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Book 6

The Odyssey – Book 6 Nausicaa (Context)


·        Athene enters the city where Odysseus has crash landed and heads to the bedroom of the princess Nausicaa

·        She takes the form of the princess’s friend and enters her dream, explaining that it’s time for her to consider marriage. She urges the princess to go to the streams and wash her wedding linens

·        In the morning, Nausicaa asks her father to borrow the mule-cart to take her laundry to the streams

·        When her party arrives, they wash their clothes and play around the shore

·        Nausicaa is so beautiful that she is compared to the goddess Artemis

·        The girl’s shouting wakes Odysseus and he gets up to see who it is

·        The girls scatter after seeing Odysseus naked, expect from Nausicaa, who remains because Athene has given her courage

·        Odysseus considers whether he should fall and hug her knees or use his eloquent speech to convince her that he needs some help

·        Odysseus decides that a big naked man hugging a pretty virgin’s knees is probably the wrong way to go, and so he uses his influence through speech instead

·        He praises her beauty, tells her his situation, and effectively begs for her aid

·        Nausicaa is touched by his story and wants to be of service. She calls her maids out of hiding to help him bathe

·        Odysseus begs to be alone – he doesn’t want to offend the young girls

·        When he’s done, he puts on some clothes that Nausicaa game him and Athene gifts him with good looks

·        Nausicaa tells her maids that she wants ot marry a man who looks like Odysseus

·        Nausicaa gives Odysseus directions to the palace, where he can meet the rest of the Phaeacians

·        Nausicaa tells Odysseus about her people

·        She then tells Odysseus to follow her train of accompanying servant-folk ito town and ignore the crude remarks of the seamen they will pass on the way

·        When they get to town, she says he should wait in the garden while she goes inside

·        Then when the time is right, he should come inside, find her mother the Queen, and hug her knees while he begs for mercy

·        Now that Nausicaa has laid out the plans, everyone follows them

·        While Odysseus waits in the gardens, he prays to Athene for luck

·        Athene hears him


Odysseus’ Speech to Nausicaa

In Odysseus’ speech, it is vital that he wins Nausicaa’s trust and obtains her help. Homer tells us that the way in which he addresses her is “courteous and full of subtlety”. In the speech, he demonstrates the skills of fluent speaking and persuasion for which he is famous, and shows an impressive grasp of Nausicaa psychology (even though he has only just met her):


1.      He compares her to the virgin goddess Artemis (showing that he has sized up her status as an unmarried girl)

2.      He says her parents & brothers are fortunate to have such a daughter/sister (a compliment to her and her relatives)

3.      Her future husband will be most fortunate of all (showing that he realises that she is of an age when she might expect to marry soon, and that she is probably fantasising about her future husband)

4.      He calls her “princess” – an educated guess? In Homer, though, royalty look like royalty – he can tell that she is royal because of her “superior” looks and demeanour compared to that of her “common” maids

Establishes His Own Credentials

1.      Compares her to a beautiful young palm-tree on the island of Delos (Apollo’s sanctuary) – this enables him to casually mention that he has been there (and is therefore well travelled) and that he was there “with a fine army” at his back (so he isn’t a nobody, but a commander of men)

Seeks Sympathy

1.      He says that he has been at sea for 19 days, buffeted by storms, before reaching her country

Continues to Establish His Credentials

1.      The gods have given him a hard time, and they have plenty more in store for him (but this still implies that he is significant enough for the gods to concern themselves with him – the gods don’t concern themselves with losers and nobodies)

Humility and Xenia

2.      He seeks her help, as a stranger in her land (thus deserving of xenia)

3.      He asks for some rags, or scraps of cloth to wear (thus showing that he feels embarrassed about being naked, but that he is humble enough not to expect any expensive clothes)

4.      He prays on her behalf (thus showing he is pious and god-fearing man) for a husband, a home and a good reputation (thus correctly guessing that these are the three things she most aspires to)

It works! Nausicaa says, “Your manners show you are not a bad man or a fool”