HOMER ‘THE ODYSSEY’ BOOK VI
A close look at book V1 and others in Homers Odyssey may lead us to this observation. Far be it from one to lay blame at the door of a Goddess but as far as Nausicaa is concerned surely Athena did contribute by leading the poor girl on to believe that Odysseus was ‘The One’, she was to marry. This will be taken into account as we look in more depth at the poem. Virgil acquaints us with similar facts in his book The Aneaid whose content look at Aeneas abandoning Dido at the instigation of the gods, infact Virgil’s work is classically dubbed as a conscious effort to imitate Homer. We should also look at the myth of Theseus and Ariadne for comparison when Ariadne aided Theseus, as did Nausicaa aid Odysseus, these two stories feature abandonment at the instigation of Athena and Aphrodite. Abandonment as a theme can be looked at certainly, along with the god’s interference in the affairs of men. C.M Bowra the late eminent author and professor of poetry (wadham college 1946-51) puts to us that “Despite her early hopes Nausicaa is left with only the consolation that after all she saved Odysseus and that he will remember it”. Which along with the afore mentioned themes we will discuss.
This part of the Odyssey begins with Athena appearing to the sleeping Princess having a beautiful dream convincing her that all too soon her wedding day will be upon her. It is clearly assumed by Nausicaa that this is all real because the god’s wouldn’t lie! Athena arrives in disguise of Dymas whom Nausicaa has affection for, a ploy by Athena to gain trust from the innocent Nausicaa who would then not question the content of her dream. Homer tells us that Athena insists she prepare for her ‘wedding’ by going outside the city to the river with her maids to clean and prepare her trusso. Homer lets us know that Athena is all too aware of the sleeping shipwrecked Odysseus in need of rescue. Nausicaa probably for her naivete and youth is the chosen subject to assist the rescue of this man.
Odysseus is discovered after a ball the maidens play with lands near him. Nausicaa discovers the partially naked man and again Athena interrupts the proceedings by placing ‘courage’ in her heart to face this bedraggled spectacle of a man without fear. Odysseus then goes into a great speech that can only be described as flattery and supplication. He admires the princess and speaks of anyone marrying this elegant creature should be proud and blessed as he likens her to the Goddess Artimes. To be fair to Odysseus at this time he is unaware if she is human or Goddess. It is a little odd to choose marriage as a compliment but perhaps due to apprehension he feels for another unknown land and people after his many years of trying to get home. He is in effect playing to the vanity of the princess incase this is another enchanted isle or hostile place.
Athena adds to his charisma by adding a glow, stance and prowess of a demi-god. A simile from Homer at this point in the narrative is appropriate for the listening audience. Then he advanced like a mountain lion, sure of his strength, sho goes his way with blazing eyes through wind and through rain, hunting the wild deer or ranging among sheep or cattle: (Odyssey V1. 121-200). This is colourful and descriptive of the emergence of the hero from his shipwrecked state. Athena plays the guardian to our hero making sure of an imminent rescue and acceptance by the young princess. Nausicaa has to tell her maids to not run away and hide, because she believes this man is harmless which of course is a result of Athena giving her courage to assume so. She then proceeds to tell him how to enter the city to gain help from her father King Alcinous and her mother Queen Arete.
There are in phaeaecia at this time many suitors anxious for the hand of Nausicaa and she is gracefull in her explination to Odysseus telling him why is appropriate for her to accompany him into the city. Basically she doesn’t want gossip and presumably she wants acceptance for our hero to enter the city on his own merit to gain help from her parents. Once could wonder here if the audience questioned this point and even wondered why Nausicaa would have suitors who would gossip so and berate her if she appeared with the ‘stranger’. Gerald Vallillee says that once Odysseus is shipwrecked that “Homer lays him to rest until such time as he can devise away in the plot to get him into the court of the King” (jstore.org). This maybe one observation to consider, moreover later in the tale Odysseus tells of a visit to Hades. This brings confirmation that Odysseus will eventually return home. Teiresias tells him that a full and long life is assured for him after retuning home. Teiresias the blind profit is always known to tell the truth, an omniscient source of oracle gives us leave to understand the outcome of the journey. Further confirmation is from Odysseus own mother in Hades who tells her son that Penelope his wife waits patiently in the halls “no other holds your noble domain”(Odyssey X1. 132) she reassures him.
There should not be a surprise at this point that our hero will be saved, because in book V when Hermes comes with a message to Calypso to let Odysseus go and continue on his journey home, the land of the Phaeacians is mentioned so the audience would be well aware of Odysseus reaching these people with the promise of rescue. Therefore it would surly have not been at all puzzling that Odysseus would have been saved from his flimsy craft once his journey was underway and washed up on the fore tolled land of the Phaeacians. Odysseus is not alone in the wild sea the daughter of Cadmus (sea nymph) aided Odysseus in his trials in his journey and advised him to lose his heavy clothing that Calypso had provided him with to survive the high sea. She also mentions to Odysseus that he should not be unhappy because he is fated to reach the isle of Scheria home of the phaeacian people. This opens the door for Nausicaa to find Odysseus and become part of his salvation.
THE WEDDING QUESTION
When Athena gave Nausicaa the prophetic dream alluding to her impending marriage it is little wonder then that she feels Odysseus is the fine figure of the man she hopes to marry. Perhaps this was a challenge to the audience to suppose that a marriage may take place there is a position on this very question later. On the other hand the beginning of the tale explains that Telemachus son of Odysseus is already introduced in the narrative along with the suitors and Penelope ’faithful and loyal wife’. It is therefore already advertised that Odysseus will return home to them both safely.
The audience may contemplate the necessity of the false hope of a wedding here because we follow on with the suggestion that feasts, games, and gifts bear the resemblance certainly of preparation of an impending wedding. Odysseus is certainly treated like a king even though the Phaeacians do not know he is such; indeed king Alcinous offers his daughters hand in marriage to Odysseus not knowing anything about him. This is unique and discerning considering the mystery surrounding the ‘stranger’. The whole process of feasting and bathing is a little confusing. Why does Odysseus behave like a bridegroom in offering the choices cuts of meat to Demodocus at the feast given by Alcinous? Curiously we may question why Odysseus is showered with gifts for his voyage home which are reminiscent of wedding presents? Even the queen presents him with a chest and a cloak and king Alcinous gives him one of his own goblets as a present. This is the kind of behaviour one would see at an authentic marriage ceremony so it is odd that a physical marriage does not take place between Odysseus and Nausicaa. Thankfully Odysseus has at this point in the poem been given the chance to regale his tails including a trip to the underworld of Hades as well as availing of the Phaeacians overwhelming hospitality.
On Odysseus journey to the underworld he encounters Achilles and also some of the departed souls of women he new. As he is telling his tale he refers to seeing “the lovely Ariadne” and tells of her fate. “That daughter of subtle Minos whom Theseus bore off from Crete towards the hill of sacred Athens” (Odyssey X1. 135). The myth for Theseus and Ariadne contains an episode where princess Ariadne helps Theseus to escape the labyrinth. He could not do this without her help and afterwards he does as he promised initially and marries Ariadne for her service to him. Theseus then abandons her on the Isle of Naxos. The result sometimes told is that Dionysus rescues Ariadne and marries her however Homer claims in book X1 her fate is death at the hands of Artemis because of her witness to Dionysus. The basic principle is that Ariadne was abandoned by the man she loved whatever her final fate.
COMPARISON FOR THE MYTH
Likewise we can take the myth of Aneas and Dido. Virgil wrote a poignant and sorrowful account in The Aneaid. It is said that he pays homage to Homer by using Aneas as his hero ‘the wonderer’ similar to Odysseus. Theseus journey brings him to the land of Carthage where he falls in love with Queen Dido. Just as Odysseus reveals himself eventually to the Phaeacians so does Aneas to the Carthaginians. Dido falls hopelessly in love with Aneas and they are married. However things are not as they seem. Once more we have the god’s interfering with man. This time it is Hera (juno) wife of Zeus (Jupiter) who concocts a plan with the help of Aphrodite (Venus) goddess of love all because Dido would not marry whom the god’s initially wished.
In book 1V of The Aneaid by Virgil the schemes that ultimately destroy Dido are revealed when Hera say’s to Aphrodite “listen and I shall explain in a few words how the first part of the plan may be carried out. At this point Aeneas and Dido are preparing themselves to go out hunting. Hera goes on with her plan “I shall pour down a dark storm of rain and hail on them and shake the whole sky with thunder”. It appears obvious that Hera wants the two to be left completely along together possible compromising them both. Hera continues “Dido and the leader of the Trojans will both take refuge in the same cave. I shall join them in lasting marriage and make her his. This will be their wedding”. This is a terrible trick because Dido believed this was her marriage and saw no shame in proclaiming her love for Aeneas but her people thought otherwise and did not believe she was married to Aeneas, which spoiled her reputation. Dido was crazed with love at this stage and saw only her future with Aeneas as important. Virgil goes on with this tragic story, which ends in Aeneas abandoning Dido because the god’s remind him of his proposed journey and obligations. Dido feeling bereft at such cruel behaviour from her beloved builds a funeral pyre and kills herself as she sees Aeneas sail out of the harbour after he abandons her. Tragic as this maybe Nausicaa isn’t thankfully as tormented but nonetheless is disappointed at the outcome of her meeting with Odysseus.
THE PREPARATION FOR THE VOYAGE HOME
The view that Nausicaa takes when Odysseus is finally to return home does not appear at all natural given the women in Greek Tragedy we have just looked at. One may have expected Homer here to offer a sense of outrage or horror of feeling used but a rather week episode follows. Firstly Odysseus does not even seek out Nausicaa to say goodbye, he happens upon her on his way to the second feast he attends. Odysseus is now known throughout the Odyssey to be a cunning liar and a clever speaker so surly it would not be a surprise to the audience to hear him greet Nausicaa with flattery and supplication once more. As mentioned earlier this is only a chance meeting for Odysseus and Nausicaa. Our clever and cunning Odysseus does not go out of his way to see the princess before his departure but is ever ready with his silvery tongue when he meets her again. She greets him warmly “friend from afar off, all good go with you, so that when hereafter you are in your own land you may remember me, and how to me before any other you owe the ransoming of your life”.
Perhaps this is her youth or her infatuation with Odysseus that prompts such a forward and blatant claim from her. Perhaps if she cannot have Odysseus for her husband she at least wishes to have some recognition in his life. The audience of such a story in ancient Greece is mostly men so maybe Homer didn’t want to show such a feminine emotion as hurt and disappointment. However this may be in contrast to his other great masterpiece The Iliad which Homer presents as a tale of tragedy but offers The Odyssey as a supposed more romantic tale. One may wonder here why Nausicaa wasn’t in floods of tears at the outcome. Athena seems to have duped her, her father would gladly give her hand to a stranger and Odysseus does not especially come to seek her out to say goodbye or thank her. In examining the other two tales of Ariadne and Theseus and Dido and Aeneas being tragic but gripping love stories. It is shoddy ending to Nausicaa because she is not mentioned again further in the Odyssey
Moreover Nausicaa seems content with Odysseus reply which she obviously has faith in “Nausicaa, daughter of great Alcinous, may Zeus the Thunderer, Hera’s husband, bring all to pass that you wish me thus; may he grant me return to my own land, grant me sight of the day of homecoming; and then there also, through all my days, your name on my lips will be like a god’s because you gave me my life, Nausicaa”. This is the last we here of the princess from now on.
One thing that cannot be denied is that if Odysseus had not have been found by Nausicaa and had she not devised the plan to get him into the palace then the poem would not continue. It is without doubt that Odysseus needs this vehicle in order to tell his tale. He needed the setting of the banquet to have an audience to tell his tale to. He did need to be rescued and received in the land of the Phaeacians, as the stage had to be set for him with the promise of a return voyage assisted to reach his beloved Ithaca.
This still begs the question as to why Nausicaa had to be led to believe this to be the promise of her husband to be. The Phaeacians are known throughout the Odyssey as being a kindly hospitable race. Would they have not received Odysseus anyway? They did not know that Nausicaa had already met him, indeed her father king Alcinous is extremely cross when he learns that the princess did not bring Odysseus directly to him. Homer tells us subtle Odysseus assured the king that his daughter had not been thoughtless, he takes the blame and say’s it was he who would not travel with the princess for fear of her reputation coming into question by other suitors. It is obvious that Odysseus found it necessary to keep the princess on his side but not encourage her too much as he is sure of his ultimate return to his faithful and beloved wife. Maybe this is why he gives a reassuring promise of remembrance to Nausicaa, safe in the knowledge that his voyage is agreed his ship is loaded and his journey home imminent. He had been cautious with Nausicaa but still gave her a hint of encouragement.
The episode with the Phaeacians and Nausicaa cannot be omitted from the Odyssey. It is the beginning and almost the end of our wonderers tale. It enables him clearly to reminisce over his many adventurers, his narrow escapes and his escapades. It draws out the poem beautifully to its final conclusion. It would have been disappointing had our hero never returned home after his long arduous 20-year voyage. Perhaps had the ancient audience been women they would have forgiven Odysseus if he had stayed to marry the princess. A male audience of Classical Greece would not find such sentiment sensible or fulfilling, they can accept his return home and not seem to mind that Odysseus abandons Nausicaa as told by Homer. This beautiful oral poem is awash with colour and adventure; it is easy to see how it may have held an audience spellbound. From a purely feminist point of view however Nausicaa seems to have been dealt a raw deal indeed. Homer leaves the sensitive reader of today feeling a little sorry for the young and naive princess even when willing our hero god speed home. Odysseus has a harmonious ending, but what of Nausicaa? There are several schools of thought on what happened to Nausicaa. Some say she married Telemachus son of Odysseus. Some even think that perhaps he did indeed marry her (van leeuwen). The final suggestion to date is that Nausicaa never married and travelled the land telling her tale of Odysseus, however this looks the least likely as a Phaeacian princess with suitors already at the palace for choosing, she would definitely been expected to marry. . It is an ironic ending to the tale of rescue by Nausicaa the Phaeacian princess because the Phaeacians people who so kindly cared for Odysseus and prepared him for his final journey home are purported to be descendents of Poseidon who in turn is the very god who Odysseus fights with throughout his journey. He angers Poseidon many times thus delaying his return home by 20 years.