Pylos and Sparta

We can perhaps see Nausikai as somewhat of a ‘feminine doublet of Telemachus’8: yet-to-mature, slightly perplexing but courteous and promising. Indeed, Odysseus describes her virtually as such when he compares her to a ‘young palm-tree shooting up’ at Delos (6. 161-167). The obvious point of comparison is her youth and beauty, but it is also true that this is where Leto gave birth to Apollo and, most interestingly, Artemis9. This helps to characterise Nausikai as a figure of innocence and seemingly great descent (and thus potential), akin to Telemachus.

Odysseus saw this young palm on his way to Troy. His meeting with Nausikai?? now, on his homecoming, therefore has a cruel irony: we may be prompted to think back to the beginnings of Odysseus’ journey and him leaving Ithaka and his then recently-born son Telemachus who is likely to still be subconsciously in our minds after having been characterised so strongly in the first four books (even attempting his own ‘mini-Odyssey’ in Pylos and Sparta).

Comparisons between Nausikai and Telemachus, and so Phaiacia and Ithaka, may thus be both worthwhile and hard to resist. Another significant much-recurring motif displayed in this passage concerns gaining hospitality, which Odysseus greatly requires travelling from land to land. Importantly, in order to do so he needs, to some extent, to reappraise his heroic ideals and quest for kleos (glory) that served him so well at Troy: the Iliad may require brawn, but the Odyssey requires brains. He has to be cautious and astute when landing anywhere in order to leave with his life.

In this case, there is comic effect as we are aware that ‘mighty Odysseus is apprehensive [only] of a playful group of ladies’10, but when we learn of his earlier encounters (for example, with Polyphemos) caution seems to be no laughing matter. Similarly, the issue of supplication (6. 141-148) can be seen as a ‘test of Odysseus’ vaunted intelligence’11: by not grasping Nausikai?? ‘s knees, he shows an ability to adapt to the situation and favour words over action. Such an attitude will be required to its greatest degree when Odysseus returns home, slowly identifying himself to those closest to him (e.g. 16. 187-212).

Our passage, then, explicitly contains little more than Odysseus discovering Nausikai?? and her servants in what seems to be an exotic utopia, allowing him to reach her parents and consequently be escorted home. On further inspection, one may note how the strife in Ithaka is contrasted well with the harmony of Phaiacia. Further, one’s appreciation of the poem may be increased by certain subtexts and themes that I have argued lie underneath the narrative: these motifs arguably give this scene its true depth and sense of unity with the rest of the poem.

Commentary II (2. 35-145) The passage opens with Telemachus taking the sceptre to speak in the assembly. In response to Aigyptios, Telemachus tells us that it was he who called the assembly, there is no enemy advancing and the matter is ‘business of his own’ (2. 40-47). We know, however, that it was Athene (positioning herself as Telemachus’ mentor in the guise, for now, of Odysseus’ friend Mentes) who told Telemachus to call an assembly in her earlier visit to him; it was at this time, also, that she ordered him to thereafter journey to Pylos and Sparta (1.270-288).

Telemachus asserts his troubles (and himself): the Suitors are consuming his inheritance with little regard. His family does not, he argues, have the strength to overpower them without Odysseus, who would certainly defend the house. Telemachus indirectly entreats the Ithakans for assistance by saying emotively that they are his enemy by encouraging the Suitors; surely Odysseus did them no wrong. He throws the sceptre to the ground, crying in anger while pity overcomes the onlookers.

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