the goddess shows more stately, all being beautiful.
So one could tell the princess from the maids.
Soon it was time, she knew, for riding homeward—
mules to be harnessed, linen folded smooth—
but the grey-eyed goddess Athena made her tarry,
so that Odysseus might behold her beauty
and win her guidance to the town.
when the king’s daughter threw her ball off line
and missed, and put it in the whirling stream,—
at which they all gave such a shout, Odysseus
awoke and sat up, saying to himself:
“Now, by my life, mankind again! But who?
Savages, are they, strangers to courtesy?
Or gentle folk, who know and fear the gods?
That was a lust cry of tall young girls—
most like the cry of nymphs, who haunt the peaks,
and springs of brooks, and inland grassy places.
Or am I amid people of human speech?
Up again, man; and let me see for myself.”
He pushed aside the bushes, breaking off
with his great hand a single branch of olive,
whose leaves might shield him in his nakedness;
so came out rustling, like a mountain lion,
rain-drenched, wind-buffeted, but in his might at ease,
with burning eyes—who prowls among the herds
or flocks, or after game, his hungry belly
taking him near stout homesteads for his prey.
Odysseus had this look, in his rough skin
advancing on the girls with pretty braids;
and he was driven on by hunger, too.
Streaked with brine, and swollen, he terrified them,
so that they fled, this way and that. Only
Alkínoös’ daughter stood her ground, being given
a bold heart by Athena, and steady knees.
She faced him, waiting. And Odysseus came,
debating inwardly what he should do:
embrace this beauty’s knees in supplication?
or stand apart, and, using honeyed speech,
inquire the way to town, and beg some clothing?
In his swift reckoning, he thought it best
to trust in words to please her—and keep away;
he might anger the girl, touching her knees.
So he began, and let the soft words fall:
“Mistress: please: are you divine, or mortal?
If one of those who dwell in the wide heaven,
/ The Odyssey, Book Six
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 345
you are most near to Artemis, I should say—
great Zeus’s daughter—in your grace and presence.
If you are one of earth’s inhabitants,
how blest your father, and your gentle mother,
blest all your kin. I know what happiness
must send the warm tears to their eyes, each time
they see their wondrous child go to the dancing!
But one man’s destiny is more than blest—
he who prevails, and takes you as his bride.
Never have I laid eyes on equal beauty
in man or woman. I am hushed indeed.
So fair, one time, I thought a young palm tree
at Delos4 near the altar of Apollo—
I had troops under me when I was there
on the sea route that later brought me grief—
but that slim palm tree filled my heart with wonder:
never came shoot from earth so beautiful.
So now, my lady, I stand in awe so great
I cannot take your knees. And yet my case is desperate:
twenty days, yesterday, in the winedark sea,
on the ever-lunging swell, under gale winds,
getting away from the Island of Og´ygia.
And now the terror of Storm has left me stranded
upon this shore—with more blows yet to suffer,
I must believe, before the gods relent.
Mistress, do me a kindness!
After much weary toil, I come to you,
and you are the first soul I have seen—I know
no others here. Direct me to the town,
give me a rag that I can throw around me,
some cloth or wrapping that you brought along.
And may the gods accomplish your desire:
a home, a husband, and harmonious
converse with him—the best thing in the world
being a strong house held in serenity
where man and wife agree. Woe to their enemies,
joy to their friends! But all this they know best.”
Then she of the white arms, Nausikaa, replied:
“Stranger, there is no quirk or evil in you
that I can see. You know Zeus metes out fortune
to good and bad men as it pleases him.
Hardship he sent to you, and you must bear it.
But now that you have taken refuge here
you shall not lack for clothing, or any other
comfort due to a poor man in distress.
4An island in the Aegean Sea, birthplace of Apollo and sacred to him.
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The town lies this way, and the men are called
Phaiákians, who own the land and city.
I am daughter to the Prince Alkínoös,
by whom the power of our people stands.”
Turning, she called out to her maids-in-waiting:
“Stay with me! Does the sight of a man scare you?
Or do you take this one for an enemy?
Why, there’s no fool so brash, and never will be,
as to bring war or pillage to this coast,
for we are dear to the immortal gods,
living here, in the sea that rolls forever,
distant from other lands and other men.
No: this man is a castaway, poor fellow;
we must take care of him. Strangers and beggars
come from Zeus: a small gift, then, is friendly.
Give our new guest some food and drink, and take him
into the river, out of the wind, to bathe.”
They stood up now, and called to one another
to go on back. Quite soon they led Odysseus
under the river bank, as they were bidden;
and there laid out a tunic, and a cloak,
and gave him olive oil in the golden flask.
“Here,” they said, “go bathe in the flowing water.”
But heard now from that kingly man, Odysseus:
“Maids,” he said, “keep away a little; let me
wash the brine from my own back, and rub on
plenty of oil. It is long since my anointing.
I take no bath, however, where you can see me—
naked before young girls with pretty braids.”
