Odysseus and Nausicaa

THE ancients had, for the most part, an unquestioning belief in one Homer, who wrote — or at least composed — both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and indeed many minor poems as well, in the same literal sense that Dante constructed the most elaborate monument of the human imagination, the Divina Commedia. Probably no intelligent student holds quite that belief now. All attentive readers, even those filled with most reverence for these songs fresh from the morning of the world, see that they are, at any rate, disfigured by some later additions from various comparatively feeble and injudicious hands. Moreover, the prevailing, though by no means universal, conviction of scholars is that the spirit of more than one generation breathes through each of these great works. As I have suggested elsewhere, the Iliad, in particular, perhaps resembles some cathedrals of the earlier mediæval time, in which various portions plainly date from different ages, though all are fused into a harmonious unity far nobler, it may be, than the conception shaped even in the master mind of him who gave the first general plan to the structure.

It is much more generally conceded, however, that the Odyssey is apparently the creation of a later and more refined generation than the one which found expression for its ideals of life in the grimmer battle scenes of the Iliad. And so we must bid farewell to the ancient and pleasing fiction that Homer composed the Iliad for men, to be sung in the camp and the banquet-hall, the Odyssey for the gentler ears of women.

“ Non è vero: ma fu ben trovato ! ” And not women alone, but many men, lovers of peace and home, would make the same choice. Though we gaze with dazzled and admiring eyes where

“ Athwart the sunrise of our western day
The form of great Achilles high and clear
Stands forth in arms, wielding the Pelian spear,”

nevertheless, from

“ The sanguine tides of that immortal fray,”

from the brief feverish life of him who shall only win

“ Honor, a friend, anguish, untimely death,”

we turn not all regretfully to the poem which appeals so much more strongly to that deep-rooted, lifelong passion of our Anglo-Saxon hearts, the love of home.

Odysseus wanders widely, and gathers wisdom and profit, as the open-eyed traveler must. This the poet tells us in the first lines of the Odyssey : —

Sing to me, Muse, of the man of many devices, who widely
Wandered, when he had ruined the sacred city of Troia.
Many the men whose towns he beheld, and learned of their customs.

But the very next verse reminds us of the goal which the wanderer kept always in view: —

Striving to rescue his life, and secure the return of his comrades.

In a council of the gods, held at the opening of the poem, Pallas Athene pleads for her favorite in words which bring out most clearly the pathos of the situation : —

“ Yet is my spirit distressed in behalf of the crafty Odysseus,
Hapless man, who afar from his loved ones suffers affliction
Long, in the seagirt island that; lies in the midst of the waters.
Covered with woods is the isle, and upon it there dwelleth a goddess,
Daughter of terrible Atlas. . .
She, his child, is detaining the hapless man in his Sorrow.
Ever with gentle words and wheedling she strives to beguile him,
So that he may be forgetful of Ithaca: yet is Odysseus
Eager to see though it were but the smoke from his country uprising.
Longing for death.”

Seven years the loveliest and gentlest of divinities, Calypso, the Lady of the Mist, has detained him in her fair, waveencircled isle, desiring him to be her husband. Yet, though all his companions have perished amid the miseries and dangers of the former voyages, he still pines, day and night, to venture forth once more, to brave the deadliest hate of the sea’s lord, Poseidon, if perchance he may come, before he dies, home again to rugged, ungrateful Ithaca, to the faithful, prudent Penelope, who is, he well knows, no longer fair or young, and who could never have been a rival of Calypso’s divine loveliness.

A few lines, which refuse to take in English even the crudest approach to the hexameter form, have been gracefully paraphrased thus by Bryant: —

“ He wasted his sweet life
In yearning for his home. Night after night
He lay perforce within the hollow cave,
The unwilling by the fond ; and day by day
He sat upon the rocks that edged the shore,
And in continued weeping and in sighs
And vain repinings wore the hours away,
Gazing through tears upon the unresting sea.”

At last the heavenly gods have pity on the homesick exile, and Zeus orders Hermes to go to Calypso’s island abode and bid her release Odysseus. It may be mentioned that the earlier portion of the poem contains two plots, imperfectly connected with one another: the fortunes of Telemachos in Ithaca and while wandering about Greece in search of his father ; and the adventures of Odysseus himself, during the same days, in some far realm of fairyland beyond the sea, which I, at least, cannot locate in any region to be reached by mortal bark or traveler’s feet. Hence, after the brief general introduction, the first four books describe the doings of Telemachos, and in the fifth we first see Odysseus himself, in the isle which is the centre of the sea.

It is well known that a learned fellow-townsman has written a most fascinating and ingenious book to prove that Homer is well aware of the sphericity of the earth, that Odysseus’ voyages include a circumnavigation of the globe, and that the island of Calypso is, in truth, a clear reminiscence of the longlost earthly Paradise, which was situated at the North Pole. I confess with shame my own inability to grasp with firmness the details of this magnificent geometrical demonstration. In any case, however, the original Greek hearers of the poet can hardly have been aware of any such authentic foundation for what they probably regarded as only a pleasing myth. And so, if we err in lettingfall the luminous yet impenetrable veil of romantic imagination between Ithaca and Scheria, we err with the best of good company: with him who told the tale, and those who heard and loved it first.

