The Odyssey

Why doesn't Odysseus clasp Nausicaa's knees?


"Endearing, sly, and suave" (6, 162) * is how Homer describes Odysseus as he addresses the princess. It's a nice trick, considering the circumstances.

Why is Odysseus so charming? First, he sizes up his audience. After so much time with goddesses, he is used to using flattery. He has no idea who she is, but addresses her as "princess." But even that is not enough:

Keep in mind . . . In almost all accounts, Artemis remained chaste throughout time. In fact, she once changed a man into a deer when she caught him staring at her while she was bathing. The man's dogs chased him down and made an end of him.

"[A]re 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 . . ." (6, 164-7)*

Who wouldn't want to be accused of being too beautiful to be mortal? He also plays to her sense of virtue. He could have compared her to Aphrodite, for instance. But Aphrodite is lusty, and he does not want to imply that she is a party-girl. Furthermore, he is trying very hard to not be frightening. Better to not reference the goddess of love. Artemis is not only the beautiful and graceful goddess of the moon; she also represents chastity and restraint.

Odysseus goes even further. "What would a young, beautiful maiden be interested in?" he might have asked himself. How about "true love"?

"[M]ore blest than all other men alive, that man
who sways you with gifts and leads you home, his bride!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And may the good gods give you all your heart desires:
husband, and house, and lasting harmony too.
No finer, greater gift in the world than that . . .
when man and woman possess their home, two minds,
two hearts that work as one."      (6, 173-4, 198-203) *

Unfortunately, we know that Odysseus is laying it on a little thick. How do we know? Homer tells us. We see Odysseus thinking:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Plead now
with a subtle, winning word and stand well back,
don't clasp her knees, the girl might bridle, yes.      (6, 159-161) *

That isn't what he tells the maiden, however:

"[S]o now I marvel at you, my lady: rapt, enthralled,
too struck with awe to grasp you by the knees."

(6, 184-5, italics original) *

It's not as if he was lying outright. Nausicaa is undoubtedly beautiful. Nor is he malicious. He doesn't wish any harm on the girl. He's just trying to survive and get home.

But he is not being honest, and Nausicaa does get hurt. Odysseus knows what he is doing. He is trying to make Nausicaa love him so she will help him. When he leaves, we know that the young, strong princess will be just fine without him.

Does that excuse Odysseus?

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Hi, these are way too many questions and beyond the scope of this short answer forum . As too your first query, Odysseus was rather hesitant to clasp her knees partly because Nausicaa was naked and rather dirty.