Phaeacian princess Nausicaa: a dream-romance wife for Odysseus

Nausicaa faces Odysseus on ancient Greek vase

After having escaped from repeatedly being raped in Calypso’s captivity, the naked Odysseus slept in a pile of leaves under twin olive trees near a river. Nearby, Nausicaa and her young servant women were washing clothes in the river and playing ball. Their playful shouts woke Odysseus. Were they cruel and wild women who hated men and favored castration culture? Odysseus was uncertain:

God-like Odysseus emerged from under the thicket.
With his stout hand he tore a leafy branch
from the dense growth to cover his manly body’s genitals.

{ θάμνων ὑπεδύσετο δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
ἐκ πυκινῆς δ᾿ ὕλης πτόρθον κλάσε χειρὶ παχείῃ
φύλλων, ὡς ῥύσαιτο περὶ χροῒ μήδεα φωτός. }[1]

Sin caused men’s genitals to be regarded as shameful. Men hide their genitals when they fear hostility to them. A man has to protect himself:

So Odysseus was about to mix with the lovely haired girls,
naked as he was. What choice did he have?
He was to them a frightening sight, disfigured with brine,
and they fled in all directions to the jutting riverbanks.

{ ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς κούρῃσιν ἐυπλοκάμοισιν ἔμελλε
μίξεσθαι, γυμνός περ ἐών· χρειὼ γὰρ ἵκανε.
σμερδαλέος δ᾿ αὐτῇσι φάνη κεκακωμένος ἅλμῃ
τρέσσαν δ᾿ ἄλλυδις ἄλλη ἐπ᾿ ἠιόνας προὐχούσας· }

Nausicaa was different. While the other young women fled, Nausicaa stood and faced the nearly naked, dirty Odysseus. She recognized that he was a human being. She recognized that she had nothing to fear from him. She called out to her androphobic servant girls:

Stop, servant girls. Why run away at the sight of a man?
Surely you don’t think that he’s an enemy?

{ στῆτέ μοι, ἀμφίπολοι· πόσε φεύγετε φῶτα ἰδοῦσαι;
ἦ μή πού τινα δυσμενέων φάσθ᾿ ἔμμεναι ἀνδρῶν }

Odysseus needed from these women not hostility but help. He addressed Nausicaa. He told her that he had, wonder-struck, gazed on her and felt that she was as beautiful as a goddess. Most women not learned in anti-meninist literary criticism desire men to gaze on them longingly. Then Odysseus pleaded:

Have pity, royal one. After all my toils
to you I have first come. I don’t know
a soul who lives here, not a single one.
Guide me to town, give me a rag to throw on myself,
if you have brought one to bundle the laundry.

{ ἀλλά, ἄνασσ᾽, ἐλέαιρε: σὲ γὰρ κακὰ πολλὰ μογήσας
ἐς πρώτην ἱκόμην, τῶν δ᾽ ἄλλων οὔ τινα οἶδα
ἀνθρώπων, οἳ τήνδε πόλιν καὶ γαῖαν ἔχουσιν.
ἄστυ δέ μοι δεῖξον, δὸς δὲ ῥάκος ἀμφιβαλέσθαι,
εἴ τί που εἴλυμα σπείρων ἔχες ἐνθάδ᾽ ἰοῦσα. }

Like many women, Nausicaa had difficulty expressing compassion for men. To Odysseus’s heartfelt confession of suffering and plea for pity, Nausicaa responded:

Stranger, you seem not a bad man or a fool.
The Olympian Zeus himself assigns happiness to humans,
to good and bad ones each as he wills.
You have no choice but to endure what he gave you.

{ ξεῖν᾽, ἐπεὶ οὔτε κακῷ οὔτ᾽ ἄφρονι φωτὶ ἔοικας:
Ζεὺς δ᾽ αὐτὸς νέμει ὄλβον Ὀλύμπιος ἀνθρώποισιν,
ἐσθλοῖς ἠδὲ κακοῖσιν, ὅπως ἐθέλῃσιν, ἑκάστῳ:
καί που σοὶ τάδ᾽ ἔδωκε, σὲ δὲ χρὴ τετλάμεν ἔμπης. }

That’s cosmic and cold. A warm hug and some caressing of the man’s face and chest would have been better, even without getting affirmative consent beforehand. Many women just don’t know how to treat men right.

shipwrecked Odysseus meets Nauticaa

At least Nausicaa proposed to undertake for Odysseus specific acts to help him. She declared:

But now, since you have come to our city and land,
you will lack neither clothing nor anything else
of that which one should give to a much-suffering suppliant.
I will guide you to the city and tell you our people’s name.