But let us hear Zeus’ command to Hermes: —

“ Hermes, since thou art also on other occasion our herald,
Tell to the nymph of the braided tresses our counsel unerring,
Even the homeward return of the patient-hearted Odysseus.
How he shall go, unaccompanied either of gods or of mortals:
Yet on a well - bound raft, though suffering grievous disaster,
On the twentieth day to the fertile land of Phæacians,
Scheria, he shall come, to a people like the immortals.
They shall send him by ship to his native country belovèd,
Giving him store of bronze and gold and raiment in plenty,
More than ever Odysseus had won for himself out of Ilios,
Though he had fared untroubled, securing his share of the booty.
So is it destined that he shall see his loved ones, returning
Unto his high-roofed hall and unto the land of his fathers.”

Donning his winged sandals and clasping his magic wand, the messenger Hermes set forth without a murmur upon his errand. He darted earthward, traversed the wide purple sea, and neared the far-off island : —

Journeyed until he was come where the nymph of the beautiful tresses
Lived in a spacious cave ; and within her d welling he found her.
There on the hearth was a great fire blazing, and far through the island
Floated the fragrance of well-cleft cedar and sandal-wood burning.
She was herself within, with sweet voice singing, and meanwhile
Busy was she at the loom, and with golden shuttle was weaving.
Round and about her cave a luxuriant forest extended ;
Poplar-trees were there, and alders, and odorous cypress.
. . . Four springs set in order with shining water were running:
Near were they to each other, yet turned in as many directions.

(These four springs become, of course, in the argument above mentioned, the four rivers of Eden.)

All about soft meadows of violets bloomed, and of parsley.
Even a deathless god might therefore, hither approaching,
Gaze upon what he saw, and be in spirit delighted.

As the poet’s last words plainly intimate, such a trim, orderly scene was in truth the Greek ideal of natural beauty, rather than a wider, more varied panorama, with snow-capped mountains for its frame. Perhaps the struggle of man with the savage forces of Nature was still too near and well remembered for him to find delight in her wilder aspects.

Homer assures us that the immortals always know each other when they meet, no matter how widely sundered their abodes ; but not even in this enchanted spot do they have the power, attained by the islanders in Mr. Bellamy’s ingenious sketch, of reading each other’s thoughts without words. Hermes, therefore, utters the bidding of Zeus, though in gentler and less imperative form, with a frank confession of his own unwillingness to bring the message. The poet then continues : —

So did he speak, and Calypso, divine among goddesses, shuddered.
Then she uttered to him these wingèd words, and made answer:
” Merciless are ye, O gods, and more than the rest are ye jealous,
Ye who, when goddesses openly mate with men, are indignant.”

Calypso relates briefly how she rescued Odysseus when the wind and the billow drove him toward her isle, clinging to the keel of his wrecked vessel after all his comrades had perished. Such passing allusions to the hero’s previous adventures are intended by the poet to arouse, rather than to gratify, the curiosity of his hearers. Odysseus, after his safe arrival at the court of the Phæacians, will relate his fortunes since the fall of Troy, just as Æneas, at Dido’s banquet, tells the tale of his life. Calypso continues : —

“ Often I said I would make him immortal and youthful forever.
Yet, for the purpose of Zeus, who is lord of the ægis, may nowise
Be by another divinity thwarted or kept from fulfillment,
Let him depart, since He hath so commanded and bidden,
Over the restless sea. Nor yet myself will I send him,
Since no vessels equipped with oars are mine, nor companions.
Who on his way might bear him across the sea’s broad ridges.
Yet will I heartily aid him with counsel, and hide from him nothing,
So that he all unscathed may come to the land of his fathers.”

This prompt and sincere submission to the inevitable parting should win our sympathy the more fully for the gentle, loving nymph, who has nothing in common with capricious and cruel Circe. As Hermes hastens back to Olympos, Calypso seeks Odysseus in his favorite seat by the shore, and bids him no longer wear out his life with weeping, but straightway build a raft for his homeward voyage.

So did she speak, but the godlike, enduring Odysseus shuddered.
Then he uttered to her these wingèd words, and responded :
“ Surely some other intent, not merely to aid my departure,
Hast thou, in bidding me cross on a raft yon gulf of the waters,
Difficult, dread, that not even the well-shaped vessels may traverse,
Though so swiftly they fare, in the Zeus-sent breezes exultant.
Not on a raft would I set foot while thou art unwilling,
If thou consent not to swear with a mighty oath that in no wise
Thou wilt plot for me another and grievous disaster.”

Calypso, smiling and caressing him, assures him of her good faith. She cannot, however, refrain from reminding him of her own superiority in beauty to mortal women, and of the immortality which she would have bestowed upon him. The reply of Odysseus is perhaps more than any other passage the keynote of the poem : —

“ Queen and goddess, for that, pray, be not wroth, for I also
Well am aware that the heedful Penelope, either in stature
Or in beauty of face, is, compared with thee, less noble.
She is a mortal, in truth, thou deathless and ageless forever.
Yet, even so, I all my days am wishful and eager
Homeward to make my way, and behold my day of returning.
If yet again some god on the wine-dark waters shall wreck me,
I will endure, with a heart in my breast that is patient of trouble.
Truly already I greatly have toiled and greatly have suffered,
Both on the waves and in war; and. thereto let this also be added.”

The next four days are spent by Odysseus in constructing the raft, which is elaborately described, and deserves rather to be called a boat. On the fifth day he sets sail, with a goodly store of wine, water, and food, provided by Calypso. For seventeen days he voyages homeward, but on the eighteenth Poseidon espies him from afar. The seagod’s wrath is still hot on account of his favorite son, the Cyclops Polyphemos, who was blinded by Odysseus. A terrible storm is aroused, the light craft is quickly stripped of mast and sail, and Odysseus, still clinging to the wreck, is tossed about helpless among the billows. But a semi-divine sea-creature in feminine form comes to his aid.

Ino, of beautiful ankles, the daughter of Kadmos, beheld him, —
Leucothea, who once was of human speech and a mortal,
Now hath a share in the honors of gods in the depths of the waters.

The mortal Ino takes the name Leucothea when transformed into a seadivinity. The epithet “ fair-ankled ” is possibly introduced to assure us that she has not the form popularly ascribed to a mermaid.

She took pity on exiled Odysseus in grievous misfortune.
Out of the watery deep she arose in the guise of a seagull,
Seated herself on the well-joined raft, and spoke, and addressed him :
“ Wretched one, why is Poseidon, the shaker of earth, thus embittered
Fiercely, so that he raises against thee full many disasters ?
Yet he shall not destroy thee, although so terribly wrathful.
Only do thou as I bid thee: thou seemest not lacking in shrewdness.
Strip off thy garments, and leave thy raft for the breezes to carry,
But do thou swim with thine arms, and struggle to win thee a landing
On the Phæacians’ shore, whereon thou art destined to save thee.
Here, too, take this veil, and under thy breast shalt thou spread it, —
It is divine, — and have no fear that thou suffer or perish.
Yet, so soon as thou with thy hands shalt lay hold of the mainland,
Loosen it then from about thee, and into the wine-dark waters,
Ere thou turnest to go, thou shalt cast it afar from the sea-beach.”

There is perhaps a reminiscence of this casting away of the magic veil in the tale of King Arthur’s death, where Bedivere flings the sacred sword Excalibur back into the mere.

Odysseus hesitates, and is again fearful of treachery, as he was with Calypso. It may be that this constant dread of bad faith is the fitting penalty for his own excessive cunning and trickiness. But when a mighty billow utterly shatters his wrecked craft, and leaves him clinging to a single plank, the aid of the goddess is accepted. Poseidon now, with an exultant jeer, turns away, as he knows that Odysseus is not destined to perish on the sea ; and Athene is permitted to quiet the waves and adverse winds. For two days and two nights the hero swims wearily onward, in constant fear of death. On the third morning, uplifted on a great wave, he sees the coast of Phæacia near at hand. But here a new peril awaits him. Once the mighty breaker dashes him against the steep cliffs that line the shore, but, carried back by the refluent wave, he has just strength to escape again outside the line of surf. Here he swims on parallel with the shore-line, until he feels the warmer current of a river which flows into the sea. To the river-god he straight-way utters a fervent prayer.

“ Hearken, O lord, whosoever thou art!
Unto thee, the much longed for,
Now am I come, in my flight from the sea and the threats of Poseidon.
Reverend even among the gods whose life is eternal
He is held, who comes as a wanderer, even as I now,
After my weary toil, am come to thy knees and thy current.
Show thou pity, O lord ; for truly thy suppliant am I.”

Such passages as this make it clear that to the Homeric poets the river-god was quite as real as the stream itself. Perhaps not one even among the Greeks of later ages, save Æschylos in the Prometheus, is so fully possessed by a belief in this conscious personal life in forest, mountain, and stream. There is far greater power of imagination, and manyfold more poetic ingenuity, exerted in shaping such a conception as the Sabrina of Milton’s Comus ; but we are so much the more aware of the poet’s untiring efforts to convince himself and us. The singer of the Odyssey has no need to “ make believe.”

The river-god at once stays his stream, and enables the weary swimmer to reach the bank. Here, after a moment of utter exhaustion, Odysseus casts the veil seaward, and Leucothea’s hands receive it: the " lovely hands ” which lingered in Milton’s memory, and so are immortalized a second time in a famous passage of Comus. After some hesitation between the chilling winds of the shore and the wild beasts of the forest, he climbs the slope to the edge of the wood, and lies down in the olive thicket, covering himself with the dead leaves.

And Athene
Over his eyes poured slumber, that she might straightway release him
From the fatigue of his grievous toil, by closing his eyelids.

Such are the final words in the fifth book of the Odyssey. These divisions of the poem are by no means so old as the time of the singer, but the scenes of this book, at any rate, have a natural connection and unity, as well as a charm and beauty of detail, which are of course lost in the mere summary given here.

The scene now changes to the palace of the Phæacian king, from which is to come the aid so sorely needed by the shipwrecked exile. The sixth book opens with the following lines : —

So did he slumber there, the enduring, godlike Odysseus,
Since he was overborne by fatigue and sleep; but Athene
Went meanwhile to the city and people of the Phæacians.
These had formerly dwelt within wide-wayed Hypereia,
Near to the Cyclops, a race of men exceedingly haughty,
Who had harassed them ever, and who were in force more mighty.
Then Nausithoös, like to a god, transplanted and led them
Unto Scheria, far removed from the trafficking nations.
Round their town he constructed a wall, and built habitations;
Temples, too, for the gods, and divided among them the cornlands.
Stricken by fate, he already had passed to the dwelling of Hades;
Now Alkinoös ruled; by the gods was he gifted with wisdom.
Toward his palace proceeded the gray-eyed goddess Athene,
Planning a homeward return for Odysseus, lofty of spirit.

This brief historical sketch of the Phæacians need give us no fear lest Odysseus, in his eighteen days’ voyage from Calypso’s island, may have crossed the boundary line from fairyland into prosaic reality. Hypereia, their former home, is merely “ Upland,” a casual invention of the poet. Nausithoös, their earlier leader, is simply “ He of the fleet ship; ” and indeed nearly all the names we meet in these Phæacian scenes are derivatives from the Greek word naus, a ship. The whole episode in Scheria is apparently a rather sportive creation of the Homeric fancy. The allusion to the Cyclops as their former neighbors is no doubt intended to remind us that we are not yet escaped from the realm of the marvelous.

The latter half of the Odyssey is of a quite different character, consisting almost wholly of realistic scenes in Ithaca. The all-night homeward voyage of the sleeping Odysseus on the magic bark of the Phæacians, at the beginning of the thirteenth book, is the voyage from dreamland into real life, and so the turning-point of the entire story.1

It is at the threshold of the episode in Scheria that we meet the lovable little princess Nausicaa, who is our proper subject. The frame of romance from which she steps forth to greet us enables us to enjoy the more fully the simplicity, the truthfulness to nature, and the idealized beauty of this slight but imperishable sketch. Let us venture to peep discreetly over Pallas Athene’s august shoulder, as she enters her favorite’s bower.

Into a chamber most cunningly built she passed, where a maiden
Sleeping lay, who in figure and face the immortals resembled,
Named Nausicaa, child to Alkinoös, lofty of spirit.
Maidens twain were beside her, with beauty endowed by the Graces;
Near to the door they lay, and shut were the glimmering portals.
Fleet as the breath of the wind to the couch of the maiden she darted.

Athene assumes the guise of Nausicaa’s favorite girl companion as she speaks.

“ Why did thy mother, Nausicaa, bear thee a maiden so heedless ?
Shining raiment is thine, which now neglected is lying;
Yet is thy marriage at hand, when thou must he fairly appareled,
And must garments give unto those who homeward shall lead thee,
Since thereby among men goes forth thy good reputation.
Therein, too, is thy father delighted, and reverend mother.
Come, with the dawning of day let us hasten forth to the washing.
Seeing by no means long mayst thou yet tarry a virgin.
Thou already art wooed by the noblest of all the Phæacians
Everywhere, of the land wherein thou also art native.
Come, now, urge at the dawning of day thy illustrious father
Mules and a cart to make ready for thee, wherein thou wilt carry
Raiment of men, and robes, and the shining coverlets also.”
She, thus speaking, departed, the gray-eyed goddess Athene,
Unto Olympos, where we are told that the gods’ habitation
Ever untroubled abides, nor yet by the tempests is shaken;
Nor is it wet by the rain, nor reached by snow, but about it
Clear is the cloudless air, and white is the sunshine upon it.
Through all ages within it the blessèd gods are rejoicing.
Having admonished the maid, the gray-eyed One thither departed.

Among many imitations of this passage, the most familiar to us is no doubt the description of the “ island valley of Avilion,” to which Arthur hopes to pass, and where he may heal him of his grievous wound.

Presently morning came, enthroned in beauty, arousing
Graceful-robed Nausicaa : first at the vision she marveled,
Then through her home she passed to repeat her dream to her parents,
Well-loved father and mother. She found them within, for the mother
Sat at the side of the hearth, in the midst of her women attendants,
Spinning the sea - dyed purple yarn; at the doorway her father
Met her, upon his way to join the illustrious chieftains,
Sitting in council, whither the noble Phæacians had called him.
Standing close at his side, she addressed her father belovèd:
“ Father, dear,2 would you make ready for me a wagon, a high one,
Strong in the wheels, that I may carry our beautiful garments,
Those which now are lying soiled, to be washed in the river ?
Ay, and for you yourself it is seemly, when in the council
You with the chiefs are sitting, to have fresh raiment upon you.
Five dear sons besides within your palace are living;
Two of them married already, but three yet blooming and youthful.”

“ Will my dread sire his ear regardful deign, And may his child the royal car obtain ? ”

The keen observation in the next line is evidently applicable more especially to the three blooming young bachelor brothers of the willful little maid : —

“ They are desirous always of having the newwashed garments
When to the dance they go. Of all this in my mind am I thoughtful.”
Thus did she speak, for she shamed her, fruitful marriage to mention.

This omission is, however, by no means the only variation between the words of Pallas and those of Nausicaa. The girl’s quick wit and ingenuity are abundantly indicated in this seemingly artless speech. Her innocent craft in leaving her chief motive unuttered does not trouble her indulgent parent.

Yet understanding all this her affectionate father made answer:
“ Neither the mules, my daughter, nor anything else do I grudge thee,”

So, in obedience to the king’s command, the mule-team is at once harnessed in the courtyard of the palace.

Meantime, the maiden brought from the chamber the shining garments.
These on the polished wagon she carefully placed, and the mother
Put in a basket food of all kinds, suiting her wishes.
Dainties as well she packed, and into a bottle of goat-skin
Poured some wine; and the maiden had meanwhile mounted the wagon.
Liquid olive-oil in a golden vial she gave her,
After the bath to anoint herself and the women attendants.
Into her hands then the whip and the reins all shining she gathered,
Scourged them to run, and loud was the sound of the clattering mule-hoofs.
They unceasingly hastened, and carried the maid with the garments;
Yet not alone, but with her there followed the women attendants.

Though the goddess Athene has interfered in person to control the action of the princess, yet the train of events just described is so naturally and vividly drawn out, the meeting which is evidently to be brought about is being prepared so easily and credibly, that we ourselves seem to be glancing in eager expectation from the exhausted hero, asleep in the thicket, to the bright-eyed charioteer, followed by her troop of merry companions, as she approaches the river-mouth.