They left him, then, and went to tell the princess.
And now Odysseus, dousing in the river,
scrubbed the coat of brine from back and shoulders
and rinsed the clot of sea-spume from his hair;
got himself all rubbed down, from head to foot,
then he put on the clothes the princess gave him.
Athena lent a hand, making him seem
taller, and massive too, with crisping hair
in curls like petals of wild hyacinth,
but all red-golden. Think of gold infused
on silver by a craftsman, whose fine art
Hephaistos taught him, or Athena: one
whose work moves to delight: just so she lavished
beauty over Odysseus’ head and shoulders.
Then he went down to sit on the sea beach
in his new splendor. There the girl regarded him,
and after a time she said to the maids beside her:
/ The Odyssey, Book Six
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 347
“My gentlewomen, I have a thing to tell you.
The Olympian gods cannot be all averse
to this man’s coming here among our islanders.
Uncouth he seemed, I thought so, too, before;
but now he looks like one of heaven’s people.
I wish my husband could be fine as he
and glad to stay forever on Skhería!
But have you given refreshment to our guest?”
At this the maids, all gravely listening, hastened
to set out bread and wine before Odysseus,
and ah! how ravenously that patient man
took food and drink, his long fast at an end.
The princess Nausikaa now turned aside
to fold her linens; in the pretty cart
she stowed them, put the mule team under harness,
mounted the driver’s seat, and then looked down
to say with cheerful prompting to Odysseus:
“Up with you now, friend; back to town we go;
and I shall send you in before my father
who is wondrous wise; there in our house with him
you’ll meet the noblest of the Phaiákians.
You have good sense, I think; here’s how to do it:
while we go through the countryside and farmland
stay with my maids, behind the wagon, walking
briskly enough to follow where I lead.
But near the town—well, there’s a wall with towers
around the Isle, and beautiful ship basins
right and left of the causeway of approach;
seagoing craft are beached beside the road
each on its launching ways. The agora,5
with fieldstone benches bedded in the earth,
lies either side Poseidon’s shrine—for there
men are at work on pitch-black hulls and rigging,
cables and sails, and tapering of oars.
The archer’s craft is not for the Phaiákians,
but ship designing, modes of oaring cutters
in which they love to cross the foaming sea.
From these fellows I will have no salty talk,
no gossip later. Plenty are insolent.
And some seadog might say, after we passed:
‘Who is this handsome stranger trailing Nausikaa?
Where did she find him? Will he be her husband?
Or is she being hospitable to some rover
come off his ship from lands across the sea—
there being no lands nearer. A god, maybe?
Public meeting place.
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a god from heaven, the answer to her prayer,
descending now—to make her his forever?
Better, if she’s roamed and found a husband
somewhere else: none of our own will suit her,
though many come to court her, and those the best.’
This is the way they might make light of me.
And I myself should hold it shame
for any girl to flout her own dear parents,
taking up with a man, before her marriage.
Note well, now, what I say, friend, and your chances
are excellent for safe conduct from my father.
You’ll find black poplars in a roadside park
around a meadow and fountain—all Athena’s—
but Father has a garden in the place—
this within earshot of the city wall.
Go in there and sit down, giving us time
to pass through town and reach my father’s house.
And when you can imagine we’re at home,
then take the road into the city, asking
directions to the palace of Alkínoös.
You’ll find it easily: any small boy
can take you there; no family has a mansion
half so grand as he does, being king.
As soon as you are safe inside, cross over
and go straight through into the mégaron
to find my mother. She’ll be there in firelight
before a column, with her maids in shadow,
spinning a wool dyed richly as the sea.
My father’s great chair faces the fire, too;
there like a god he sits and takes his wine.
Go past him; cast yourself before my mother,
embrace her knees—and you may wake up soon
at home rejoicing, though your home be far.
On Mother’s feeling much depends; if she
looks on you kindly, you shall see your friends
under your own roof in your father’s country.”
At this she raised her glistening whip, lashing
the team into a run; they left the river
cantering beautifully, then trotted smartly.
But then she reined them in, and spared the whip,
so that her maids could follow with Odysseus.
The sun was going down when they went by
Athena’s grove. Here, then, Odysseus rested,
and lifted up his prayer to Zeus’s daughter:
The great hall of the house.
/ The Odyssey, Book Six
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 349
“Hear me, unwearied child of royal Zeus!
O listen to me now—thou so aloof
while the Earthshaker wrecked and battered me.
May I find love and mercy among these people.”
He prayed for that, and Pallas Athena heard him—
although in deference to her father’s brother7
she would not show her true form to Odysseus,
at whom Poseidon smoldered on
until the kingly man came home to his own shore.
BOOK SEVEN: GARDENS AND FIRELIGHT
As Lord Odysseus prayed there in the grove
the girl rode on, behind her strapping team,
and came late to the mansion of her father,
where she reined in at the courtyard gate. Her brothers
awaited her like tall gods in the court,
circling to lead the mules away and carry
the laundered things inside. But she withdrew
to her own bedroom, where a fire soon shone,
kindled by her old nurse, Eurymedousa.
Years ago, from a raid on the continent,
the rolling ships had brought this woman over
to be Alkínoös’ share—fit spoil for him
whose realm hung on his word as on a god’s.
And she had schooled the princess, Nausikaa,
whose fire she tended now, making her supper.
Odysseus, when the time had passed, arose
and turned into the city. But Athena
poured a sea fog around him as he went—
her love’s expedient, that no jeering sailor
should halt the man or challenge him for luck.
Instead, as he set foot in the pleasant city,
the grey-eyed goddess came to him, in figure
a small girl child, hugging a water jug.
Confronted by her, Lord Odysseus asked:
“Little one, could you take me to the house
of that Alkínoös, king among these people?
You see, I am a poor old stranger here;
my home is far away; here there is no one
known to me, in countryside or city.”
Poseidon, brother of Athena’s father, Zeus.
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The grey-eyed goddess Athena replied to him:
“Oh, yes, good grandfer, sir, I know, I’ll show you
the house you mean; it is quite near my father’s.
But come now, hush, like this, and follow me.
You must not stare at people, or be inquisitive.
They do not care for strangers in this neighborhood;
a foreign man will get no welcome here.
The only things they trust are the racing ships
Poseidon gave, to sail the deep blue sea
like white wings in the sky, or a flashing thought.”
Pallas Athena turned like the wind, running
ahead of him, and he followed in her footsteps.
And no seafaring men of Phaiákia
perceived Odysseus passing through their town:
the awesome one in pigtails barred their sight
with folds of sacred mist. And yet Odysseus
gazed out marvelling at the ships and harbors,
public squares, and ramparts towering up
with pointed palisades along the top.
When they were near the mansion of the king,
grey-eyed Athena in the child cried out:
“Here it is, grandfer, sir—that mansion house
you asked to see. You’ll find our king and queen
at supper, but you must not be dismayed;
go in to them. A cheerful man does best
in every enterprise—even a stranger.
You’ll see our lady just inside the hall—
her name is Arêtê; her grandfather
was our good king Alkínoös’s father—
Nausithoös by name, son of Poseidon
and Periboia. That was a great beauty,
the daughter of Eurymedon, commander
of the Gigantês
in the olden days,
who led those wild things to their doom and his.
Poseidon then made love to Periboia,
and she bore Nausíthoös, Phaiákia’s lord,
whose sons in turn were Rhêxênor and Alkínoös.
Rhêxênor had no sons; even as a bridegroom
he fell before the silver bow of Apollo,
his only child a daughter, Arêtê.
When she grew up, Alkínoös married her
and holds her dear. No lady in the world,
no other mistress of a man’s household,
is honored as our mistress is, and loved,
by her own children, by Alkínoös,
The Giants, enormous semihuman beings, offspring of Ge, an ancient earth goddess.
/ The Odyssey, Book Seven
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 351
and by the people. When she walks the town
they murmur and gaze, as though she were a goddess.
No grace or wisdom fails in her; indeed
just men in quarrels come to her for equity.
Supposing, then, she looks upon you kindly,
the chances are that you shall see your friends
under your own roof, in your father’s country.”
At this the grey-eyed goddess Athena left him
and left that comely land, going over sea
to Marathon, to the wide roadways of Athens
and her retreat in the stronghold of Erekhtheus.2
Odysseus, now alone before the palace,
meditated a long time before crossing
the brazen threshold of the great courtyard.
High rooms he saw ahead, airy and luminous
as though with lusters of the sun and moon,
bronze-paneled walls, at several distances,
making a vista, with an azure molding
of lapis lazuli.
The doors were golden
guardians of the great room. Shining bronze
plated the wide door sill; the posts and lintel
were silver upon silver; golden handles
curved on the doors, and golden, too, and silver
were sculptured hounds, flanking the entrance way,
cast by the skill and ardor of Hephaistos
to guard the prince Alkínoös’s house—
undying dogs that never could grow old.
Through all the rooms, as far as he could see,
tall chairs were placed around the walls, and strewn
with fine embroidered stuff made by the women.
Here were enthroned the leaders of Phaiákia
drinking and dining, with abundant fare.
Here, too, were boys of gold on pedestals
holding aloft bright torches of pitch pine
to light the great rooms, and the night-time feasting.
And fifty maids-in-waiting of the household
sat by the round mill, grinding yellow corn,
or wove upon their looms, or twirled their distaffs,
flickering like the leaves of a poplar tree;
while drops of oil glistened on linen weft.
Skillful as were the men of Phaiákia
in ship handling at sea, so were these women
skilled at the loom, having this lovely craft
and artistry as talents from Athena.
2Legendary ruler of Athens, Athena’s city. Marathon (several centuries after Homer’s time
the site of a great Greek victory over the Persians) was a plain near Athens, cherished by Athena.
3Fine blue stone.
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