{ νῦν δ᾿, ἐπεὶ ἡμετέρην τε πόλιν καὶ γαῖαν ἱκάνεις,
οὔτ᾿ οὖν ἐσθῆτος δευήσεαι οὔτε τευ ἄλλου,
ὧν ἐπέοιχ᾿ ἱκέτην ταλαπείριον ἀντιάσαντα.
ἄστυ δέ τοι δείξω, ἐρέω δέ τοι οὔνομα λαῶν. }

Most men know well the suffering of supplication. Women must do more for men. Odysseus himself described to Nausicaa the greatest gift:

No gift is better or greater than this:
woman and man making home together in unity of mind —
causes of great grief to foes of this, but joy to those of good will.

{ οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ᾽ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή: πόλλ᾽ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι }

We are living in a time lacking in joy. Everyone should do what they can to bring joy to the world.

A dream of soon getting married had motivated Nausicaa to seek to wash her clothes. To get permission to drive away in a family vehicle, Nausicaa told her father that she also wanted to wash his clothes and her brothers’ clothes. That fabrication was unnecessary. Like most fathers, Nausicaa’s father, the nominal king, would do anything for his daughter:

I wouldn’t deprive you of my mules, child, or anything else.
Go ahead: our male slaves will make ready for you the wagon,
the high one with strong wheels and a luggage box above.

{ οὔτε τοι ἡμιόνων φθονέω, τέκος, οὔτε τευ ἄλλου.
ἔρχευ: ἀτάρ τοι δμῶες ἐφοπλίσσουσιν ἀπήνην
ὑψηλὴν ἐύκυκλον, ὑπερτερίῃ ἀραρυῖαν. }

As a woman of privilege benefiting from the work of male slaves, Nausicaa drove off in her family’s best station-wagon.

Down at the river, Nausicaa commanded her servant women to bathe Odysseus. She issued this command without first securing affirmative consent from him. Throughout history, guilty women have seldom been found guilty of raping men. Nausicaa’s servant women led Odysseus to a sheltered place along the river and had him sit down there. They gave him olive oil to rub down his body and put besides him a cloak and tunic for him to put on after bathing. Then they told him to bathe. They stood nearby and eagerly engaged their female gaze. Neither men nor women should be so raped.

Showing rare agency in response to gender injustices against men, Odysseus spoke out immediately about this imminent sexual assault. He communicated clearly and directly to the young women, but not antagonistically:

Servant women, stand away there, so that I myself
may wash off the brine from my shoulders and rub myself
around with olive oil. My skin hasn’t had oil for a long time.
But I don’t want to bathe myself in front of you.
I shrink from thus being naked among lovely haired girls.

{ ἀμφίπολοι, στῆθ᾽ οὕτω ἀπόπροθεν, ὄφρ᾽ ἐγὼ αὐτὸς
ἅλμην ὤμοιιν ἀπολούσομαι, ἀμφὶ δ᾽ ἐλαίῳ
χρίσομαι: ἦ γὰρ δηρὸν ἀπὸ χροός ἐστιν ἀλοιφή.
ἄντην δ᾽ οὐκ ἂν ἐγώ γε λοέσσομαι: αἰδέομαι γὰρ
γυμνοῦσθαι κούρῃσιν ἐυπλοκάμοισι μετελθών. }

The river water was cold. Odysseus was tired and hungry. He understood what the group of young women imagined doing. He, however, was shrunken. The young women respected Odysseus’s position.

The bathed Odysseus excited Nausicaa’s imagination. She exclaimed:

Listen to me, white-skinned servant women, let me say something.
Not against the will of the gods, who hold Mt. Olympus,
has this man come among the god-like Phaeacians.
At first he looked to me appalling,
but now he looks like the gods who rule high heaven.
If only such a man might become my husband,
among all the men living here, and he be pleased to remain here.
Go on, servant women, give the stranger food and drink.

