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CHAPTER VII. NAUSICAA

[Footnote: Nau-sic'-a-a.]

Meanwhile Athene went to the city of Phaeacians, to the palace of Alcinous [Footnote: Al-cin'-o-us.], their King. There she betook her to the chamber where slept Nausicaa, daughter of the King, a maiden fair as are the gods. The goddess stood above the maiden, in the likeness of a girl that was of equal age with her, and had found favour in her sight.

Athene spake, saying: “Why hath thy mother so careless a child, Nausicaa? Lo! thy raiment lieth unwashed, and yet the day of thy marriage is at hand, when thou must have fair clothing for thyself, and to give to them that shall lead thee to thy bridegroom's house; for thus doth a bride win good repute. Do thou therefore arise with the day, and go to wash the raiment, and I will go with thee. Ask thy father betimes in the morning to give thee mules and a wagon to carry the raiment and the robes. Also it is more becoming for thee to ride than to go on foot, for the washing places are far from the city.”

And when the morning was come, Nausicaa awoke, marvelling at the dream, and went seeking her parents. Her mother she found busy with her maidens at the loom, spinning yarn dyed with purple of the sea, and her father she met as he was going to the council with the chiefs of the land. Then she said: “Give me, father, the wagon with the mules, that I may take the garments to the river to wash them. Thou shouldest always have clean robes when thou goest to the council; and there are my five brothers also, who love to have newly washed garments at the dance.”

But of her own marriage she said nothing. And her father, knowing her thoughts, said: “I grudge thee not, dear child, the mules or aught else. The men shall harness for thee a wagon with strong wheels and fitted also with a frame.”

Then he called to the men, and they made ready the wagon, and harnessed the mules; and the maiden brought the raiment out of her chamber, and put it in the wagon. Also her mother filled a basket with all manner of food, and poured wine in a goat-skin bottle. Olive oil also she gave her, that Nausicaa and her maidens might anoint themselves after the bath. And Nausicaa took the reins, and touched the mules with the whip. Then was there a clatter of hoofs, and the mules went on with their load, nor did they grow weary.

When they came to the river, where was water enough for the washing of raiment, the maidens loosed the mules from the chariot, and set them free to graze in the sweet clover by the river-bank. Then they took the raiment from the wagon, and bare it to the river, and trod it in the trenches. And when they had cleansed all the garments, they laid them on the shore of the sea, where the waves had washed the pebbles clean. After that they bathed, and anointed themselves; and then they sat down to eat and drink by the river-side; and after the meal they played at ball, singing as they played, and Nausicaa led the song. And Nausicaa was fairer than all the maidens. And when they had ended their play, and were yoking the mules, and folding up the raiment, then Athene contrived that the princess, throwing the ball to one of her maidens, cast it so wide that it fell into the river. Thereupon they all cried aloud, and Ulysses awoke. And he said to himself: “What is this land to which I have come? Are they that dwell therein fierce or kind to strangers? Just now I seemed to hear the voice of nymphs [Footnote: nymphs, spirits of the woods and waters], or am I near the dwellings of men?”

Then he twisted a leafy bough about his loins, and rose up and went towards the maidens, who were frightened to see him (for he was wild-looking), and fled hither and thither. But Nausicaa stood and fled not. Then Ulysses cried, saying:—

“O Queen, whether thou art a goddess, I know not. But if thou art a mortal, happy are thy father and mother, and happy thy brothers, and happiest of all he who shall win thee in marriage. Never have I seen man or woman so fair. Thou art like a young palm tree that but lately I saw springing by the temple of the god. But as for me, I have been cast on this shore, having come from the island of Ogygia. Pity me, then, and lead me to the city, and give me something, a wrapper of this linen, maybe, to put about me. So may the gods give thee all blessings!”

And Nausicaa made answer: “Thou seemest, stranger, to be neither evil nor foolish. Thou shalt not lack clothing or food, and I will take thee to the city. Know also that this land is Phaeacia, and that I am daughter to Alcinous, who is king thereof.”

Then she called to her maidens: “What mean ye to flee when ye see a man? No enemy comes hither to harm us, for we are dear to the gods, and also we live in an island of the sea, so that men may not approach to work us wrong. If one cometh here overcome by trouble, it is well to help him. Give this man, therefore, food and drink, and wash him in the river, where there is shelter from the wind.”

So they brought him down to the river, and gave him clothing, and also olive-oil in a flask of gold. Then, at his bidding, they departed a little space, and he washed the salt from his skin and out of his hair, and anointed himself, and put on the clothing. And Athene made him taller and fairer to see, and caused the hair to be thick on his head, in colour as a hyacinth. Then he sat down on the seashore, right beautiful to behold, and the maiden said:—

“Not without the bidding of the gods comes this man to our land. Before, indeed, I deemed him uncomely, but now he seems like to the gods. I should be well content to have such a man for a husband, and maybe he might will to abide in this land. Give him, ye maidens, food and drink.”

So they gave him, and he ate ravenously, having fasted long. Then Nausicaa bade yoke the mules, and said to Ulysses:—

“Arise, stranger, come with me, that I may bring thee to the house of my father. But do thou as I shall tell thee. So long as we shall be passing through the fields, follow quickly with the maidens behind the chariot. But when we shall come to the city, —thou wilt see a high wall and a harbour on either side of the narrow way that leadeth to the gate,—then follow the chariot no more. Hard by the wall is a grove of Athene, a grove of poplars, with a spring in the midst, and a meadow round about; there abide till I have reached the house of my father. For I would not that the people should speak lightly of me. And I doubt not that were thou with me some one would say: `Who is this stranger, tall and fair, that cometh with Nausicaa? Will he be her husband? Perchance it is some god who has come down at her prayer, or a man from far away; for she scorns us men of Phaeacia.' It would be a shame that such words should be spoken. But when thou shalt judge that I have come to the palace, then go up thyself and ask for my father's house. Any one, even a child, can show it thee, for the other Phaeacians dwell not in such. And when thou art come within the doors, pass quickly through the hall to where my mother sits. Close to the hearth is her seat, and my father's hard by, where he sits with the wine-cup in his hand as a god. Pass him by, and kneel to my mother, and pray her that she give thee safe return to thy country.”

Then she smote the mules with the whip. Quickly did they leave the river behind them; but the maiden was heedful to drive them so that Ulysses and the maidens might be able to follow on foot. At sunset they came to the sacred grove of Athene, and there Ulysses sat him down, and prayed to Athene, saying, “Hear me, now, O daughter of Zeus, and grant that this people may look upon me with pity.”

So he spake, and Athene heard him, but showed not herself to him, face to face, for she feared the wrath of her uncle Poseidon.