HOMER
ODYSSEY

 

Translated by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.

 

This document is in the public domain (released January 2024). For a brief publication history see Odyssey: Table of Contents. For an RTF or PDF format of this translation use the following links: Odyssey [RTF]; Odyssey [PDF]

 

BOOK SIX
ODYSSEUS AND NAUSICAA

[Athena visits Nausicaa while she is sleeping in the palace and tells her to take the washing to the river; Nausicaa asks her father to provide a wagon and mules; Nausicaa goes with her attendants to the river, washes the clothes, and inadvertently wakes up Odysseus; Odysseus emerges naked and talks to Nausicaa; she agrees to help him; Odysseus bathes, dresses, and eats; they set off for the city and reach the outskirts; Odysseus prays to Athena.]

While much-enduring lord Odysseus rested there,
overcome with weariness and sleep, Athena
went to the land of the Phaeacians, to their city.
Many years ago these people used to live
in wide Hypereia, close to the Cyclopes,
proud arrogant creatures and much more powerful,
who kept on robbing them. So god-like Nausithous
had taken them away and led them off to settle
in Scheria, far from any men who have to work
to earn their daily bread. He’d had them build a wall                                10
around the city, construct new homes, raise temples
to the gods, and portion out the land for farming.(1)                                        [10]
But some time past his fate had struck him—he had gone
down to the house of Hades. Now Alcinous ruled,
a mortal being infused with wisdom by the gods.
Athena, bright-eyed goddess, went to this man’s home,
to arrange a journey home for brave Odysseus.
She moved into a wonderfully furnished room
where a young girl slept, like an immortal goddess
in form and loveliness. She was Nausicaa,                                                    20
daughter of great-hearted Alcinous. Close by her,
beside each door post, her two servant women slept,
girls whose beauty had been given by the Graces.(2)
The shimmering doors were closed. Like a gust of wind,                                  [20]
Athena slipped over to the young girl’s bedside,
stood there beside her head, and then spoke to her.
Her appearance changed to look like Dymas’ daughter—
a man celebrated for the many ships he owned.
His daughter was the same age as Nausicaa,
whose heart was well disposed to her. In that disguise,                            30
bright-eyed Athena spoke out and said:

                                                          “Nausicaa,
how did your mother bear a girl so careless?                                            [30]
Your fine clothes are lying here untended,
and soon enough you’ll have your wedding day,
when you must dress up in expensive robes
and give them to your wedding escort, too.
You know it’s things like these that help to make
a worthy reputation with our people
and please your honoured mother and your father.
Come, at daybreak let’s wash out the clothing.                                 40
I’ll go as well to help you, so with all speed
you can prepare yourself—it won’t be long
before you, too, are a married woman.
You have already heard men from this land
asking for your hand in marriage, the finest
in all Phaeacia, from whom you yourself
derive your lineage. So come on now,
ask your noble father to provide you,
this morning early, a wagon and mules,
so you can carry the bright coverlets,                                                 50
the robes and sashes. That would be better
than going on foot, because the washing tubs
stand some distance from the town.”                                                          [40]

                                                        With these words,
bright-eyed Athena went back to Olympus,
where, so men report, gods’ home endures forever,
undisturbed by winds and never drenched with rain
or covered by the snow—instead high overhead
the air is always bright. There blessed gods are happy
every day. That’s where the bright-eyed goddess went
when she had finished speaking to Nausicaa.                                              60

When rose-coloured Dawn arrived on her golden throne
and woke fair-robed Nausicaa, she was curious
to learn about her dream. So she sped through the house                           [50]
to tell her father and her mother. She found them
in the house—her mother was sitting by the hearth
with her attendant women, spinning purple yarn.
She came across her father as he was leaving
to meet some prominent kings in an assembly—
he had been summoned by Phaeacian noblemen.
Nausicaa went to stand close by her father                                                  70
and then spoke to him:

                        “Dear father, can you prepare
a high wagon with sturdy wheels for me,
so I can carry my fine clothing out
and wash it in the river? It’s lying here
all dirty. And it’s appropriate for you
to wear fresh garments on your person
when you’re with our leading men in council.                                          [60]
You have five dear sons living in your home—
two are married, but three are now young men
still unattached, and they always require                                         80
fresh-washed clothing when they go out dancing.
All these are matters I must think about.”