{ κλῦτέ μευ, ἀμφίπολοι λευκώλενοι, ὄφρα τι εἴπω.
οὐ πάντων ἀέκητι θεῶν, οἳ Ὄλυμπον ἔχουσιν,
Φαιήκεσσ᾽ ὅδ᾽ ἀνὴρ ἐπιμειξεται ἀντιθέοισι:
πρόσθεν μὲν γὰρ δή μοι ἀεικέλιος δέατ᾽ εἶναι,
νῦν δὲ θεοῖσιν ἔοικε, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσιν.
αἲ γὰρ ἐμοὶ τοιόσδε πόσις κεκλημένος εἴη
ἐνθάδε ναιετάων, καὶ οἱ ἅδοι αὐτόθι μίμνειν.
ἀλλὰ δότ᾽, ἀμφίπολοι, ξείνῳ βρῶσίν τε πόσιν τε. }

Women like Nausicaa shouldn’t be criticized for judging men superficially. Women’s physical appearance is also quite important to men’s amorous interest.

Although she appreciated Odysseus’s masculine beauty only after he had bathed, Nausicaa wasn’t shallow, but perceptive and socially astute. She instructed Odysseus on what to do when he arrived at “my father’s house {δώματα πατρὸς ἐμοῦ}”:

When the house and courtyard enclose you,
go quickly through the great hall until you come
to my mother, who sits at the hearth in the fire’s light
and spins purple yarn. She’s a wonder to behold,
leaning against a pillar, servant women sitting behind her.
Leaning against the same pillar is my father’s throne.
Sitting on his throne, he drinks wine like an immortal.
Pass him by and throw your arms about my mother’s knees,
so you may quickly, joyfully see the day of your return,
even if you are very far from your home.
If in her heart she is kindly disposed toward you,
then there’s hope that you will see your own people and reach
your well-kept household and fatherland.

{ ἀλλ᾽ ὁπότ᾽ ἄν σε δόμοι κεκύθωσι καὶ αὐλή,
ὦκα μάλα μεγάροιο διελθέμεν, ὄφρ᾽ ἂν ἵκηαι
μητέρ᾽ ἐμήν: ἡ δ᾽ ἧσται ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάρῃ ἐν πυρὸς αὐγῇ,
ἠλάκατα στρωφῶσ᾽ ἁλιπόρφυρα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι,
κίονι κεκλιμένη: δμωαὶ δέ οἱ εἵατ᾽ ὄπισθεν.
ἔνθα δὲ πατρὸς ἐμοῖο θρόνος ποτικέκλιται αὐτῇ,
τῷ ὅ γε οἰνοποτάζει ἐφήμενος ἀθάνατος ὥς.
τὸν παραμειψάμενος μητρὸς περὶ γούνασι χεῖρας
βάλλειν ἡμετέρης, ἵνα νόστιμον ἦμαρ ἴδηαι
χαίρων καρπαλίμως, εἰ καὶ μάλα τηλόθεν ἐσσί.
εἴ κέν τοι κείνη γε φίλα φρονέῃσ᾽ ἐνὶ θυμῷ,
ἐλπωρή τοι ἔπειτα φίλους τ᾽ ἰδέειν καὶ ἱκέσθαι
οἶκον ἐυκτίμενον καὶ σὴν ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν. }

The “fatherland {πᾰτρῐ́ς}” is merely land. Enlightened persons know that the mother is the power of the household, the place where persons live. Nausicaa’s mother Queen Arete holds the spot next to the fire’s light.[2] She determines what gets done, and what doesn’t get done. Some men drink in despair at their subordination to their wives. Other men drink in enjoyment of their lack of real, leading responsibilities. In any case, the ancient Phaeacian princess Nausicaa understood gender relations much more truthfully than do most classics scholars today.

The goddess Athena, knowing well women’s power, recognized that Queen Arete was regarded as a goddess. Athena described the mother’s eminence:

Alcinous made Arete his wife,
and honored her more than is honored any other earthly woman
among wives who under their husbands direct households.
Thus she is honored, respected deeply in their hearts,
by her dear children, by Alcinous himself,
and by the people who regard her as a goddess
and so greet her whenever she goes about the city.
She herself in no way lacks good understanding.
She settles quarrels for those whom she favors, even for men.
If in her heart she is kindly disposed toward you,
then there’s hope that you will see your own people and reach
your high-roofed home and your fatherland.

