Nausicaa and Odysseus
The mythical story of Nausicaa and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
When he had finished, they packed
the linen into the wagon, and yoked
the mules, and Nausicaa climbed into
'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
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
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