Nausicaa said this because she felt ashamed
to remind her father of her own happy thoughts
of getting married. But he understood all that
and answered, saying:

                                               “I have no objection,
my dear child, to providing mules for you,
or any other things. Go on your way.
Slaves will get a four-wheeled wagon ready
with a high box framed on top.”                                                                   [70]

                                                              Once he’d said this,                        90
he called out to his slaves, and they did what he asked.
They prepared a smooth-running wagon made for mules,
led up the animals, and then yoked them to it.
Nausicaa brought her fine clothing from her room.
She placed it in the polished wagon. Her mother
loaded on a box with all sorts of tempting food.
She put in delicacies, too, and poured some wine
into a goat skin. The girl climbed on the wagon.
Her mother also gave her some smooth olive oil
in a golden flask, so she and her attendants,                                               100
when they bathed, could cleanse their skin. Then Nausicaa                        [80]
took the bright reins and whip and lashed the mules ahead.
With a clatter of hooves, the mules moved quickly off,
carrying clothing and the girl, not by herself,
for she took her attendant girls with her, as well.

When they reached the stream of the fair-flowing river,
where the washing tubs were always standing ready,
full of fresh water flowing up from underneath
and spilling over, enough to clean one’s clothing,
even garments really soiled, the girls took the mules                                 110
out of their wagon harnesses and let them loose
along the banks beside the eddying river,
to let them to graze on clover sweet as honey.                                                   [90]
The girls gathered the clothing from the wagon,
carried it in their arms down to the murky stream,
and then trampled it inside the washing trenches,
each trying to work more quickly than the others.
Once they had washed the clothes and scrubbed off all the stains,
they laid the laundry out in rows along the shore,
in a place where waves which beat upon the coastline                               120
had washed the pebbles clean. When they had bathed themselves
and rubbed their bodies well with oil, they ate a meal
beside the river mouth, waiting for the clothes to dry
in the sun’s warm rays. When they had finished eating,
the girl and her attendants threw their head scarves off                                   [100]
to play catch with a ball, and white-armed Nausicaa
led them in song. Just as when archer Artemis
moves across the mountains, along lofty ridges
of Erymanthus or Taygetus, full of joy,
while she pursues wild boars and swiftly running deer,                             130
with nymphs attending on her, daughters of great Zeus,
who bears the aegis, taking pleasure in the hunt,
and Leto’s heart is filled with joy, while Artemis
stands with her head and eyebrows high above them all,
so recognizing her is easy, though all of them
are beautiful—that’s how that young unmarried girl
stood out from her attendants.

                                                        But when Nausicaa                                  [110]
was going to harness up the mules and start to fold
the splendid clothes to make the journey homeward,
Athena, bright-eyed goddess, thought of something else,                         140
so that Odysseus might wake up and then could see
the lovely girl, who would escort him to the city
of Phaeacian men. So when the princess threw the ball
to one of those attendants with her, she missed the girl,
and it landed in the deep and swirling river.
They gave a sharp cry, rousing Odysseus from sleep.
So he sat upright, thinking in his heart and mind:

“Here’s trouble! In this country I have reached,
what are the people like? Are they violent
and untamed, without a sense of justice?                                          150     [120]
Or are they kind to strangers? In their minds
do they fear the gods? Some young women’s shouts
rang out around me—nymphs who live along
steep mountain peaks and by the river springs
and grassy meadows. Could I somehow be
near men with human speech? Well, come on then,
I’m going to have to find out for myself.”

With these words, Odysseus crept out from the thicket.
In his strong hands, he snapped off from the bushes
a leafy branch to hold across him and conceal                                        160
his naked groin. Then he emerged, moving just like
a mountain lion which relies on its own strength—                                           [130]
though hammered by the rain and wind, it creeps ahead,
its two eyes burning, coming in among the herd
of sheep or cattle, or else stalking a wild deer—
his belly tells him to move in against the flocks,
even within a well-built farm—that’s how Odysseus
was making his way out out to face those fair-haired girls,
although he was stark naked. He was in distress,
but, caked with brine, he was a fearful sight to them,                               170
and they ran off in fear and crouched down here and there
among the jutting dunes of sand. The only one
who did not rush away was Alcinous’ daughter.
For Athena had instilled her heart with courage                                                [140]
and taken from her arms and legs all sense of fear.
So she stood there facing up to him. Odysseus
wondered if it was wise to grasp the lovely girl
around her knees and plead his case or stay away,
remaining where he stood, and with reassuring words
entreat her to inform him where the city was                                               180
and provide him clothing. As he thought about it,
it seem to him a better plan to stand apart
and appeal to her with a sympathetic speech,
in case her heart grew angry when he clasped her knee.
So he quickly used his cunning and spoke to her
with soothing language:

                                      “O divine queen,
I come here as a suppliant to you.
Are you a goddess or a mortal being?
If you’re one of the gods who hold wide heaven,                                 [150]
I think you most resemble Artemis,                                                     190
daughter of great Zeus, in your loveliness,
your stature, and your shape. If you’re human,
one of those mortals living on the earth,
your father and your mother are thrice-blest,
and thrice-blest your brothers, too. In their hearts
they must glow with pleasure for you always,
when they see a child like you moving up
into the dance. But the happiest heart,
more so than all the rest, belongs to him
who with his wedding gifts will lead you home.                               200
These eyes of mine have never gazed upon                                               [160]
anyone like you—either man or woman.
As I look at you, I am gripped with wonder.
In Delos once I saw something like this—
a youthful palm-tree sapling growing up
beside Apollo’s altar. I’d gone there,
with many others in my company,
on a journey where Fate had planned for me
so many troubles. But when I saw that,
my heart looked on a long time quite astonished—                          210
I’d never noticed such a lovely tree
springing from the earth. And, lady, that’s how
I am amazed at you, lost in wonder,
and am very much afraid to clasp your knee.(3)
But great distress has overtaken me.
Yesterday, my twentieth day afloat,                                                            [170]
I escaped the wine-dark sea. Before that,
waves and swift-driving storm winds carried me
from Ogygia island. And now a god
has tossed me on shore here, so that somehow                                  220
I’ll suffer hardships in this place as well.
For I don’t think my problems will end now.
Before that day, there are still many more
the gods will bring about. But, divine queen,
have pity. You’re the first one I’ve approached,
after so much grief—and I do not know
any people here, none of those who hold
the city and its land. Show me the town.
Give me some rag to throw around myself,
perhaps some wrapping you brought for the clothes                        230
when you came here. As for you, may gods grant                                     [180]
everything your heart desires—may they give
a husband, home, and mutual harmony,
a noble gift—for there is nothing better
or a stronger bond than when man and wife
live in a home sharing each other’s thoughts.
That brings such pain upon their enemies
and such delight to those who wish them well.
They know that too, more so than anyone.”

White-armed Nausicaa then answered him and said:                       240

“Stranger, you don’t seem to be a wicked man,
or foolish. Olympian Zeus himself
gives happiness to bad and worthy men,
each one receiving just what Zeus desires.
So he has given you your share, I think.
Nonetheless, you must still endure your lot.                                            [190]
But now you have reached our land and city,
you’ll not lack clothes or any other thing
we owe a hard-pressed suppliant we meet.
I’ll show the town to you, and I’ll tell you                                            250
the name our country bears—the Phaeacians
own this city and this land. As for me,
I am the daughter of brave Alcinous—
Phaeacian power and strength depend on him.”

