HOMER: The Odyssey [Book VI]

In Book VI of Homer’s Odyssey, Minerva devises a plan to help Odysseus leave the island on which he is now stranded. In a dream, the goddess appears to Nausicaa, the daughter of the island’s King, and urges her to clean her linen in the river the following morning. Nausicaa awakens the following morning, and heeds the goddess’ commands. Along with several of her handmaidens, she travels to the river where she cleans her garments.

While Nausicaa and her handmaidens wait for the sun to dry the clothes, Odysseus approaches them from the woods. He tells Nausicaa the story of his shipwreck. Nausicaa comforts him, and offers her aid. She advises him to address her father and mother, the king and queen of the island. Odysseus resolves to do so, and he follows her into the city.

To Odysseus, Nausicaa is yet another temptation to stray from his marriage. She is beautiful, she is the daughter of the island’s king, and she expresses to her handmaidens that she would be overjoyed if a man like Odysseus were to become her husband. Despite the promising opportunity that Nausicaa represents, Odysseus remains faithful to Penelope and remarks that “there is nothing better in this world than that man and wife, united in spirit, should share a home. They bring much grief to their enemies, happiness to their friends, and above all they themselves have good repute.”

Besides fulfilling the role as temptress, Nausicaa reiterates the primary message of the epic – “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.” Homer’s decision to have Nausicaa utter these wise words is deliberate. Throughout the Odyssey, Homer emphasizes that women are just as intelligent and capable of virtue as men are – a radical notion during his time.

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