do is suck up as hard as he can and hope that she’ll help him. She is pleased with his compliments and offers to help him out. She summons her maids to return, berating them for fleeing (even though they clearly made the only sane decision).

Before they return to town, Odysseus obviously needs to look less wild, so he bathes and oils his skin, and dresses in some clothing the girls lay out for him. Athena exerts herself to make him seem even more attractive. It works – Nausikaa tells her girls that “he looks like one of heaven’s people. I wish my husband could be as fine as he.”

Now Odysseus eats some food and drinks some wine, while the girls fold the laundry into the cart. Finally ready to go, Nausikaa arranges for Odysseus to arrive separately from the girls, because it would look bad for a man to arrive unexpectedly with the girls, and the townspeople would talk and cause a scandal. So she goes on ahead, and Odysseus follows at some distance behind. Before arriving at the town, Odysseus offers up a prayer to Athena that he’d finally catch a break from his rotten luck and find mercy here.

Do you think Odysseus has found an end to his struggles? Will Poseidon leave him alone? And how much longer before we get to hear what he was doing for ten years? Do you think Nausikaa is insane, or is that just me? Let’s talk about this, and we’ll continue with Book VII (and maybe even VIII) next week!

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