August 22, 2008


Frederick Leighton's painting of Nausicaa, princess of the Phaeacians and rescuer of Odysseus, courtesy of wikipedia.

The Goat Rope series on the Odyssey of Homer and what it has to offer today continues. If you like classics, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find news and comments about current events.

Imagine that you're a middle aged man who has been shipwrecked and lost at sea for days and that you've washed up on the shore of a strange place. You look and feel like hell and you have to introduce yourself to a beautiful young girl and gain her help without scaring the daylights out of her.

One other thing: you're totally naked.

That would be a job for someone known for strategy and cunning (Greek metis). Somebody like Odysseus.

After he left Calypso's island, everything goes OK...for a while. But then the grudge-holding sea god Poseidon gets wind that his old enemy is at afloat again and destroys his raft. (In one of his more famous adventures, Odysseus blinded the cyclops Polyphemus, Poseidon's son.) He finally makes it to the island of Scheria more dead than alive. When he returns to consciousness he asks himself

"Man of misery, whose land have I lit on now?
What are they here--violent, savage, lawless?
or friendly to strangers, god-fearing men?..."

Nudged by Athena, the beautiful Nausicaa and her maids are washing clothes near the shore. She is about 14 years old--ripe for marriage by ancient Greek standards. He grabs a tree branch to cover his private parts and approaches the girls. All run but Nausicaa.

This is a dangerous moment for everyone. She is no doubt wary of sexual assault, just as he is wary of provoking the islanders whose help he needs. He comes up with a pretty good trick:

When in doubt, ask a woman if she is a goddess.

Keeping a respectful distance, he says

"Here I am at your mercy, princess--
are you a goddess or a mortal? If one of the gods
who rule the skies up there, you're Artemis to the life,
the daughter of mighty Zeus--I see her now--just look
at your build, your bearing, your lithe flowing grace...
But if you're one of the mortals living here on earth,
three times blest are your father, your queenly mother,
three times over your brothers too. How often their hearts
must warm with joy to see you striding into the dances--
such a bloom of beauty..."

You gotta admit it, he's pretty slick. Comparing her to Artemis was an especially reassuring touch since that powerful goddess was a perpetual virgin whom no mortal man would dare to pursue.

His words did the trick. He gained the help of Nausicaa. She will introduce him to her parents, who will offer excellent hospitality (xenia) and send him home to Ithaca at last.

More to come.

THE SENSIBLE CENTER. A poll by the Drum Major Institute of self-identified middle class Americans finds strong bi-partisan support for universal health care, the Employee Free Choice Act, paid sick days, and more.

DOING WITHOUT HEALTH CARE is a reality for many working families as costs rise.

THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE. Here's an amusing item on things women do to make themselves attractive to men. I'm eagerly awaiting the other side of the story.

BLOGGING AND HEALTH. From the Boston Globe, here's an article about how blogging has become part of the treatment for some cancer patients.


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