Homer’s Odyssey: Book 7
Nausicaa returns home, greeted by her brothers and her chambermaid. Athena cloaks Odysseus in a mist (a gimmick that Virgil will later borrow) and disguises herself as a girl whom Odysseus asks to lead him to the palace. She claims, “The men here never suffer strangers gladly, / have no love for hosting a man from foreign lands. / All they really trust are their fast, flying ships” (7.36-38).
Some genealogical material is worrisome: there’s a connection to Poseidon (7.65-66). In recent history, Alcinous married Arete “and honors her / as no woman is honored on this earth, of all the wives / now keeping households under their husbands’ sway” (7.77-79). Gold and silver dog sculptures guard the door, and golden statues of boys hold torches. The actual women and men have gender-specific skills: weaving and sailing, respectively. There’s a nifty orchard.
Odysseus presents himself anonymously. An elder appeals to Alcinous: “How indecent, look, / our guest on the ground, in the ashes by the fire! / You people are holding back, waiting for your signal” (7.189-191); “suppliants’ rights are sacred” (7.196, 215). Odysseus distinguishes himself from the gods, confessing that “The belly’s a shameless dog, there’s nothing worse. / Always insisting, pressing, it never lets us forget — / destroyed as I am, my heart racked with sadness, / sick with anguish, still it keeps demanding” (7.251-254). Queen Arete delivers a barrage of questions. “What hard labor, queen, … to tell you the story of my troubles start to finish” (7.277-278). He offers the Calypso chapter of his adventures and brings matters up to date, being careful to absolve Nausicaa of any blame or shame. The king is so impressed that he announces, “seeing the man you are, seeing we think as one — / you could wed my daughter and be my son-in-law / and stay right here with us. I’d give you a house / and great wealth — if you chose to stay, that is” (7.357-360). Odysseus pronounces Alcinous a swell guy, but it’s time for bed.