By Roman Payne
One of the most endearing characters in the Odyssey, Princess Nausica’a, the daughter of King Alcinous of the Phaiakians, almost seduces Odysseus on his return home.
After 7 years of exile on the island of Calypso, Odysseus is permitted to leave the nymph to return to his homeland of Ithaca. A storm shipwrecks him on his journey, however, and he finds himself on a peaceful island where he awakens tangled in seaweed, caked with brine. Upon regaining consciousness, he witnesses the idyllic scene of a girl playing ball with her serving maids.
This girl, Nausicaa, is inspired by Athena to have courage; unlike her maids who run in fear of the naked stranger, she stays to help Odysseus. Ancient Greek shores were dangerous places for women. Pirates frequently roamed these shores looking for riches to be had, and women to abduct. Odysseus, always crafty with words, compares the girl to the goddesses Artemis. Such a comparison is meant to remove fear from her heart, as Artemis is a virgin goddess known to harm any man who threatens her virginity (think of the story of Actaeon and Diana—Diana is Artemis’ Roman name). Thereby Odysseus is asserting that he does not dare harm the young princess.
Nausicaa leads Odysseus to her palace where he is received as a guest by the king. She suggests that she would be willing to marry Odysseus, and her father the king proposes this as well. Although this offer of the young princess seems innocent enough, it is a threat to Odysseus’ homecoming. His fate demands that he return to Ithaca to reunite with his wife Penelope and his son, and kill the suitors who are threatening his kingdom. Therefore, in its own innocent way, the seduction of Nausica’a is as dangerous to the fate of Odysseus and the outcome of “The Odyssey” as the seductions of bolder, more powerful women, such as Calypso and Circe.