When they now had arrived at the beautiful stream of the river, —
Where were the pools unfailing, and clear and abundant the water
Gushed from beneath, sufficient fur cleansing the foulest of raiment, —
There did the girls unharness the mules from under the wagon.
Then they drove them to graze by the side of the eddying river,
Cropping the fragrant clover. But they themselves from the wagon
Took in their arms the garments, and carried them into the water,
Trod them there in the pits, — commencing a rivalry straightway.

What could be more realistic than this girlish determination to make a frolic even of the most wearisome drudgery ?

Then, when they had washed and cleansed completely the garments,
Spread them in order along by the beach of the sea, where the billow,
Dashing against the shore most strongly, was washing the pebbles.
When they had bathed and anointed themselves with the oil of the olive,
Then by the bank of the river the noonday meal they provided,
Waiting until their clothes should dry in the glow of the sunshine.
Presently, when they were sated with eating, the maids and the princess
Started a game of ball, first laying aside their head-dress.

The elaborate comparison of Nausicaa to Artemis, which follows, will be familiar to most readers through the close imitation, or rather translation, of it by Virgil, who applies it, with less fitness, to Dido.

Foremost in songand in dance white-armed Nausicaa led them,
Even as Artemis passes, the huntress, over the mountains,
She who in chasing the boar or the Meet deer taketh her pastime;
With her the nymphs, the daughters of Zeus, who is lord of the segis,
Woodland-dwellers, are sporting; and Leto rejoices in spirit ;
Loftily over them all her head and brow she upraises.
AU are beautiful there, yet she is easily foremost.
So in the midst of her girls was supreme that maiden onwedded.

The poet now again mentions Pallas, and describes her as intervening once more at this point to control the course of events in Odysseus’ interest. This passing reminder of thedens ex machina does not, however, prevent the simple idyllic plot from unraveling itself in a most natural and unforced manner.

Then did the princess throw their ball at oue of the handmaids.
Yet she missed the girl, and it fell in the eddying river.
So they screamed full loudly: — and godlike Odysseus was wakened.
Sat upright, and pondered within his heart and his spirit:
Woe is me ! What mortals are these whose land I have entered ?
Are they lawless, I wonder, and savage, regardless of justice ?
Or are they kind unto strangers, and revTent the spirit within them ?
Surely a womanish cry, as of maidens, resounded about me.
Nymphs, it may be, that dwell on the cragged peaks of the mountains,
that live in the sources of rivers and grassy morasses.
Or am I near, perchance, unto human language and mortals ?
Come, now, let me myself make trial thereof, and behold them.”
Having thus spoken, the godlike Odysseus crept from the bushes ;
Yet with his powerful hand he broke off a branch in the thicket,
Covered with foliage, to hide his nakedness, screening his body.

The comparison of Odysseus to a hungry lion leaving his covert, which occurs here, may be omitted; its chief value being to illustrate the indebtedness of the poet who composed the Odyssey to the older Iliad. The figure is much more effective, as originally employed, in describing Sarpedon rushing eagerly to battle.

Loathsome to them he appeared, by the brine of the sea disfigured.
Hither and thither they fled to the jutting points of the shorelaud.
Only Alkinobs? daughter remained ; for Athene imparted
Courage into her heart, and conquered the terror within her.

Under the circumstances, Odysseus did not venture to approach and clasp the princess’ knees, — the regular attitude for a suppliant to assume, — but, standing aloof from her, he

Straightway uttered to her a speech that was winning and crafty, —

an art in which he was above all men a master.

“I am thy suppliant, princess ! Art thou some god or a mortal ?
If thou art one of the gods that have their abode in the heavens,
Unto Artemis, child of imperial Zeus, do I deem thee
Likest in beauty of face, as well as in stature and bearing.
But if of mortals thou ‘rt one, that have on the earth their abiding,
Trebly blessèd in thee are thy father and reverend mother,
Trebly blessèd thy brethren; and surely the spirit within them
Glows evermore with delight for thy sake when they behold thee
Entering into the dance, who art so lovely a blossom.
Happy in heart is he, moreover, above all others,
Who by gifts shall prevail, and unto his dwelling shall lead thee.
Never before with mine eyes have I beheld such a mortal,
Whether a woman or man. As I gaze, awe seizes upon me !”
Casting about in his mind for a comparison, he can only liken her to a graceful young palm-tree which he had once seen at Delos, beside Apollo’s altar. The passage is of interest for two quite distinct reasons. It shows that in the poet’s day, at any rate, the island-sanctuary of Apollo was already noted, and visited by voyagers from other Greek lands; and also that the palm-tree was then a rare and much-admired novelty in the Ægean. With a brief reference to his latest voyage, in which it may be noted that he makes no allusion to the gracious creatures of her own sex who had cherished or aided him, he continues : —
“ Yet have mercy, O queen ! After suffering many disasters,
First unto thee am I come. I know not one of the others
Whoso make their home within this city or country.
But do thou show me the town, and give me some tattered garment,
If perchance when thou camest some Wrap thou hadst for the linen.”

But close upon this most humble request and almost extravagant self-abasement, the unknown wanderer ends his appeal with noble and pathetic words.

“So may the gods accord thee whatever in spirit thou cravest:
Husband and home may they grant, and glorious harmony also.
Since there is nothing, in truth, more mighty than this, or more noble,
When two dwell in a home concordant in spirit together,
Husband and wife : unto foes a source of many vexations,
Joy to their friends; yet they themselves most truly shall know it! ”

Either the compliments at the beginning of this speech, or the tender sentiments at the close, have already produced a powerful effect upon the heart of the gentle princess.

Then unto him in her turn white-armed Nausicaa answered:
“ Stranger, thou dost not seem an ignoble man, nor a senseless;
Zeus, the Olympian, himself apportions their blessings to mortals,
Both to the base and the noble, to each as suiteth his pleasure;
This hath he laid upon thee, and thou must in patience endure it.
Yet now, since thou into our state art entered, and country,
Neither of raiment shalt thou be in lack, nor of aught whatsoever
Is for a hard-pressed suppliant, meeting with succor, befitting.
Yes, and the town I will show thee, and tell thee the name of the people.
’T is the Phæacians who dwell in this our city and country.
I myself am the child of Alkinoös, lofty of spirit,
On whom all the Phæacians’ dominion and force are dependent.”

Then turning aside from him, the princess recalls the fugitive maidens.

“Stay, my attendants! Why at beholding a man are ye fleeing ?
Did ye suppose him, perchance, to be of a hostile nation ?
Surely no man is alive, nor shall he be living hereafter,
Who would venture to enter the land of the men of Phæacia
Offering harm ; for we of the gods are dearly belovèd.
Out of the way, too, we dwell, in the midst of the billowy waters.
Farthest of all mankind ; no others have dealings among us.
Nay, this is some ill-fated man come wandering hither,
Whom we must care for now, because all strangers and beggars
Stand in the charge of Zeus, and a gift, though little, is welcome.
Come, then, give both drink and food to the stranger, and bid him
Bathe in the stream, my attendants, where from the wind there is shelter.”

Odysseus is accordingly provided with robe and tunic and the vial of olive-oil. After he has bathed and anointed himself, Pallas Athene makes him far statelier and more beautiful than before. So, as he sits resting a little apart, Nausicaa addresses her companions with truly Homeric frankness.

“ Listen to me, my white-armed maids, that I something may tell you.
Not without the approval of all the gods in Olympos
Hath this man come hither, among the Phæacians, the godlike.
’T is but a brief while since that I really thought him uncomely.
Now is he like to the gods who abide in the open heavens.
Would that such an one as he could be called my husband,
Having his dwelling here and contented among us to tarry ! ”

It will be interesting to set here, for comparison, a few lines from the greatest of living poets, who long ago, introducing his earliest Arthurian verses as

“ Weak Homeric echoes, nothing worth,”

intimated thereby his own consciousness of a kinship in spirit which many of his readers have recognized.

“Marr’d as he was, he seem’d the goodliest man
That ever among ladies ate in hall,
And noblest, when she lifted up her eyes.
However marr’d, of more than twice her Years,
Seam’d with an ancient sword-cut on his cheek,
And bruised and bronzed, she lifted up her eyes
And loved him, with that love that was her doom.”

Nausicaa again orders that food and drink be set before the stranger, and the poet records that he ate ravenously; adding apologetically that he

long from food had been fasting.

A vigorous appetite is a constant characteristic of Odysseus in the Iliad and Odyssey. On one occasion, in the former tale, he is employed on arduous enterprises nearly all night, and a careful reader, if not absorbed in the loftier features of the poem, may note that thrice between sunset and morning he accepts an invitation to a hearty meal, and apparently on each occasion does full justice to the cheer. This thoroughly human trait has not escaped the attention of the poet who invented this Phæacian episode, and who certainly was in little danger of erring in the direction of excessive dignity and seriousness. When Odysseus, despite this breaking of his fast, makes a pathetic appeal for food to Nausicaa’s parents, a few hours later, it is in words whose extravagance is carried to the verge of grotesqueness. Among the heroes of the mythic age, perhaps Heracles only is more notable as a valiant trencher-knight.

Nausicaa now makes preparations for her return homeward, and, having mounted the wagon, she thus addresses Odysseus: —

“ Stranger, arise, and townward fare, that I may conduct thee
Unto the house of my wise father, in which I assure thee
Thou shalt behold whosoever are noblest of all the Phæacians.
Yet thou must do as I say : thou seem’st not lacking in shrewdness.
While we are passing along by the fields and the farms of our people,
So far among my maids, close after the mules and the wagon
Thou mayst come, with speed, and I will be guide on the journey.
But as we come to the town, round which is a high-built rampart,
And upon either side of the city a beautiful harbor ” —

Nausicaa runs off into an admiring description of her home, until she is even guilty of forgetting the main clause of her original sentence ! It appears that the narrow road over the isthmus into the town is the favorite resort of idlers, whose discourteous remarks the princess dreads to face in Odysseus’ company. With quick fancy she imagines what they would say : —

“ ‘ Who is yon stranger who follows Nausicaa ?
Handsome and stately
Is he. Where did she find him ? She ’ll have him herself for her husband !
Either she rescued him as a castaway out of his vessel,
One of a far-off people, — since none there are who are near us, —
Or some god much prayed for is down from the heavens descended
At her petition, and he for his wife shall have her forever.
So is it better, if she has gone and found her a husband
Out of another land, for these of her folk, the Phæacians,
She disdains, though many and excellent men are her suitors.’ ”

Lest we should fancy the last words to be a mere fiction of Nausicaa to raise herself in the handsome stranger’s esteem, the poet has taken care to put the same assertion, in somewhat stronger form, into the mouth of Pallas Athene, when she appears in the night to the princess, at the opening of the sixth book.

“ So would they talk, and for me it would be a disgrace ! — and I also
Should with another girl be angry, whoever so acted ;
Who, in spite of her friends, while her father and mother were living,
Mingled freely with men, ere yet she was publicly wedded.”

It is quite possible that these very proper remarks of the king’s daughter, on the duty of maidenly modesty, are prompted in part by the consciousness that her own innocent loquacity has just carried her somewhat too far.

“ Stranger, and thou must now to my words give attention, that quickly
Thou mayst obtain safe-conduct, and homeward return, from my father.
Near to the road thou wilt notice a beautiful grove of Athene, —
Poplars: within it a fountain flows, and a meadow surrounds it.
There my father’s domain is found, and his fruitful inclosure.”

Here, then, outside the town, Odysseus is to remain behind until the girls have had time to reach home. Then he also may pass into the city, where he will have no difficulty in finding the palace, so inferior are the ordinary Phæacian houses to the stately abode of Alkinoös.

“ But so soon as the hero’s dwelling and courtyard receive thee
Make thy way at once through the hall, till thou come to my mother.
She has her seat at the side of the hearth, in the gleam of the firelight,
Spinning her yarn, sea-purple in color, a marvel to look on, —
Leaning on one of the columns. Her handmaids are seated behind her.”

The unwearied diligence of Arete, the queen, whom Odysseus will find at dusk employed as her daughter had left her in the early morning, may well remind us of Priscilla, the Puritan maiden, and Bertha, the beautiful spinner.

“ On that selfsame pillar my father’s chair is resting.
There he sits, and like an immortal his wine he is quaffing.
Yet thou must pass him by, and unto the knees of my mother
Stretch thy hands, that thou mayst behold thy day of returning
Quickly and joyfully, though thy land is exceedingly distant.”

The keen-witted little princess has already discovered who is the real ruler in cabin and hall.

The sun is setting when they reach the sacred grove of Pallas, where Odysseus obediently tarries behind, and makes a fervent prayer to the goddess of the sanctuary. Here the sixth book closes.

From the seventh book, which describes the reception of Odysseus in the palace, we can cull only a few of the opening lines.

There did he make his prayer, the godlike, enduring Odysseus,
While on her way to the city the strong mules carried the maiden.
When she now had arrived at her father’s glorious palace,
There at the doorway she cheeked them.
Around her were gathered her brothers,
— Like unto gods were they to behold. — and they from the wagon
Straightway unharnessed the mules, and carried the raiment within doors.
She to her chamber passed, where an ancient dame from Apeira
Lighted a fire for her, — her servant Eurymedoussa ;
. . . Lighted a fire in her room, and there made ready her supper.

So Nausicaa slips quietly out of the story. Only once more do we have a glimpse of her. Odysseus meets with the kindly reception which she had promised him. All the next day he is entertained with athletic contests, dancing, and the harper’s lay. The story of this day fills the eighth book. At nightfall, after a luxurious bath, he is descending to the banquet-hall.

But Nausicaa, who by the gods was gifted with beauty,
There in the well-built hall at the side of a pillar was standing.
On Odysseus gazed she with wonder when she beheld him ;
Then these wingöd words she uttered to him and addressed him :
“ Farewell, stranger ! And in thy native country hereafter
Think of me, unto whom thou first for thy life art indebted.”
Thus did the crafty Odysseus address her then and responded :
“O Nausicaa, noble - hearted Alkinoös’ daughter,
Verily so may Zeus, the Thunderer, husband of Herè,
Grant that I come to my home, and behold my day of returning,
As, even there, unto thee as a god I would pay my devotions,
All my days, evermore ; for my life thou hast rescued, O maiden.”

The epithet “ crafty ” is the usual one of Odysseus, and need have no reference to the situation at the moment. But surely it is a proof of consummate skill, as well as of the highest courtesy, when he thus, with magnificent hyperbole, in his hasty words of final farewell, elevates to the position of a goddess, or of a patron saint as it were, the pure-hearted girl who had so frankly intimated her desire to retain him in a closer relation. What other parting words could have done so much to heal the hurt and save her pride ? Tennyson could devise none, but must needs let even courtly Lancelot ride sadly away without farewell.

“This was the one discourtesy that he used.”

And so Odysseus and Nausicaa part ; for not even in merry Phæacia does the Greek poet venture to let his women mingle with the men in the banquet-hall.

Of the hero’s later fortunes all the world knows. At the banquet, the minstrel, singing of the siege of Troy, stirs the unknown guest to tears, and, being courteously questioned by his host, Odysseus reveals his name, the most illustrious of all who survived the fatal strife in the Scamandrian plain. The next four books of the poem, from the ninth to the twelfth, contain his account of former wanderings on the homeward voyage from the Troad. After another day spent in feasting and in listening to the harper Demodocos, he is permitted at nightfall to embark for home. He straightway falls into a deep sleep, and is still slumbering heavily when the Phæacians set him ashore, with many precious gifts, upon a remote corner of his own rugged Ithaca.

The last twelve books of the poem relate how, by craft and valor, he won his throne and wife again. Later poets, of every age and speech, have attempted to weave still farther the web of his adventurous life. In one of the most beautiful cantos of the Inferno, he himself tells the tale of his last voyage and death, and Tennyson’s poem Ulysses is so perfect in form and so touching in thought as to make us willingly forget, with the poet, that Odysseus’ faithful comrades,

“ Who ever with a frolic welcome took
The storm and sunshine.”

had all perished on the way, before the hero came again to his own.

