Certainly Ovid showed no trace of Homeric discretion when he parodied Odysseus' initial supplication of Nausikaa, inverting the sex roles and putting the words into the mouth of the lascivious water nymph Salmacis, addressed to the chaste Hermaphroditus ( Metamorphoses 4.320-28). But how did the fifth-century Athenian audience react to the Nausikaa episode?
The combination of women, water, and danger fascinated the Greeks. All of the stories alluded to here, and more, were illustrated by Archaic and Classical vase painters, for whom rape was an especially congenial subject, 32 whether at the seashore or elsewhere, and some of the iconographical conventions they created are evident on our two Nausikaa vases. This is true, for example, of the two girls fleeing in fear and distress on the Boston vase, a type repeated in countless rape and abduction scenes. Generally the attacker, whether Poseidon, Zeus, Boreas, Theseus, or another, grabs his victim, while her female companions flee for help (plates 28, 29). 33
Furthermore, Odysseus' half-crouching pose on the Boston pyxis (plate 27), even if motivated here by modesty, cannot have helped but remind Athenian viewers of the satyrs, perpetually aroused creatures, who steal upon their prey in a similar pose (plate 30). 34
These iconographical parallels suggest that for the Classical Athenian there was no doubt as to the sexual nature of the threat to Nausikaa and her friends. We cannot know how much Sophokles might have made of this motif in his play. It is a good bet that it was well exploited by Philyllios, the poet of Old Comedy whose play on this episode is known only from the title. 35 The Nausikaa episode has recently been described as representing the "vielschichtigste" of all Odysseus' many relationships with women. 36 By paying particular attention to the vase paintings and what they imply about the jaded sensibility of Classical Athens, we may be inclined to reread the Nausikaa episode with a new appreciation of its many layers of meaning.