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A Poem by Homer : The Odyssey : Book Six


The Odyssey: Book 6

So here Ulysses slept, overcome by sleep and toil; but Minerva
went off to the country and city of the Phaecians- a people who used
to live in the fair town of Hypereia, near the lawless Cyclopes. Now
the Cyclopes were stronger than they and plundered them, so their king
Nausithous moved them thence and settled them in Scheria, far from all
other people. He surrounded the city with a wall, built houses and
temples, and divided the lands among his people; but he was dead and
gone to the house of Hades, and King Alcinous, whose counsels were
inspired of heaven, was now reigning. To his house, then, did
Minerva hie in furtherance of the return of Ulysses.
She went straight to the beautifully decorated bedroom in which
there slept a girl who was as lovely as a goddess, Nausicaa,
daughter to King Alcinous. Two maid servants were sleeping near her,
both very pretty, one on either side of the doorway, which was
closed with well-made folding doors. Minerva took the form of the
famous sea captain Dymas’s daughter, who was a bosom friend of
Nausicaa and just her own age; then, coming up to the girl’s bedside
like a breath of wind, she hovered over her head and said:
“Nausicaa, what can your mother have been about, to have such a lazy
daughter? Here are your clothes all lying in disorder, yet you are
going to be married almost immediately, and should not only be well
dressed yourself, but should find good clothes for those who attend
you. This is the way to get yourself a good name, and to make your
father and mother proud of you. Suppose, then, that we make tomorrow a
washing day, and start at daybreak. I will come and help you so that
you may have everything ready as soon as possible, for all the best
young men among your own people are courting you, and you are not
going to remain a maid much longer. Ask your father, therefore, to
have a waggon and mules ready for us at daybreak, to take the rugs,
robes, and girdles; and you can ride, too, which will be much
pleasanter for you than walking, for the washing-cisterns are some way
from the town.”
When she had said this Minerva went away to Olympus, which they
say is the everlasting home of the gods. Here no wind beats roughly,
and neither rain nor snow can fall; but it abides in everlasting
sunshine and in a great peacefulness of light, wherein the blessed
gods are illumined for ever and ever. This was the place to which
the goddess went when she had given instructions to the girl.
By and by morning came and woke Nausicaa, who began wondering
about her dream; she therefore went to the other end of the house to
tell her father and mother all about it, and found them in their own
room. Her mother was sitting by the fireside spinning her purple
yarn with her maids around her, and she happened to catch her father
just as he was going out to attend a meeting of the town council,
which the Phaeacian aldermen had convened. She stopped him and said:
“Papa dear, could you manage to let me have a good big waggon? I
want to take all our dirty clothes to the river and wash them. You are
the chief man here, so it is only right that you should have a clean
shirt when you attend meetings of the council. Moreover, you have five
sons at home, two of them married, while the other three are
good-looking bachelors; you know they always like to have clean
linen when they go to a dance, and I have been thinking about all
She did not say a word about her own wedding, for she did not like
to, but her father knew and said, “You shall have the mules, my
love, and whatever else you have a mind for. Be off with you, and
the men shall get you a good strong waggon with a body to it that will
hold all your clothes.”
On this he gave his orders to the servants, who got the waggon
out, harnessed the mules, and put them to, while the girl brought
the clothes down from the linen room and placed them on the waggon.
Her mother prepared her a basket of provisions with all sorts of
good things, and a goat skin full of wine; the girl now got into the
waggon, and her mother gave her also a golden cruse of oil, that she
and her women might anoint themselves. Then she took the whip and
reins and lashed the mules on, whereon they set off, and their hoofs
clattered on the road. They pulled without flagging, and carried not
only Nausicaa and her wash of clothes, but the maids also who were
with her.
When they reached the water side they went to the
washing-cisterns, through which there ran at all times enough pure
water to wash any quantity of linen, no matter how dirty. Here they
unharnessed the mules and turned them out to feed on the sweet juicy
herbage that grew by the water side. They took the clothes out of
the waggon, put them in the water, and vied with one another in
treading them in the pits to get the dirt out. After they had washed
them and got them quite clean, they laid them out by the sea side,
where the waves had raised a high beach of shingle, and set about
washing themselves and anointing themselves with olive oil. Then
they got their dinner by the side of the stream, and waited for the
sun to finish drying the clothes. When they had done dinner they threw
off the veils that covered their heads and began to play at ball,
while Nausicaa sang for them. As the huntress Diana goes forth upon
the mountains of Taygetus or Erymanthus to hunt wild boars or deer,
and the wood-nymphs, daughters of Aegis-bearing Jove, take their sport
along with her (then is Leto proud at seeing her daughter stand a full
head taller than the others, and eclipse the loveliest amid a whole
bevy of beauties), even so did the girl outshine her handmaids.
When it was time for them to start home, and they were folding the
clothes and putting them into the waggon, Minerva began to consider
how Ulysses should wake up and see the handsome girl who was to
conduct him to the city of the Phaeacians. The girl, therefore,
threw a ball at one of the maids, which missed her and fell into
deep water. On this they all shouted, and the noise they made woke
Ulysses, who sat up in his bed of leaves and began to wonder what it
might all be.
“Alas,” said he to himself, “what kind of people have I come
amongst? Are they cruel, savage, and uncivilized, or hospitable and
humane? I seem to hear the voices of young women, and they sound
like those of the nymphs that haunt mountain tops, or springs of
rivers and meadows of green grass. At any rate I am among a race of
men and women. Let me try if I cannot manage to get a look at them.”
As he said this he crept from under his bush, and broke off a
bough covered with thick leaves to hide his nakedness. He looked
like some lion of the wilderness that stalks about exulting in his
strength and defying both wind and rain; his eyes glare as he prowls
in quest of oxen, sheep, or deer, for he is famished, and will dare
break even into a well-fenced homestead, trying to get at the sheep-
even such did Ulysses seem to the young women, as he drew near to them
all naked as he was, for he was in great want. On seeing one so
unkempt and so begrimed with salt water, the others scampered off
along the spits that jutted out into the sea, but the daughter of
Alcinous stood firm, for Minerva put courage into her heart and took
away all fear from her. She stood right in front of Ulysses, and he
doubted whether he should go up to her, throw himself at her feet, and
embrace her knees as a suppliant, or stay where he was and entreat her
to give him some clothes and show him the way to the town. In the
end he deemed it best to entreat her from a distance in case the
girl should take offence at his coming near enough to clasp her knees,
so he addressed her in honeyed and persuasive language.
“O queen,” he said, “I implore your aid- but tell me, are you a
goddess or are you a mortal woman? If you are a goddess and dwell in
heaven, I can only conjecture that you are Jove’s daughter Diana,
for your face and figure resemble none but hers; if on the other
hand you are a mortal and live on earth, thrice happy are your
father and mother- thrice happy, too, are your brothers and sisters;
how proud and delighted they must feel when they see so fair a scion
as yourself going out to a dance; most happy, however, of all will
he be whose wedding gifts have been the richest, and who takes you
to his own home. I never yet saw any one so beautiful, neither man nor
woman, and am lost in admiration as I behold you. I can only compare
you to a young palm tree which I saw when I was at Delos growing
near the altar of Apollo- for I was there, too, with much people after
me, when I was on that journey which has been the source of all my
troubles. Never yet did such a young plant shoot out of the ground
as that was, and I admired and wondered at it exactly as I now
admire and wonder at yourself. I dare not clasp your knees, but I am
in great distress; yesterday made the twentieth day that I had been
tossing about upon the sea. The winds and waves have taken me all
the way from the Ogygian island, and now fate has flung me upon this
coast that I may endure still further suffering; for I do not think
that I have yet come to the end of it, but rather that heaven has
still much evil in store for me.
“And now, O queen, have pity upon me, for you are the first person I
have met, and I know no one else in this country. Show me the way to
your town, and let me have anything that you may have brought hither
to wrap your clothes in. May heaven grant you in all things your
heart’s desire- husband, house, and a happy, peaceful home; for
there is nothing better in this world than that man and wife should be
of one mind in a house. It discomfits their enemies, makes the
hearts of their friends glad, and they themselves know more about it
than any one.”
To this Nausicaa answered, “Stranger, you appear to be a sensible,
well-disposed person. There is no accounting for luck; Jove gives
prosperity to rich and poor just as he chooses, so you must take
what he has seen fit to send you, and make the best of it. Now,
however, that you have come to this our country, you shall not want
for clothes nor for anything else that a foreigner in distress may
reasonably look for. I will show you the way to the town, and will
tell you the name of our people; we are called Phaeacians, and I am
daughter to Alcinous, in whom the whole power of the state is vested.”
Then she called her maids and said, “Stay where you are, you
girls. Can you not see a man without running away from him? Do you
take him for a robber or a murderer? Neither he nor any one else can
come here to do us Phaeacians any harm, for we are dear to the gods,
and live apart on a land’s end that juts into the sounding sea, and
have nothing to do with any other people. This is only some poor man
who has lost his way, and we must be kind to him, for strangers and
foreigners in distress are under Jove’s protection, and will take what
they can get and be thankful; so, girls, give the poor fellow
something to eat and drink, and wash him in the stream at some place
that is sheltered from the wind.”
On this the maids left off running away and began calling one
another back. They made Ulysses sit down in the shelter as Nausicaa
had told them, and brought him a shirt and cloak. They also brought
him the little golden cruse of oil, and told him to go wash in the
stream. But Ulysses said, “Young women, please to stand a little on
one side that I may wash the brine from my shoulders and anoint myself
with oil, for it is long enough since my skin has had a drop of oil
upon it. I cannot wash as long as you all keep standing there. I am
ashamed to strip before a number of good-looking young women.”
Then they stood on one side and went to tell the girl, while Ulysses
washed himself in the stream and scrubbed the brine from his back
and from his broad shoulders. When he had thoroughly washed himself,
and had got the brine out of his hair, he anointed himself with oil,
and put on the clothes which the girl had given him; Minerva then made
him look taller and stronger than before, she also made the hair
grow thick on the top of his head, and flow down in curls like
hyacinth blossoms; she glorified him about the head and shoulders as a
skilful workman who has studied art of all kinds under Vulcan and
Minerva enriches a piece of silver plate by gilding it- and his work
is full of beauty. Then he went and sat down a little way off upon the
beach, looking quite young and handsome, and the girl gazed on him
with admiration; then she said to her maids:
“Hush, my dears, for I want to say something. I believe the gods who
live in heaven have sent this man to the Phaeacians. When I first
saw him I thought him plain, but now his appearance is like that of
the gods who dwell in heaven. I should like my future husband to be
just such another as he is, if he would only stay here and not want to
go away. However, give him something to eat and drink.”
They did as they were told, and set food before Ulysses, who ate and
drank ravenously, for it was long since he had had food of any kind.
Meanwhile, Nausicaa bethought her of another matter. She got the linen
folded and placed in the waggon, she then yoked the mules, and, as she
took her seat, she called Ulysses:
“Stranger,” said she, “rise and let us be going back to the town;
I will introduce you at the house of my excellent father, where I
can tell you that you will meet all the best people among the
Phaecians. But be sure and do as I bid you, for you seem to be a
sensible person. As long as we are going past the fields- and farm
lands, follow briskly behind the waggon along with the maids and I
will lead the way myself. Presently, however, we shall come to the
town, where you will find a high wall running all round it, and a good
harbour on either side with a narrow entrance into the city, and the
ships will be drawn up by the road side, for every one has a place
where his own ship can lie. You will see the market place with a
temple of Neptune in the middle of it, and paved with large stones
bedded in the earth. Here people deal in ship’s gear of all kinds,
such as cables and sails, and here, too, are the places where oars are
made, for the Phaeacians are not a nation of archers; they know
nothing about bows and arrows, but are a sea-faring folk, and pride
themselves on their masts, oars, and ships, with which they travel far
over the sea.
“I am afraid of the gossip and scandal that may be set on foot
against me later on; for the people here are very ill-natured, and
some low fellow, if he met us, might say, ‘Who is this fine-looking
stranger that is going about with Nausicaa? Where did she End him? I
suppose she is going to marry him. Perhaps he is a vagabond sailor
whom she has taken from some foreign vessel, for we have no
neighbours; or some god has at last come down from heaven in answer to
her prayers, and she is going to live with him all the rest of her
life. It would be a good thing if she would take herself of I for sh
and find a husband somewhere else, for she will not look at one of the
many excellent young Phaeacians who are in with her.’ This is the kind
of disparaging remark that would be made about me, and I could not
complain, for I should myself be scandalized at seeing any other
girl do the like, and go about with men in spite of everybody, while
her father and mother were still alive, and without having been
married in the face of all the world.
“If, therefore, you want my father to give you an escort and to help
you home, do as I bid you; you will see a beautiful grove of poplars
by the road side dedicated to Minerva; it has a well in it and a
meadow all round it. Here my father has a field of rich garden ground,
about as far from the town as a man’ voice will carry. Sit down
there and wait for a while till the rest of us can get into the town
and reach my father’s house. Then, when you think we must have done
this, come into the town and ask the way to the house of my father
Alcinous. You will have no difficulty in finding it; any child will
point it out to you, for no one else in the whole town has anything
like such a fine house as he has. When you have got past the gates and
through the outer court, go right across the inner court till you come
to my mother. You will find her sitting by the fire and spinning her
purple wool by firelight. It is a fine sight to see her as she leans
back against one of the bearing-posts with her maids all ranged behind
her. Close to her seat stands that of my father, on which he sits
and topes like an immortal god. Never mind him, but go up to my
mother, and lay your hands upon her knees if you would get home
quickly. If you can gain her over, you may hope to see your own
country again, no matter how distant it may be.”
So saying she lashed the mules with her whip and they left the
river. The mules drew well and their hoofs went up and down upon the
road. She was careful not to go too fast for Ulysses and the maids who
were following on foot along with the waggon, so she plied her whip
with judgement. As the sun was going down they came to the sacred
grove of Minerva, and there Ulysses sat down and prayed to the
mighty daughter of Jove.
“Hear me,” he cried, “daughter of Aegis-bearing Jove, unweariable,
hear me now, for you gave no heed to my prayers when Neptune was
wrecking me. Now, therefore, have pity upon me and grant that I may
find friends and be hospitably received by the Phaecians.”
Thus did he pray, and Minerva heard his prayer, but she would not
show herself to him openly, for she was afraid of her uncle Neptune,
who was still furious in his endeavors to prevent Ulysses from getting

Translated by Samuel Butler






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