Nausicaa finished speaking. Then she called out
to her fair-haired attendants:

                                                        “Stand up, you girls,
Have you run off because you’ve seen a man?
Surely you don’t think he is our enemy?                                                    [200]
For there’s no man alive or yet to be
who’ll visit this realm of the Phaeacians                                             260
bringing war, because gods truly love us,
and we live far off in the surging sea,
the most remote of people. Other men
never interact with us. So this man
is some poor wanderer who’s just come here.
We must look after him, for every stranger,
every beggar, comes from Zeus, and any gift,
even something small, is to be cherished.
So, my girls, give this stranger food and drink.
Then bathe him in the river, in a place                                                270
which offers him some shelter from the wind.”                                         [210]

Nausicaa finished. They stood up and called out
to one another. They took Odysseus aside,
to a sheltered spot, following what Nausicaa,
daughter of great-hearted Alcinous, had ordered.
They set out clothing for him, a cloak and tunic,
and gave him the gold flask full of smooth olive oil.
They told him to bathe there in the flowing river,
but noble Odysseus said to the attendants:

“Would you young girls move some distance away,                          280
so I can wash salt water from my shoulders
by myself and then rub on olive oil?
It’s a long time since oil was on my skin.                                                    [220]
I will not wash myself in front of you,
for it would shame me to stand stark naked
in the presence of such fair-haired young girls.”

Once he said this, the two attendants moved away
and spoke to Nausicaa. Then lord Odysseus
washed his body in the stream, rinsing off the salt
caked on his broad shoulders and covering his back,                                 290
and wiping the encrusted brine out of his hair.
When he’d washed himself all over and rubbed on oil,
he put on clothes the unmarried girl had given.
Then Athena, Zeus’s daughter, made him appear
taller and more powerful. On his head she curled                                             [230]
his hair—it flowed up like a flowering hyacinth.
Just as a skilful workman sets a layer of gold
on top of silver, a craftsman who has been taught
various arts by Athena and Hephaestus,
and his creations are all truly beautiful,                                                       300
that’s how the goddess transformed his head and shoulders.
Then Odysseus went to sit down some distance off,
beside the sea shore, glowing with charm and beauty.
Nausicaa gazed at him in admiration,
then spoke to her fair-haired attendants, saying:

“Listen to me, my white-armed followers—
I have something to say. This person here
has not come among god-like Phaeacians
against the will of those immortal gods                                                     [240]
who hold Olympus. Earlier I thought                                                  310
he was uncouth and rough, but now he seems
like the gods who occupy wide heaven.
Would a man like that could be my husband,
living here, happy to remain. But come,
my girls, offer the stranger food and drink.”

When Nausicaa had spoken, they heard her words
and quickly did what they’d been told. They set out
food and drink before resourceful lord Odysseus.
He ate and drank voraciously—much time had passed                                     [250]
since he last tasted food. Then white-armed Nausicaa                               320
thought of something else. She folded up the clothing,
stowed it in the handsome wagon, and harnessed up
the team of strong-hooved mules. She climbed up by herself
and called out to Odysseus, saying these words to him:

“Get up now, stranger, and go to the town.
I’ll show you the way to my wise father’s house,
where, I assure you, you will get to meet
all the finest of Phaeacians. You seem
to me to have good sense, so act as follows—
while we are moving through the countryside                                   330
past men’s farms, walk fast with my attendants                                       [260]
behind the mules and wagon. I’ll lead the way.
Then we’ll reach the city. A lofty wall
runs round it, and there are lovely harbours
on both sides—each has a narrow entrance,
with curving boats drawn up along the road,
since each man has a place for his own ship.
The ground where we assemble is there, too,
around the splendid temple to Poseidon,
built with huge stones set deep within the earth.                             340
Here the people look after their black ships,
busy with the gear—fixing ropes and sails
and shaping tapered oars. The Phaeacians
have no use for bows or quivers, but for masts,                                        [270]
boat oars, and well-trimmed ships, in which with joy
they cross the grey salt sea. Their talk is crude,
and that I would avoid, in case someone
insults me later—among the people
there are really insolent men, and thus
one of the nastier types might well say,                                              350
if he bumped into us:

                           ‘Who is that man
following Nausicaa? A stranger—
he’s tall and handsome! Where did she find him?
No doubt he’ll be her husband. She’s brought here
some shipwrecked vagrant, a man whose people
live far away, for no one dwells near us,
or else he’s some god come down from heaven,                        [280]
answering those prayers she’s always making.
She’ll have him as her husband all her days.
It’s better that way, even if she went                                         360
and found herself a husband far away,
from some other place. She has no respect
for those Phaeacians, her own countrymen—
the many fine men here who’d marry her.’

That’s what some men would say, and their remarks
would injure me. But I would do the same
to some other girl who acted like that,
who, while her father and her mother lived,
against their wishes hung around with men
before the day she married one in public.                                           370
So, stranger, listen now to what I say—
with all the speed you can get my father
to arrange an escort for your trip home.                                                     [290]
You’ll walk past a fine grove to Athena—
it’s near the road, a clump of poplar trees.
There’s a fountain, with meadows all around.
My father has a fertile vineyard there,
some land, too, within shouting distance
of the town. Sit down there, and wait a while,
as we move into the city and reach                                                      380
my father’s house. When we’ve had time enough
to get back home, go into the city
of the Phaeacians and inquire about
my father’s house, great-hearted Alcinous.
It’s easy to pick out—an infant child                                                           [300]
could lead you to it. For Phaeacians homes
are built in a style utterly unlike
the palace of heroic Alcinous.
Once past the courtyard and inside the house,
move through the great hall quickly till you reach                           390
my mother, Arete, seated by the fire,
against a pillar, spinning purple yarn—
a marvellous sight. Servants sit behind her.
My father’s chair is beside the pillar,
where, like a god, he sits and sips his wine.
Move on past him. Then with your arms embrace                                    [310]
my mother’s knees, if you desire to see
the joyful day of your return come soon,
even though your home is far away.
If her heart and mind are well-disposed to you,                                 400
then there is hope you’ll see your friends and reach
your well-built house and your own native land.”

Saying this, Nausicaa cracked the shining whip
struck the mules, and quickly left the flowing river.
The wagon moved briskly forward at a rapid pace.
Using her judgment with the whip, she drove ahead                                         [320]
so Odysseus and her servants could keep up on foot.
Just at sunset, they reached the celebrated grove,
sacred to Athena. Lord Odysseus sat down there
and quickly made a prayer to great Zeus’s daughter:                                  410

“Hear me, you child of aegis-bearing Zeus,
unwearied goddess, listen to me now,
for you did not respond to me back then,
when I was being beaten down at sea
and the great Earthshaker destroyed my raft.
Grant that I arrive at the Phaeacians
as a friend, someone worthy of their pity.”

So he prayed there. And Pallas Athena heard him.
But she did not reveal herself to him directly—
she feared her father’s brother, who was still angry,                                   420   [330]
and would keep raging against godlike Odysseus
until he finally reached Ithaca, his home.

 

ENDNOTES

(1) The precise location of Phaeacia is disputed. Some have identified it with the island of Corfu, relatively close to Ithaca. Others have argued that it is much further away, perhaps in the Atlantic Ocean. [Back to Text]

(2) The Graces are the goddesses of charm and graceful temperament. There are three of them: Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia. [Back to Text]

(3) Grasping someone’s knee (or knees) was a ritual gesture made when one was asking someone for a great favour. [Back to Text]

 

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