But of Nausicaa the Odyssey has not another word to tell; and what later singer might venture to bid her live even a single day more ?

“ Ah, who shall lift that wand of magic power,
Or the lost clue regain ? ” 3

It has been intimated more than once already that the translator sees, or fancies he sees, a clear though purely accidental resemblance between the stories of Nausicaa and of the lily maid of Astolat. Each loves at first sight the most illustrious hero of her day, when he comes, unknown and unaccompanied, to her home. Each saves the life of the stranger, and proffers him a pure maidenly love which he cannot return. Even the circumstances of the good knight’s final departure are not wholly unlike in the two tales; for when Odysseus, embarking for home, bids a grateful and loving farewell to his hosts, he does not venture to mention Nausicaa by name, and it is not certain that she was present. The wanderer’s last words are addressed to Arete, the queen, invoking a blessing on her household and her folk.

And yet, surely no one would be tempted to press the parallel farther, and to fancy that the Phæacian maid pined away, like Elaine, for love of her lost hero. When, at the banquet, the night before his departure, the shipwrecked stranger revealed himself as Odysseus, far famed above all men, the destroyer of Ilios, the exciting news doubtless spread through the servants’ hall to the women’s rooms, and faithful old Eurymedousa brought the tidings, perchance, even to the sequestered chamber of the princess. Nausicaa’s heart may have stirred with pride to think that so long as the strange story of the crafty Ithacan’s life should be told or sung, in after-days, she would always live in one of its brightest scenes ; but the husband of heedful Penelope, the father of Telemachos, must quickly have lost the power over her heart which the unknown suppliant had so easily gained. If Telemachos’ wanderings had brought him to that sunny Scherian beach — But let us cast no tempting suggestion in the path of any too audacious nineteenth-century would-be Homerid ! Indeed, this same happy solution occurred to the mind of a later Hellenic poet.

And the moral ? It has been uttered already in memorable words. There was a learned but inconclusive discussion in a famous weekly journal, not long ago, whether it was a pagan sage or a Christian saint who coined the aphorism, “ Maledicti qui ante nos nostra dixerunt.” (Confusion to those who have said our good things before us.) It matters little, however, which invented the phrase, for the sentiment is one of which the church father or the heathen philosopher alike should have been ashamed. What has really never been said had better not be said, because it is presumably false ; and we never lose the privilege of trying to utter the old thought better than all others have done, and so making it our own. But, more than that, one of the greatest debts we owe to our predecessors is their simple, adequate utterance of great and inspiring truths, in such impressive form that they pass current like perfect and indestructible coin, making every generation of common men so much the richer by each philosophic maxim or golden poetic phrase.

And certainly, it was only with delight that the translator, just as he was about to undertake the present sketch, welcomed in these pages a little lay sermon on the tale of Nausicaa,4 so brief and graceful, so full and suggestive, that it would be presumptuous indeed to add thereto, or even to attempt a summary of the essay in question. It may be permitted, however, to call attention to a single sentence in that paper : “ I am not recalling it ” (the story of Nausicaa) “because it is a conspicuous instance of the true realism that is touched with the ideality of genius, which is the immortal element in literature, but as an illustration of the other necessary quality in all productions of the human mind that remain age after age, and that is simplicity.” It is greatly to he hoped that we may yet have from the same hand that other lesson which is thus given only passing mention; for the essayist is evidently in agreement with us that Nausicaa is as happy an example as could well be found, not only of the essential simplicity of the greatest artistic creations, but of the other indispensable requirements, truthfulness and beauty ; or, as he apparently prefers to combine the two in one, truthfulness to the beautiful side of humanity or nature, which is infinitely more real and eternal than ugliness and imperfection.

The episode of Nausicaa was not written, like Bekker’s Charicles, to illustrate the every-day life of the ancient Greeks. It cannot be used as evidence regarding the frequency of washing-days in the Homeric age. It is no proof that Hellenic princesses went picnicking in remote spots, unprotected and unchaperoned. It is a romance. The whole Phæacian episode is inextricably intertwined with marvelous and superhuman incidents and characters. But it is true, nevertheless, — true to the essential laws of art and of humanity. And therefore of Nausicaa, as of Rosalind, of Perdita, or of Miranda, it may well be said, “ Who, pray, is alive, if she be dead ? ”

William Cranston Lawton.

  1. It will be seen that the writer declines to accept the identification of Corcyra, the modern Corfu, with Scheria. In this skepticism he is emboldened by the protecting shield of the Ajax among English-speaking Hellenists. See Jebb’s Homer, page 46.
  2. A more exact rendering would be “Papa, dear;” the term of endearment being identical in Greek and English, as in many other languages. Professor Merriam, in his most excellent edition of this portion of the Odyssey, The Phæacians of Homer, quotes Pope’s rendering of this line, as a striking example of that translator’s method in dealing with his original: —
  3. One Attic drama may indeed have included among its characters a Nausicaa, drawn by a not unworthy hand. We are told that when Sophocles’ play The Phfeacians was acted, the poet broke through his usual custom and himself appeared as an actor, winning much applause, especially by his beauty and grace in the dancing and rhythmic ball-play. This latter allusion, however, is probably not to the maidens’ diversion on the beach, but rather to a dance of youths, with which Odysseus was entertained on the following’ day.
  4. Simplicity, by Charles Dudley Warner. The Atlantic Monthly, March, 1889.