Transfiguring the Odds
Odysseus woke from her slumber as the women passed near her leafy enclosure. She silently watched as they returned to their game. Clothed in nothing but sand and mud Odysseus knew that she must look more like some Stygian creature, than a human being. Odysseus hesitated. She did not wish to frighten the young women. Nevertheless, she needed their help. She debated in her mind about how to procede.
If she approached as another woman entreating them for their care, they might take pity on her, giving her the food, clothing and shelter she needed until she could make arrangements to continue on her journey. However, she did not know where she was nor the customs of the land. She might just as likely be taken against her will as a slave.
Odysseus considered presenting herself as a man. Then, she might be received as a full guest and given not only the necessities for keeping body and spirit together, but a boat and gifts to help speed her on her way to Penelopos. It would not have been the first time she had relied on such a ruse.
She thanked the deities for making her small breasted and packed some more mud around her chest to even the shape. She then grabbed a leafy branch to cover her hips. Odysseus carefully strode toward the young woman who seemed to be in command of this high-spirited assemblage. She remained apart, but moved close enough to be heard.
The servants scattered before the wild figure that approached. Only youthful Nausicaa stood her ground. She took a deep breath and looked straight into the eyes of the poor creature before her. Odysseus was taken aback by Nausicaa's simple bravery. The young woman could have been herself before the war, or perhaps the daughter she left behind.
Gently Odysseus spoke,"Dear woman, you are the most beautiful thing I have seen these many years. A human of great heart who stands firm when such a pitiable man as myself approaches. I dare not in this state grab your knees, but I am at your mercy. I was washed upon these shores after a terrible storm and I know no one and nothing of this place. Might I beg of you the kindness of something to clothe myself in: trousers, a shirt, and directions to the nearest town?
Nausicaa stared hard at Odysseus for a few moments. "If I were washed overboard from my boat through no fault of my own and stranded in a foreign land, I would hope to be found by someone who would treat me like a guest and a long lost friend," she said, "I will make sure all of your needs are met. The town lays this way. The people of this island are known as Phaiakians. I am Princess Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alkinoos." She then turned to her servants telling them to bring Odysseus food and drink, followed by leading him to the river away from the wind to bathe.
The women did as they were told, leaving Odysseus to bathe on her own with clothing and olive oil laid nearby. They needlessly tittered at the thought of a naked man nearby, but behaved themselves. No doubt Athena took a hand in disguising Odysseus' appearance as she discreetly dressed herself and appeared again before the group. The sunlight shone around her as she emerged and she cut a dashing figure, like a lithe runner at the top of his form.
Nausicaa was surprised at the transformation and her heart quickened at the sight. She turned to Dymea and whispered, "He looked like some sort of beast before, now he seems all heavenly. I could wish for a husband like that, if he would only be happy to stay in Skheria forever."
The women began packing all of the clean laundry back into the cart. Nausicaa climbed onto the driver's seat and invited Odysseus to sit beside her. "Come on then, I'll take you to town and to meet my parents, but we'll have to be careful about it. I can only take you as far as Athena's Grove. After that are the city walls, and we don't want the paparazzi finding us. They are likely to make guesses about whether or not you are my new boyfriend, and complain that I am looking for husbands amongst foreign riffraff. You know how it is.
"We'll let you off near the garden shrine and you wait until you can imagine that we are home. You then take the road into the city and ask anyone the directions to the palace of King Alkinoos. Being the palace it's, of course, the biggest and most ostentatious building within the walls. Once there, find your way to the inner court where my mother will be spinning purple wool by the firelight, and my father will be enjoying a glass of Chardonnay. Walk right past dad and throw yourself onto my mother's knees. Everything depends upon how she feels about you. If she likes you, she'll see that you get what you need to make it back to your homeland."
Odysseus agreed to obey Nausicaa's instructions.
The day was already waning as the cart bumped and jogged its way toward town. The other women walked behind, careful that nothing should fall out the back of the cart and become soiled. Odysseus felt so at peace as they passed countryside and farmland, slowly making their way to the stand of poplars where Athena's Grove lay. This one moment could be the paradise she might ask for in the afterlife.
All too soon the trip ended. Alone Odysseus made her way through the grove to the painted marble figure of Athena. Within her heart she prayed, "Athena, though Zeus may have wrecked and battered me here, I ask that I find love and mercy amongst these people."
Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps