The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer's Odyssey

By Beth Cohen | Go to book overview
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8
Coming of Age in Phaiakia: The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausikaa

H. A. Shapiro

If, as A. J. Graham demonstrates elsewhere in this volume, Odysseus' far-flung travels reflect the large-scale colonization movement of the Greek Renaissance, then Scheria, the land of the Phaeacians, the setting of nearly one quarter of the poem, is surely the ultimate Greek colonist's fantasy of a faraway paradise. It has often been noted that one conspicuous fantasy element of Phaeacian society is a kind of gender reversal at the court. It is Arete, the queen, whom Odysseus is advised to supplicate on his entry into the palace (6.304-5); it is Arete upon whose favor Odysseus, the shipwrecked stranger, will depend for his success. 1 Nausikaa, the princess, is very much her mother's daughter: poised, self-assured, quick-witted. And just as Arete was the only child of a royal father who died young (7.63-67), so Nausikaa, as the only daughter and youngest child in a family of five sons (6.6263), is the loved and cherished child of doting parents and an adoring people.

Yet amid the rich panorama of womanhood in the Odyssey, 2 Nausikaa is perhaps unique: neither a motherly figure, like Eurykleia or Antikleia (Odysseus' mother); a wife, like Penelope, Arete, or Helen; nor an experienced temptress, like Kirke or Kalypso; but rather a maiden on the brink of maturity and marriage. 3 This is, to be sure, a standard enough figure in Greek myth, but, curiously, Nausikaa is the only good example in the poem. 4 The whole episode is punctuated

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