{ τὴν δʼ Ἀλκίνοος ποιήσατʼ ἄκοιτιν,
καί μιν ἔτισʼ, ὡς οὔ τις ἐπὶ χθονὶ τίεται ἄλλη,
ὅσσαι νῦν γε γυναῖκες ὑπʼ ἀνδράσιν οἶκον ἔχουσιν.
ὣς κείνη περὶ κῆρι τετίμηταί τε καὶ ἔστιν
ἔκ τε φίλων παίδων ἔκ τʼ αὐτοῦ Ἀλκινόοιο
καὶ λαῶν, οἵ μίν ῥα θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωντες
δειδέχαται μύθοισιν, ὅτε στείχῃσʼ ἀνὰ ἄστυ.
οὐ μὲν γάρ τι νόου γε καὶ αὐτὴ δεύεται ἐσθλοῦ·
ᾗσι τʼ ἐὺ φρονέῃσι καὶ ἀνδράσι νείκεα λύει.
εἴ κέν τοι κείνη γε φίλα φρονέῃσʼ ἐνὶ θυμῷ,
ἐλπωρή τοι ἔπειτα φίλους τʼ ἰδέειν καὶ ἱκέσθαι
οἶκον ἐς ὑψόροφον καὶ σὴν ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν. }

The last three verses above are a poetic coda that Nausicaa also spoke, except for “well-built home {οἶκον ἐυκτίμενον}” rather than “high-roofed home {οἶκον ἐς ὑψόροφον}.” Nausicaa was speaking about her mother Arete’s control of the household, which she kept well. Athena, characterizing Arete as a goddess, evoked the majesty of her home. Their common understanding, which surely was conventional poetic wisdom among the audience of the Odyssey, is that the woman actually rules, even in the king’s home.[3]

Odysseus followed Nausicaa’s instructions on how to plead for help. He entered the palace, passed by King Alcinous, and clasped Queen Arete’s knees. He begged her for mercy and for rapid conveyance home. He then pathetically sat down in the ashes of the hearth and dirtied the clothes that Nausicaa had given him to wear. In accordance with the gynocentric practice of social control, Arete said nothing. She waited for men to take the initiative.

Following an appeal from the respected old lord Echeneus, Alcinous called forth Odysseus from the ashes to sit next to him. He promised to have Odysseus conveyed home soon and gave him food and drink. After all but Arete, Alcinous, and Odysseus had left, key information still needed to be established:

Then white-skinned Arete took the lead in speaking.
She saw and recognized the beautiful clothes, the cloak and tunic,
that she had made with her servant women.
And so she spoke, addressing Odysseus with winged words:
“I myself will ask you the first questions.
Who are you? From where? Who gave you these clothes?
Did you not say you came here in wandering the seas?

{ τοῖσιν δ᾽ Ἀρήτη λευκώλενος ἤρχετο μύθων
ἔγνω γὰρ φᾶρός τε χιτῶνά τε εἵματ᾽ ἰδοῦσα
καλά, τά ῥ᾽ αὐτὴ τεῦξε σὺν ἀμφιπόλοισι γυναιξί:
καί μιν φωνήσασ᾽ ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
“ξεῖνε, τὸ μέν σε πρῶτον ἐγὼν εἰρήσομαι αὐτή:
τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; τίς τοι τάδε εἵματ᾽ ἔδωκεν;
οὐ δὴ φῆς ἐπὶ πόντον ἀλώμενος ἐνθάδ᾽ ἱκέσθαι.” }[4]

A mother and a queen, Arete was a shrewd observer and a tough questioner. Odysseus, no fool, named himself only as a suffering man, told only part of his journey, and finished with praise for Arete’s daughter Nausicaa:

Then I saw on the shore your daughter’s servant women
playing. Amid them she stood, looking like a goddess.
To her I prayed. She in no way fell short in keen understanding,
such as one would expect to perceive in meeting a younger person,
for younger persons are always thoughtless.
She provided me plentiful bread with sparkling wine
and bathed me in the river and gave me these clothes.
With my sorrows, I have in this told you the truth.

{ ἀμφιπόλους δ᾽ ἐπὶ θινὶ τεῆς ἐνόησα θυγατρὸς
παιζούσας, ἐν δ᾽ αὐτὴ ἔην ἐικυῖα θεῇσι:
τὴν ἱκέτευσ᾽: ἡ δ᾽ οὔ τι νοήματος ἤμβροτεν ἐσθλοῦ,
ὡς οὐκ ἂν ἔλποιο νεώτερον ἀντιάσαντα
ἐρξέμεν: αἰεὶ γάρ τε νεώτεροι ἀφραδέουσιν.
ἥ μοι σῖτον ἔδωκεν ἅλις ἠδ᾽ αἴθοπα οἶνον
καὶ λοῦσ᾽ ἐν ποταμῷ καί μοι τάδε εἵματ᾽ ἔδωκε.
ταῦτά τοι ἀχνύμενός περ ἀληθείην κατέλεξα. }

King Alcinous pointed out that Nausicaa hadn’t escorted him to the palace, as a good host should have done. Odysseus defended Nausicaa by attributing that fault to himself:

Your majesty, surely, don’t fault your flawless girl for this.
She did indeed ask me to follow her with her servant women,
but I refused out of fear and shame,
thinking perhaps your heart might fill with anger if you saw such,
for we are quick to anger, we tribes of earthly men.

