The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Odysseus sleeps, Athena flies to a Phaeacian city where the princess Nausicaa, daughter of the king Alcinous, lies sleeping. Disguised as a girl the princess's age, Athena scolds her for the poor condition of her clothes, and suggests that they go to the shore to wash them. In the morning, the king gives her a wagon and a team of mules, the queen packs her a lunch and some olive oil for applying after bathing, and she goes with her maids to the beach where Odysseus lies sleeping. They wash the clothes, bathe, and oil themselves. As they wait for their clothes to dry they play games in the sun.
Athena intervenes in Odysseus's fate, but indirectly – instead of carrying Odysseus to the Phaeacian castle herself, or better yet winging him right to Ithaca, she acts by influencing another mortal. Moreover, she influences the princess in the disguise of a mortal: though her role in Odysseus's fate is very significant, she takes pains to mask that role whenever possible, muddying the question of whether those mortals act by free will or divine influence.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
By Athena's design, the girls romping wakes Odysseus. He's a little apprehensive at first but he walks out toward them, shielding himself with leaves. All the girls except Nausicaa run away at the sight of the naked, sea-briny man. Odysseus stands at a respectful distance, compliments her beauty, and begs her for help. The princess responds that Zeus must have destined Odysseus for pain, but agrees to lead him to town, because it is customary to be friendly to strangers and beggars. Odysseus bathes, oils, and clothes himself, and Athena makes him very beautiful. The girls are amazed at the transformation; they give him food and drink.
Athena not only brings the princess to the shore where Odysseus lies but makes her shouts loud enough to wake him: she is present in the smallest details. In the princess's response, we see two customs in conflict: on the one hand, one should assume that an unlucky person is hated by the gods and therefore does not deserve help; on the other hand, one should help strangers and beggars. Nausicaa chooses to honor the latter.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Nausicaa invites Odysseus to ride into town with her, but on second thought asks him to enter the town alone, to avoid giving the townspeople cause for gossip. On the way to town, she says, Odysseus should turn into a grove near her father's estate and wait for the girls to reach town. Then he should walk into the palace, find the king and queen, and beg the queen for mercy. Odysseus does as she says; in the grove, he prays for Athena's protection. She hears his prayers, but she is too frightened of Poseidon to appear to Odysseus undisguised.
Nausicaa shows good sense by honoring customs dictating proper behavior for unmarried young women. Because of her uncertainty about the stranger, Nausicaa decides to let her more experienced parents make the final decision. Here, we see another possible reason for Athena's reticence: she does not want to provoke Poseidon's anger. She does what she thinks is right but she uses cunning to avoid conflict.
Themes
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon