The Odyssey, Book VII

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Odysseus meets Alcinous

Once her brothers had unloaded the clean clothes from the wagon Nausicaa retired to her apartments. As Odysseus approached the city Athena covered him in a cloud of mist, thereby making him invisible for his own safety in a foreign country, and, disguised as a young girl, took him to Alcinous’ palace. She advised him to go straight to Alcinous’ wife, Arete, telling him a little of her history, as winning her over would be his best chance of returning home. Athena then left for Athens.

Odysseus admired the lavish scale and wealth of the palace, its large orchards and vineyard and the people who lived and worked there.

As Odysseus approached Arete the mist round him disappeared and, as a suppliant, he begged her to provide him with an escort to his own country. He then sat in the ashes by the fire but, at the behest of one of the Phaeacian nobles, Alcinous summoned Odysseus to sit in the chair beside him, normally reserved for his favourite son, and offered him hospitality. Then Alcinous ordered everyone to make a drink offering to Zeus, the patron of suppliants, and to gather the next day to discuss the arrangements for Odysseus’ safe return home after he had reassured them he was not a god in disguise to test or trick them.

Odysseus at the court of Alcinous, painting by Francesco Hayez, 1814-1815. Arete is depicted on the left, sitting between Nausicaa and Alcinous.

Arete recognised the clothes Odysseus was wearing and asked where he had acquired them and where he had come from. He explained that, after being shipwrecked, he had arrived at Ogygia, Calypso’s island, and been detained by her there for seven years. He had refused her offer of immortality and eternal youth and she had finally released him in the eighth year, after which he travelled on a raft for eighteen days until Poseidon again sent a storm which destroyed the raft but he had managed to swim to Phaeacia. Exhausted, he had slept in a thicket close to the shore until he was woken by Nausicaa and her female companions during a ball game. She had fed and clothed him and brought him to the city, albeit at a distance for the sake of respectability. Alcinous was impressed with Odysseus and said he wished that Odysseus would stay and marry Nausicaa; however, if he wished to leave, he would make the arrangements the following day for an escort to row him home. Arete instructed her servants to set up a bed for Odysseus and everyone retired for the night.

Book VI Book VIII