{ ἥρως, μή τοι τοὔνεκ᾽ ἀμύμονα νείκεε κούρην:
ἡ μὲν γάρ μ᾽ ἐκέλευε σὺν ἀμφιπόλοισιν ἕπεσθαι,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐγὼ οὐκ ἔθελον δείσας αἰσχυνόμενός τε,
μή πως καὶ σοὶ θυμὸς ἐπισκύσσαιτο ἰδόντι:
δύσζηλοι γάρ τ᾽ εἰμὲν ἐπὶ χθονὶ φῦλ᾽ ἀνθρώπων. }

In other words, Odysseus claimed to have feared that Alcinous might think that a foreigner had seduced his daughter. That’s plausible, though clearly untrue in this case. However, Alcinous surprisingly wished that Odysseus would marry his daughter Nausicaa:

So I wish — father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo so decreeing —
you being such a man, thinking as I do, that you would
marry my daughter and, remaining here, be called
my son. A home and possessions I would give you,
if you would choose to remain here.

{ αἲ γάρ, Ζεῦ τε πάτερ καὶ Ἀθηναίη καὶ Ἄπολλον,
τοῖος ἐὼν οἷός ἐσσι, τά τε φρονέων ἅ τ᾽ ἐγώ περ,
παῖδά τ᾽ ἐμὴν ἐχέμεν καὶ ἐμὸς γαμβρὸς καλέεσθαι
αὖθι μένων: οἶκον δέ κ᾽ ἐγὼ καὶ κτήματα δοίην,
εἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλων γε μένοις }

Why didn’t Odysseus give up his old life and start a new life with the beautiful, young, wealthy, man-welcoming Phaeacian princess Nausicaa? She would have been a dream-romance wife for Odysseus.[5]

Odysseus sees naked Nausicaa with other naked women

Like most men, Odysseus internalized oppressive gender norms. After spending ten years fighting in the brutal, foolish violence against men of the Trojan War, Odysseus sought to return home to his wife Penelope. She was a loyal but rather stolid, middle-aged woman. Nonetheless, Odysseus toiled to return home from the painful Trojan victory without a beautiful, passionate young Trojan woman as a war prize. Odysseus readily slaughtered Trojan men, yet he apparently was reluctant to force a Trojan woman into privileged living as his concubine. Perhaps Odysseus foresaw Clytemnestra plotting to slaughter her husband King Agamemnon after he returned home with the Trojan woman Cassandra. In any case, Odysseus could have started a new life in Phaeacia with the beautiful, young, wealthy, man-welcoming Phaeacian princess Nausicaa. She would have provided him with an end to his travels and toils and an easy, enjoyable life. Sleeping in royal blankets on the porch of the palace in which Nausicaa lived, Odysseus apparently didn’t even have as much imaginative initiative as did Leopold Bloom in the Nausicaa chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The epic literary tradition must be recast to resist gynocentric expectations and promote social justice for men. Epic violence against men should not be celebrated, but condemned. Readers of the Aeneid should be taught to recognize structures of anti-men gender oppression in ways that Creusa, Juno, the Danaids, and other women relate to Aeneas and other men. Men must liberate their gender imagination in reading epic literature, whether through satire, elegy, or even dream romance.[6] Suffering men should be able to imagine no longer struggling to return home. They should be able to imagine burning their ships and starting a new life with a woman like Nausicaa. Encouraging men to rise to overcome the gender gap in reading literary fiction might start with better reading of the Homeric epics.

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Notes:

[1] Odyssey 6.127-9, Greek text of Murray (1919) via Perseus, my English translation, benefiting from those of id., Fagles (1996), and Lombardo (2000).

Odysseus has reason to fear for his genitals. Hermes had earlier warned him that Circe would seek to castrate him. Odyssey 10.297-301. On that passage and the threat to Odysseus genitals, Gutglueck (1987).

