THE ADVENTURES OF ULYSSES
BY CHARLES LAMB
The Princess Nausicaa.—The Washing.—The Game with the Ball.—The Court of Phaeacia and King Alcinous.
Meantime Minerva, designing an interview between the king’s daughter of that country and Ulysses when he should awake, went by night to the palace of king Alcinous, and stood at the bedside of the princess Nausicaa in the shape of one of her favourite attendants, and thus addressed the sleeping princess:
“Nausicaa, why do you lie sleeping here, and never bestow a thought upon your bridal ornaments, of which you have many and beautiful, laid up in your wardrobe against the day of your marriage, which cannot be far distant; when you shall have need of all, not only to deck your own person, but to give away in presents to the virgins that honouring you shall attend you to the temple? Your reputation stands much upon the timely care of these things; these things are they which fill father and reverend mother with delight. Let us arise betimes to wash your fair vestments of linen and silks in the river; and request your sire to lend you mules and a coach, for your wardrobe is heavy, and the place where we must wash is distant, and besides it fits not a great princess like you to go so far on foot.”
So saying, she went away, and Nausicaa awoke, full of pleasing thoughts of her marriage, which the dream had told her was not far distant; and as soon as it was dawn she arose and dressed herself, and went to find her parents.
The queen her mother was already up, and seated among her maids, spinning at her wheel, as the fashion was in those primitive times, when great ladies did not disdain housewifery: and the king her father was preparing to go abroad at that early hour to council with his grave senate.
“My father,” she said, “will you not order mules and a coach to be got ready, that I may go and wash, I and my maids, at the cisterns that stand without the city?”
“What washing does my daughter speak of?” said Alcinous.
“Mine and my brothers’ garments,” she replied, “that have contracted soil by this time with lying by so long in the wardrobe. Five sons have you that are my brothers; two of them are married, and three are bachelors; these last it concerns to have their garments neat and unsoiled; it may advance their fortunes in marriage: and who but I their sister should have a care of these things? You yourself, my father, have need of the whitest apparel when you go, as now, to the council.”
She used this plea, modestly dissembling her care of her own nuptials to her father; who was not displeased at this instance of his daughter’s discretion; for a seasonable care about marriage may be permitted to a young maiden, provided it be accompanied with modesty and dutiful submission to her parents in the choice of her future husband; and there was no fear of Nausicaa choosing wrongly or improperly, for she was as wise as she was beautiful, and the best in all Phaeacia were suitors to her for her love. So Alcinous readily gave consent that she should go, ordering mules and a coach to be prepared. And Nausicaa brought from her chamber all her vestments, and laid them up in the coach, and her mother placed bread and wine in the coach, and oil in a golden cruse, to soften the bright skins of Nausicaa and her maids when they came out of the river.
Nausicaa, making her maids get up into the coach with her, lashed the mules, till they brought her to the cisterns which stood a little on the outside of the town, and were supplied with water from the river Callicoe.
There her attendants unyoked the mules, took out the clothes, and steeped them in the cisterns, washing them in several waters, and afterwards treading them clean with their feet, venturing wagers who should have done soonest and cleanest, and using many pretty pastimes to beguile their labours as young maids use, while the princess looked on. When they had laid their clothes to dry, they fell to playing again, and Nausicaa joined them in a game with the ball, which is used in that country, which is performed by tossing the ball from hand to hand with great expedition, she who begins the pastime singing a song. It chanced that the princess, whose turn it became to toss the ball, sent it so far from its mark that it fell beyond into one of the cisterns of the river; at which the whole company, in merry consternation, set up a shriek so loud as waked the sleeping Ulysses, who was taking his rest after his long toils in the woods not far distant from the place where these young maids had come to wash.
