A sampling of comments on Odyssey Rhapsody 6

2017.05.04 / updated 2018.10.07 | By Gregory Nagy

Nausicaa, princess of the Phaeacians, makes her appearance as a potential but unattainable love-interest for Odysseus—and as a delight for all who find themselves irresistibly drawn into the story of her girlish but principled encounter with the enthralled hero.

“Nausicaa” (1878), Frederick Leighton (English, 1830–1896).Image via Wikimedia Commons.
“Nausicaa” (1878), Frederick Leighton (English, 1830–1896).
Image via Wikimedia Commons.


This Rhapsody belongs to Nausicaa. I spell her name in its familiar latinized form, with a c, since her fame extends far beyond the ancient Greek world, where she appears as Ναυσικάα. In any case, the name has a certain primacy of place. I have no idea who said it first, but I first heard it from the long-departed Sterling Dow in the early 1960s: if you look up all surviving ancient Greek names in reverse alphabetical order, the first one you see is Nausicaa = Ναυσικάα, while the very last of them all is Calypso = Καλυψώ. Surely we see here a coincidence, not some mysterious signal emanating from some grand cosmic plan, but the coincidence itself seems just as lovely as Nausicaa is lovely. Some critics view her as a youthful love-interest for Odysseus, matching Calypso as the hero’s divine love-interest. But such a view detracts from the loveliness: Nausicaa is meant to be a love-interest for all who hear her story—just as Calypso is a universal love-interest in her own story as told in Rhapsody 5. In the story of Nausicaa as told in Rhapsody 6, she is pictured as the perfect bride for any man fortunate enough to succeed in marrying her—and she knows it. The self-awareness of Nausicaa is shaped by the poetry that idealizes her eligibility by animating her beauty and her charm to the point where she becomes comparable to the goddess Artemis. Odysseus himself initiates the comparison and, by comparing the girl to the goddess, he is signaling to himself that Nausicaa, even if she does not know it yet, is for him enticingly unattainable.[[GN 2017.05.04.]]


subject heading(s): rhapsodic sequencing

The wording that starts Rhapsody 6 here at O.06.001–112 picks up where the wording of Rhapsody 5 left off, at O.05.491–493, where Odysseus had fallen asleep after his ordeals at sea. [[GN 2017.05.04.]]


subject heading(s): Cyclopes; biē ‘force, violence, strength’

The Cyclopes, when they were neighboring enemies of the Phaeacians, O.06.005, are said to have been superior because of their biē ‘force, violence, strength’, O.06.006. [[GN 2017.05.04 via BA 322.]]


subject heading(s): homoio- ‘similar to, same as’; kourē ‘girl’

Nausicaa, daughter of Alkinoos (latinized as Alcinous), is named here for the first time, O.06.017. She is a kourē ‘girl’, O.06.015, and she is said to be homoiē ‘similar to’ or ‘same as’ the immortal goddesses. This comparison is a prelude to the wording of the narrative at O.06.102–109, where Nausicaa is compared directly to the goddess Artemis; also to the wording of Odysseus himself at O.06.150–152, where the hero himself compares Nausicaa directly to Artemis. [[GN 2017.05.04 via MoM 2§32.]]


subject heading(s): spinning wool

Nausicaa wakes up at dawn, O.06.048–049, and goes from her room to the central part of the palace O.06.050–051, where she finds her mother sitting at the hearth and spinning wool in the company of the women who attend her O.06.052–053. A question here: did the mother start her spinning at dawn, or has she been spinning all night? [[GN 2017.05.04.]]


subject heading(s): paizein ‘play’; molpē ‘singing and dancing’; arkhesthai ‘lead off [in performing]’; sphaira ‘ball’; krēdemnon ‘headdress’ or ‘veil’

At O.06.085–099, Nausicaa and the girls who attend her are at the banks of a river, washing the clothes they have brought from the palace, and then waiting for the wet clothes to dry in the sun; while they wait, they clean up and enjoy each other’s company as they indulge in a picnic. Next, at O.06.100–101, after having finished eating and drinking, they start playfully singing and dancing with each other: the playfulness of the song and dance is expressed by the verb paizein ‘play’ at O.06.100, while the actual singing /dancing is expressed by the noun molpē ‘singing and dancing’ at O.06.101. The prima donna / prima ballerina of the singing / dancing is Nausicaa herself, as expressed by the verb arkhesthai ‘lead off [in performing]’, again at O.06.101. The dancing in this case includes the playful tossing of a sphaira ‘ball’, O.06.100. While the girls are feeling all freed up in their playfulness, they throw off the krēdemna or ‘veils’ that they are wearing. So, now we can see that Nausicaa and the girls who attend her would not even think of going out in public without first putting on their krēdemna ‘veils’. They won’t leave home without wearing their headdresses. But now they are no longer in public—or so they imagine. The detail about wearing a veil when the girls leave home and go outdoors is hardly a signal of their being married. Clearly, all these girls are unmarried. So, we see here that unmarried women as well as married women like Andromache wear the krēdemnon in public. The custom is simply a signal of propriety. On the function of the krēdemnon ‘headdress’ as an equivalent of a ‘veil’, I recommend the work of Levine 1995 (especially pp. 96–110), who shows that the custom of wearing a veil is part of a “cultural grammar of hair” (Levine p. 95). Relevant are my comments about O.05.333–353 with reference to Ino the White Goddess and, earlier, about I.22.460–474 with reference to Andromache. In both sets of comments, I noted that the undoing of a woman’s hair, caused by the undoing of her krēdemnon, produces what I called an Aphrodisiac effect. So long as a woman’s krēdemnon is in place, her sexuality is under control just as her hair is under control. When the krēdemnon is out of place, however, her sexuality threatens to get out of control. But there is even more to it. When a woman or girl has her hair undone in a private place, then her sexuality is under control—so long as the vision of the woman or girl with hair undone is private. But what happens when the undoing of the hair is represented in the verbal arts or visual arts? Then the view becomes public and even voyeuristic, as we see for example in the painting I show here:

Red-figured pyxis, picturing Nereids at home, “indoors”: the Nereid with her hair down is labeled as Thaleia.Image via The British Museum.
Red-figured pyxis, picturing Nereids at home, “indoors”: the Nereid with her hair down is labeled as Thaleia.
Image via The British Museum.

Similarly, there is something voyeuristic about the representation of Nausicaa and the girls who attend her as they sing and dance without wearing their veils: they imagine they are in a private place, but the medium of verbal art is watching them, making their performance public. In this scene, Odysseus is not the only voyeur. [[GN 2017.05.04.]]


subject heading(s): paizein ‘play’

Nausicaa is compared directly to the goddess Artemis: just as Nausicaa is the prima donna / prima ballerina in relation to the group of singing / dancing girls who attend her, so also is Artemis in relation to the group of nymphs that correspondingly attend her, O.06.105; their singing / dancing here is expressed by way of the word paizein ‘play’ at O.06.106, corresponding to the singing / dancing of Nausicaa and of the girls attending her at O.06.100–101. [[GN 2017.05.04.]]


subject heading(s): [homoio- ‘similar to, same as’]

Odysseus here compares Nausicaa directly to Artemis. He is not only saying that Nausicaa is ‘the same as’ Artemis, as expressed by the adjective homoio- ‘similar to, same as’. Rather, the hero is saying that perhaps Nausicaa is in fact Artemis. [[GN 2016.05.04.]]


subject heading(s): phoinix ‘date palm’; Delos; Ionians; post-heroic age

Odysseus here compares Nausicaa in all her beauty to a sacred phoinix ‘date palm’, O.06.163, which is located next to the altar of the god Apollo at Delos, O.06.162. The phoinix is also mentioned in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo 18 and 117. Odysseus claims to have seen this date palm with his own eyes when he visited Delos, O.06.163–165. This mention of Delos is a rare Homeric reference to locales that are distinctly Ionian in culture (HPC 227). Also, we see epic distancing here (Taplin 1996): back in the age of heroes, the date palm was still young and small, O.06.166–168—much smaller than it is imagined to be in the post-heroic age. [[GN 2017.05.04.]]


subject heading(s): similes about hair compared to flowers

The comparison of hair here to hyacinth blossoms is analogous to the comparison of hair with myrtle blossoms, as at I.17.051–052. [[GN 2017.05.04 via HPC 296n80.]]


subject heading(s): adeukḗs ‘discontinuous, interrupting’
See the anchor comment at O.04.489 on root duk-/deuk-‘continue’

This adjective adeukḗs occurs in contexts referring to an interrupted sequence. Nausicaa is concerned that the Phaeacians may say something, as expressed by the noun phēmis ‘something said’, that is adeukḗs for her reputation. Good reputation is conceived as a steady stream of speech, the interruption of which threatens to produce a bad reputation. [[GN 2017.05.30 via PasP 44.]]


Bibliographical Abbreviations

BA       = Best of the Achaeans, Nagy 1979/1999.

GMP    = Greek Mythology and Poetics, Nagy 1990b.

H24H   = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Nagy 2013

HC       = Homer the Classic, Nagy 2009|2008

HPC     = Homer the Preclassic, Nagy 2010|2009

HQ       = Homeric Questions, Nagy 1996b

HR       = Homeric Responses, Nagy 2003

LSJ      = Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones. 1940. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford.

MoM    = Masterpieces of Metonymy, Nagy 2016|2015

PasP    = Poetry as Performance, Nagy 1996a

PH      = Pindar’s Homer, Nagy 1990a



See the dynamic Bibliography for AHCIP.


Inventory of terms and names

See the dynamic Inventory of terms and names for AHCIP.