Odysseus crawling out from under the thicket is ironically characterized as “god-like.” Moreover, an extended simile compares him to a mountain lion on hunt for food. Odyssey 6.130-4. While Odysseus needed food, he longingly sought transport home. Only the technological and organizational capabilities of civilization could provide that for him.

Subsequent quotes from the Odyssey are similarly sourced. They are: 6.135-8 (So Odysseus was about to mix…), 6.199-200 (Stop, servant girls….), 6.175-9 (Have pity…), 6.187-90 (Stranger, you seem not…), 6.191-4 (But now, since you have come…), 6.182-4 (No gift is better…), 6.68-70 (I wouldn’t deprive you…), 6.218-22 (Servant women, stand away…), 6.239-46 (Listen to me, white-skinned servant women…), 6.303-15 (When the house and courtyard…), 7.66-77 (Alcinous made Arete his wife…), 7.233-9 (Then white-skinned Arete…), 7.290-7 (Then I saw on the shore…), 7.303-7 (Your majesty, surely, don’t fault…), 7.311-5 (So I wish…).

[2] Arete’s name itself signals her eminence:

Arete’s name is well suited to her role. A verbal adjective from aráomai, “to pray,” the name Ἀρήτη (masculine Ἄρητος) means “prayed for,” as of a late-born child long “prayed for” by its parents. This meaning fits Arete, who was the only child of her father Rhexenor, who is now dead. But the name also suggests the meaning “prayed to,” and this fits Arete’s real role, which is to be supplicated by Odysseus. The name is a perfect combination of overt and suggested meanings, corresponding to the queen’s overt and hidden roles.

Frame (2009), pp. 351-2 (Chapter 8, section 3.11), notes omitted. Ἀρήτη might also be interpreted as a pun with ᾰ̓ρετή, meaning “excellence.”

[3] Ahl & Roisman (1996), Ch. 2, engages in complex ideological speculations and doesn’t give adequate weight to oral performance in interpreting Arete’s status. Id. evokes Platt’s seminal critique:

Whenever the author ‘writes’ from ‘her’ own observation, she purposely changes names and throws an air of mystery over everything; whenever the names are real, it is a sign that the author did not know the places!

Platt (1893) p. 254-5. Whittaker by fiat resolves the issue of Arete’s power:

it is clearly Alcinous who is in charge. Except for a few interventions, Arete remains in the background.

Whittaker (1999) p. 141. Remaining in the background is consistent with controlling what goes on in the foreground. Whittaker associated women’s dominance with a “fairy tale world.” Woman can be dominant both in fairy tale worlds and in the Homeric world.

Prior to the modern period, matriarchy was commonly recognized. Some scholars have strained to discern archaic matriarchy in the Homeric epics, e.g. Hirvonen (1968). The need for such an effort defies common sense. Scholars who grotesquely misunderstand gender today have no credibility in interpreting gender in the Homeric world.

[4] Ahl & Roisman (1996), pp. 59-60, claims that Nausicaa gave Odysseus wedding clothes that Queen Arete had sewn. But at the time Nausicaa set out clothes for Odysseus, she found him unattractive. Odyssey 6.243. If Odysseus we wearing wedding finery that Queen Arete had sewn, he surely would have badly insulted her by sitting in ashes while wearing them.

[5] As Odysseus prepared to return home, Nausicaa again forlornly admired his masculine beauty after he had bathed. She said farewell to him and added: “you owe me first the price of your life {μοι πρώτῃ ζωάγρι᾿ ὀφέλλει}.” Odyssey 8.460. That price is the value of his old life. She implicitly evokes the value of the dream-romance life he lost by leaving her. But Odysseus seems incapable of imagining a new life. He responded:

Nausicaa, daughter of great-hearted Alcinous,
may father Zeus, loud-thundering husband of Hera,
grant that I reach home and see the day of my return.
Then, even there, I will pray to you as to a goddess
always and forever, for you brought me back to life, young woman.

{ Ναυσικάα, θύγατερ μεγαλήτορος Ἀλκινόοιο,
οὕτω νῦν Ζεὺς θείη, ἐρίγδουπος πόσις Ἥρης,
οἴκαδέ τ’ ἐλθέμεναι καὶ νόστιμον ἦμαρ ἰδέσθαι·
τῶ κέν τοι καὶ κεῖθι θεῷ ὣς εὐχετοῴμην
αἰεὶ ἤματα πάντα· σὺ γάρ μ’ ἐβιώσαο, κούρη. }

Odyssey 8.464-8.

