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BOOK 7: GARDENS AND FIRELIGHT
In Book 7 Nausikaa returns home. Her brothers greet her and stable the mules and help unload the laundry. Nausikaa's withdrawal to her room suggests that she has been affected by her meeting with Odysseus.
When Odysseus enters the town, Athena meets him in yet another disguise, this time as a small girl in pigtails hugging a water jug. How does this role make you feel about this grey-eyed goddess of wisdom who usually carries a long spear and often is involved in warfare? In this disguise Athena gives Odysseus some background about the people he is about to meet. She says Arete, the queen, is a person of compassion-Odysseus should address himself to her.
In describing the palace of Alkinoos and Arete, Homer outdoes himself: bronze-paneled walls, azure molding made of lapis lazuli, sculpture, gold and silver everywhere, even in the door handles. The torch-bearers, the maids grinding corn and weaving, the well-tended orchard filled with fragrant fruit-the place is a model of industry and comfort. When Odysseus approaches Arete, he kneels in front of her and puts his arms around her knees in a gesture that asks for mercy. Remember that he chose not to approach Nausikaa this way. Then the gesture would have been awkward and might have been misinterpreted. But here the gesture of humility is the right thing to do.
The rituals of hospitality to a stranger are observed, including a libation, the spilling out of some wine as a sacrifice to the gods before drinking the remainder. A realistic moment occurs when Odysseus apologizes for continuing to eat, while reassuring Alkinoos that he is not a god in disguise. He is starving and, he says, "Belly must be filled." He also asks for passage home the next day.
When all have gone to bed except the king and queen, Odysseus describes how he came to Skheria and explains that Nausikaa helped him-a fact that accounts for the fine clothes he is wearing. Nausikaa's father finds fault with her behavior. She should have brought Odysseus directly home with her. Notice how smoothly Odysseus covers the situation, taking responsibility for his arriving alone. He makes no mention of "gossip." He will give Nausikaa no reason to be embarrassed.
NOTE: What do you make of Alkinoos' response, which is, in short order, to offer Odysseus Nausikaa as his wife? Do you think this father, who observed his daughter's blush only this morning, is sensitive to the fact that she might have a crush on this handsome, though middle-aged and weathered stranger? Alkinoos also offers Odysseus swift passage home, if that should be his choice. This is a delicate conversation between two men of the world. Odysseus doesn't actually refuse the offer of Nausikaa, but he heartily accepts the offer of passage home, calling down Zeus' blessing on Alkinoos. Diplomatic is too mild a word for Odysseus. He makes everyone feel good, offends nobody, and gets what he wants.
Many beds are described in The Odyssey, but the one prepared for Odysseus at the end of this book is especially soft and inviting. Perhaps this is because he has not slept in a bed for twenty days, not since he left Kalypso.