Nausicaa and Odysseus
The mythical story of Nausicaa and Odysseus
by Jeanie Lang
The Myth of Nausicaa and Odysseus
In the land of the Phaeacians there dwelt no more beautiful, nor any sweeter maiden, than the king's own daughter. Nausicaa was her name, and she was so kind and gentle that every one loved her.
To the land of the Phaeacians the North Wind had driven Odysseus, and while he lay asleep in his bed of leaves under the olive-trees, the goddess Athene went to the room in the palace where Nausicaa slept, and spoke to her in her dreams.
'Some day thou wilt marry, Nausicaa,' she said, land it is time for thee to wash all the fair raiment that is one day to be thine. Tomorrow thou must ask the king, thy father, for mules and for a wagon, and drive from the city to a place where all the rich clothing may be washed and dried.'
When morning came Nausicaa remembered her dream, and went to tell her father.
Her mother was sitting spinning yarn of sea-purple stain, and her father was just going to a council meeting.
'Father, dear,' said the princess, 'couldst thou lend me a high wagon with strong wheels, that I may take all my fair linen to the river to wash. All yours, too, I shall take, so that thou shalt go to the council in linen that is snowy clean, and I know that my five brothers will also be glad if I wash their fine clothing for them.'
This she said, for she felt too shy to tell her father what Athene had said about her getting married.
But the king knew well why she asked. 'I do not grudge thee mules, nor anything else, my child,' he said. 'Go, bid the servants prepare a wagon.'
The servants quickly got ready the finest wagon that the king had, and harnessed the best of the mules. And Nausicaa's mother filled a basket with all the dainties that she knew her daughter liked best, so that Nausicaa and her maidens might feast together. The fine clothes were piled into the wagon, the basket of food was placed carefully beside them, and Nausicaa climbed in, took the whip and shining reins, and touched the mules. Then with clatter of hoofs they started.
When they were come to the beautiful, clear river, amongst whose reeds Odysseus had knelt the day before, they unharnessed the mules and drove them along the banks of the river to graze where the clover grew rich and fragrant. Then they washed the clothes, working hard and well, and spread them out to dry on the clean pebbles down by the seashore.
Then they bathed, and when they had bathed they took their midday meal by the bank of the rippling river.
When they had finished, the sun had not yet dried the clothes, so Nausicaa and her maidens began to play ball. As they played they sang a song that the girls of that land would always sing as they threw the ball to one another. All the maidens were fair, but Nausicaa of the white arms was the fairest of all.
From hand to hand they threw the ball, growing always the merrier, until, when it was nearly time for them to gather the clothes together and go home, Nausicaa threw it very hard to one of the others. The girl missed the catch. The ball flew into the river, and, as it was swept away to the sea, the princess and all her maidens screamed aloud.
Their cries awoke Odysseus, as he lay asleep in his bed of leaves.
'I must be near the houses of men,' he said; 'those are the cries of girls at play.'
With that he crept out from the shelter of the olive-trees.
He had no clothes, for he had thrown them all into the sea before he began his terrible swim for life. But he broke off some leafy branches and held them round him, and walked down to where Nausicaa and her maidens were.
Like a wild man of the woods he looked, and when they saw him coming the girls shrieked and ran away. Some of them hid behind the rocks on the shore, and some ran out to the spits of yellow sand that jutted into the sea.
But although his face was marred with the sea-foam that had crusted on it, and he looked a terrible, fierce, great creature, Nausicaa was too brave to run away.
Shaking she stood there, and watched him as he came forward, and stood still a little way off.
Then Odysseus spoke to her, gently and kindly, that he might take away her fear.
He told her of his shipwreck, and begged her to show him the way to the town, and give him some old garment, or any old wrap in which she had brought the linen, so that he might have something besides leaves with which to cover himself.
I have never seen any maiden half so beautiful as thou art,' he said. 'Have pity on me, and may the gods grant thee all thy heart's desire.'
Then said Nausicaa: 'Thou seemest no evil man, stranger, and I will gladly give thee clothing and show thee the way to the town. This is the land of the Phaeacians, and my father is the king.'
To her maidens then she called
'Why do ye run away at the sight of a man? Dost thou take him for an enemy? He is only a poor shipwrecked man. Come, give him food and drink, and fetch him clothing.'
The maidens came back from their hiding-places, and fetched some of the garments of Nausicaa's brothers which they had brought to wash, and laid them beside Odysseus.
Odysseus gratefully took the clothes away, and went off to the river. There he plunged into the clear water, and washed the salt crust from off his face and limbs and body, and the crusted foam from his hair. Then he put on the beautiful garments that belonged to one of the princes, and walked down to the shore where Nausicaa and her maidens were waiting.
So tall and handsome and strong did Odysseus look, with his hair curling like hyacinth flowers around his head, that Nausicaa said to her maidens: 'This man, who seemed to us so dreadful so short a time ago, now looks like a god. I would that my husband, if ever I have one, should be as he.'
Then she and her maidens brought him food and wine, and he ate hungrily, for it was many days since he had eaten.
When he had finished, they packed the linen into the wagon, and yoked the mules, and Nausicaa climbed into her place.
'So long as we are passing through the fields,' she said to Odysseus, 'follow behind with my maidens, and I will lead the way. But when we come near the town with its high walls and towers, and harbours full of ships, the rough sailors will stare and say, "Hath Nausicaa gone to find herself a husband because she scorns the men of Phaeacia who would wed her? Hath she picked up a ship-wrecked stranger, or is this one of the gods who has come to make her his wife?" Therefore come not with us, I pray thee, for the sailors to jest at. There is a fair poplar grove near the city, with a meadow lying round it. Sit there until thou thinkest that we have had time to reach the palace. Then seek the palace any child can show thee the way and when thou art come to the outer court pass quickly into the room where my mother sits. Thou wilt find her weaving yarn of sea-purple stain by the light of the fire. She will be leaning her head back against a pillar, and her maidens will be standing round her. My father's throne is close to hers, but pass him by, and cast thyself at my mother's knees. If she feels kindly towards thee and is sorry for thee, then my father is sure to help thee to get safely back to thine own land.'
Then Nausicaa smote her mules with the whip, and they trotted quickly off, and soon left behind them the silver river with its whispering reeds, and the beach with its yellow sand.
Odysseus and the maidens followed the wagon, and just as the sun was setting they reached the poplar grove in the meadow.
There Odysseus stayed until Nausicaa should have had time to reach the palace. When she got there, she stopped at the gateway, and her brothers came out and lifted down the linen, and unharnessed the mules. Nausicaa went up to her room, and her old nurse kindled a fire for her and got ready her supper.
When Odysseus thought it was time to follow, he went to the city. He marvelled at the great walls and at the many gallant ships in the harbours. But when he reached the king's palace, he wondered still more. Its walls were of brass, so that from without, when the doors stood open, it looked as if the sun or moon were shining within. A frieze of blue ran round the walls. All the doors were made of gold, the doorposts were of silver, the thresholds of brass, and the hook of the door was of gold. In the halls were golden figures of animals, and of men who held in their hands lighted torches. Outside the courtyard was a great garden filled with blossoming pear-trees and pomegranates, and apple-trees with shining fruit, and figs, and olives. All the year round there was fruit in that garden. There were grapes in blossom, and grapes purple and ready to eat, and there were great masses of snowy pear-blossom, and pink apple-blossom, and golden ripe pears, and rosy apples.
Picture of Nausicaa
At all of those wonders Odysseus stood and gazed, but it was not for long; for he hastened through the halls to where the queen sat in the firelight, spinning her purple yarn. He fell at her knees, and silence came on all those in the room when they looked at him, so brave and so handsome did he seem.
'Through many and great troubles have I come hither, queen,' said he; 'speed, I pray you, my parting right quickly, that I may come to mine own country. Too long have I suffered great sorrows far away from my own friends.'
Then he sat down amongst the ashes by the fire, and for a little space no one spoke.
At last a wise old courtier said to the king: 'Truly it is not right that this stranger should sit in the ashes by the fire. Bid him arise, and give him meat and drink.'