[6] The Odyssey hasn’t been read from a meninist perspective. To the extent that gender has been considered in relation to the Odyssey, the analysis has been resolutely gynocentric. That limitation lessens the critical value of the epic.

Gynocentrism in considering gender in relation to the Odyssey has a long history. Following the ancient pattern that Propertius illustrated, Samuel Butler in late nineteenth-century London argued that a woman authored the Odyssey. In a lecture to the Working Men’s College in London in January 30, 1892, Butler declared:

If I am right, as I believe I am, in holding the Odyssey to have been written by a young woman, was ever sleeping beauty more effectually concealed behind a more impenetrable hedge of dulness?

Butler, “The Humour of Homer,” printed in Butler (1913) p. 97. The dullness to which Butler refers is that of literary critics: “Can there be any more scathing satire upon the value of literary criticism?” Id. In a lecture to the Somerville Club, a club for women, Butler in 1893 declared:

If people would read the poem slowly, intelligently, & without commentary, forgetting all past criticism until they have looked at the matter with their own eyes, I cannot think they would have much doubt that they were reading a woman’s masterpiece not a man’s.

Via St. John’s College, Cambridge, which holds Butler’s archive. In 1897, Butler elaborated at book length about the woman, presenting herself in the figure of Nausicaa, who authored the Odyssey. Butler declared:

surely if the Odyssey has charmed us as a man’s work, its charm and wonder are infinitely increased when we see it as a woman’s.

Butler (1897) p. 269. Butler applied fundamentally different standard’s in judging women’s and men’s literary works:

It should go, however, without saying that much which is charming in a woman’s work would be ridiculous in a man’s, and this is eminently exemplified in the Odyssey. If a woman wrote it, it is as lovely as the frontispiece of this volume, and becomes, if less vigorous, yet assuredly more wonderful than the Iliad; if, on the other hand, it is by a man, the half Bayeux tapestry, half Botticelli’s Venus rising from the sea, or Primavera, feeling with which it impresses us gives place to astonishment how any man could have written it. What is a right manner for a woman is a wrong one for a man, and vice versa.

Id. p. 11. Butler’s claim about Nausicaa representing the authoress of the Odyssey was “the culmination of an artfully stoked controversy” over the prior six years. Whitmarsh (2002) p. 75. Graves (1955) and Dalby (2006) followed Butler’s insight into the discursive value of claiming that a woman authored the Odyssey.

portrait of Nausicaa, according to Butler

Butler’s work and its reception points to the urgent need for classics to be inclusive and welcoming of meninist literary criticism. Butler, learned in classics, translated both the Iliad and the Odyssey into English. Over the subsequent century, Butler became enshrined in elite academia. Whitmarsh (2002) pp. 82-5. Two academic classicists revised Butler’s translation of the Odyssey for world-wide dissemination. Butler, Power & Nagy (1900). Considering gendered readings of Homer, a classicist recently declared:

In working on this project I had to confront my own assumptions about gender and approaches to Homeric poetry. As I read these several studies of the Odyssey, I found myself desiring a genderless Homer—wouldn’t that be easier? It is all too safe and easy to ignore gender in Homeric studies even today, so I could continue on with a subconscious but wrongheaded notion of a genderless Homer, but instead I hope to capitalize on that realization with a greater awareness and articulation of my own gender assumptions. Although the notion of the cross-gender appeal of the Homeric epics has the inherent danger of naive complicity in the old gender ideology, it also holds the possibility for the expansion of boundaries or limitations defined by gender.

Ebbott (2005). Ebbott’s assumptions about gender and Homeric epic seem to be built on anti-meninist belief in “underlying and ultimately inescapable misogyny of the male-authored epic.” Id. Many classicists, e.g. Gainsford (2018), irrationally continue to support that dominant myth.

A contemporary critic more astutely challenged Butler. Writing to Butler on Nov. 1, 1884, Miss E. M. A. Savage condemned his lying. Noting the contemporary existence of a woman who was “a man-hater,” Miss Savage noted:

Like many, perhaps I should say most, of the members of the Somerville Club, she does not like her husband, and the very first time I saw her she told me of his iniquities with details that are usually suppressed.

Letter printed in Jones (1919), vol. 1, p. 427. Samuel Butler, not surprisingly, declared to the Somerville Club that the Odyssey has been wrongfully attributed to a man while a woman actually wrote it.

The Somerville Club was a club for women founded in London in 1878. Panegyrics for the woman geologist Catherine Raisin claim that she founded the Somerville Club in 1880. But that doesn’t seem to be true. The Somerville Club seems to have been an initiative of women of Somerville College, Oxford. This elite-founded club apparently welcomed poor and working-class women. In 1887, it was re-established as the New Somerville Club. By 1908, the club had vanished. Crawford (2001) p. 128.

[images] (1) Athena arranging the meeting between Odysseus and Nausicaa. Painting on Attic, red-figure amphora made c. 440 BGC. Found at Vulci, Italy. Vase preserved as item 8957437815 in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Munich, Germany). Source image thanks to Carole Raddato and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s documentation of all the imagery on this vase. (2) Ulysses (Odysseus) and Nausicaa meeting on the riverbank. Painting by Jean Veber. Painted in 1888. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Odysseus gazing at Nausicaa and her bathing servants. Painting by William McGregor Paxton. Painted before 1937. Via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Portrait of a woman (called Musa Polimnia) made in the first half of the sixteenth century, thought to be a copy or imitation of a ancient Roman painting. Image via Accademia Etrusca di Cortona Archivio Digitale. Samuel Butler used this portrait as the frontispiece to Butler (1897). Butler stated:

My frontispiece is taken by the kind permission of the Messrs. Alinari of Florence, from their photograph of a work in the museum at Cortona called La Musa Polinnia. It is on slate and burnt, is a little more than half life size, and is believed to be Greek, presumably of about the Christian era, but no more precise date can be assigned to it.

Butler (1897) p. vii.

References:

Ahl, Frederick, and Hanna Roisman. 1996. The Odyssey Re-Formed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Butler, Samuel. 1897. The Authoress of the Odyssey, where and when she wrote, who she was, the use she made of the Iliad, and how the poem grew under her hands. London: Longmans. (1922 reprint)

Butler, Samuel, trans. and Power, Timothy and Gregory Nagy, rev. 1900. Homer. Odyssey. A. C. Fifield, London.

Butler, Samuel, ed. by Henry Festing Jones, and R. A. Streatfeild. 1913. The Humour of Homer, and other Essays. London: A.C. Fifield.

Crawford, Elizabeth. 2001. The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide, 1866-1928. London: Routledge.

Dalby, Andrew. 2006. Rediscovering Homer: inside the origins of the epic. New York: W.W. Norton.

Ebbott, Mary. 2005. “Butler’s Authoress of the Odyssey: Gendered Readings of Homer, Then and Now.” [email protected]: The Homerizon; Conceptual Interrogations in Homeric Studies. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Fagles, Robert, trans. 1996. Homer. The Odyssey. New York: Penguin Publishing Group.

Frame, Douglas. 2009. Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies Series 37. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Gainsford, Peter. 2018. “The authoress of the Odyssey.” Kiwi Hellenist: Modern myths about the ancient world. Online, May 23, 2018.

Graves, Robert. 1955. Homer’s daughter. London: Cassell & Co. Ltd.

Gutglueck, John. 1987. “A Detestable Encounter in Odyssey VI.” The Classical Journal. 83 (2): 97-102.

Hirvonen, Kaarle. 1968. Matriarchal Survivals and Certain Trends in Homer’s Female Characters. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Jones, Henry Festing. 1919. Samuel Butler, Author of Erewhon, 1835-1902: a memoir. London: Mamillan. (vol. 1; vol. 2)

Lombardo, Stanley, trans. 2000. Homer. Odyssey. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co.

Murray, A. T., ed. and trans., revised by George E. Dimock. 1919. Homer. Odyssey. Volume I: Books 1-12. Loeb Classical Library 105. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Platt, Arthur. 1893. “Review: Butler’s Trapanese Origin of the OdysseyOn the Trapanese Origin of the Odyssey. By Samuel Butler. Cambridge: Metcalfe. 1893.” The Classical Review. 7 (6): 254-255.

Whitmarsh, Tim. 2002. “What Samuel Butler saw: Classics, authorship and Cultural Authority in late Victorian England.” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society. 48: 66-86.

Whittaker, Helene. 1999. “The status of Arete in the Phaeacian episode of the Odyssey.” Symbolae Osloenses. 74 (1): 140-150.

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