At the sound of female voices Ulysses crept forth from his retirement, making himself a covering with boughs and leaves as well as he could to shroud his nakedness. The sudden appearance of his weather-beaten and almost naked form so frighted the maidens that they scudded away into the woods and all about to hide themselves, only Minerva (who had brought about this interview to admirable purposes, by seemingly accidental means) put courage into the breast of Nausicaa, and she stayed where she was, and resolved to know what manner of man he was, and what was the occasion of his strange coming to them.
He not venturing (for delicacy) to approach and clasp her knees, as suppliants should, but standing far off, addressed this speech to the young princess:
“Before I presume rudely to press my petitions, I should first ask whether I am addressing a mortal woman, or one of the goddesses. If a goddess, you seem to me to be likest to Diana, the chaste huntress, the daughter of Jove. Like hers are your lineaments, your stature, your features, and air divine.”
She making answer that she was no goddess, but a mortal maid, he continued:
“If a woman, thrice blessed are both the authors of your birth, thrice blessed are your brothers, who even to rapture must have joy in your perfections, to see you grown so like a young tree, and so graceful. But most blessed of all that breathe is he that has the gift to engage your young neck in the yoke of marriage. I never saw that man that was worthy of you. I never saw man or woman that at all parts equalled you. Lately at Delos (where I touched) I saw a young palm which grew beside Apollo’s temple; it exceeded all the trees which ever I beheld for straightness and beauty: I can compare you only to that. A stupor past admiration strikes me, joined with fear, which keeps me back from approaching you, to embrace your knees. Nor is it strange; for one of freshest and firmest spirit would falter, approaching near to so bright an object: but I am one whom a cruel habit of calamity has prepared to receive strong impressions. Twenty days the unrelenting seas have tossed me up and down coming from Ogygia, and at length cast me shipwrecked last night upon your coast. I have seen no man or woman since I landed but yourself. All that I crave is clothes, which you may spare me, and to be shown the way to some neighbouring town. The gods, who have care of strangers, will requite you for these courtesies.”
She, admiring to hear such complimentary words proceed out of the mouth of one whose outside looked so rough and unpromising, made answer: “Stranger, I discern neither sloth nor folly in you, and yet I see that you are poor and wretched: from which I gather that neither wisdom nor industry can secure felicity; only Jove bestows it upon whomsoever he pleases. He perhaps has reduced you to this plight. However, since your wanderings have brought you so near to our city, it lies in our duty to supply your wants. Clothes and what else a human hand should give to one so suppliant, and so tamed with calamity, you shall not want. We will show you our city and tell you the name of our people. This is the land of the Phaeacians, of which my father, Alcinous, is king.”
Then calling her attendants, who had dispersed on the first sight of Ulysses, she rebuked them for their fear, and said: “This man is no Cyclop, nor monster of sea or land, that you should fear him; but he seems manly, staid, and discreet, and though decayed in his outward appearance, yet he has the mind’s riches, wit and fortitude, in abundance. Show him the cisterns, where he may wash him from the sea-weeds and foam that hang about him, and let him have garments that fit him out of those which we have brought with us to the cisterns.”
Ulysses, retiring a little out of sight, cleansed him in the cisterns from the soil and impurities with which the rocks and waves had covered all his body, and clothing himself with befitting raiment, which the princess’s attendants had given him, he presented himself in more worthy shape to Nausicaa. She admired to see what a comely personage he was, now he was dressed in all parts; she thought him some king or hero: and secretly wished that the gods would be pleased to give her such a husband.
Then causing her attendants to yoke her mules, and lay up the vestments, which the sun’s heat had sufficiently dried, in the coach, she ascended with her maids and drove off to the palace, bidding Ulysses, as she departed, keep an eye upon the coach, and to follow it on foot at some distance: which she did, because if she had suffered him to have rode in the coach with her, it might have subjected her to some misconstructions of the common people, who are always ready to vilify and censure their betters, and to suspect that charity is not always pure charity, but that love or some sinister intention lies hid under its disguise. So discreet and attentive to appearance in all her actions was this admirable princess.
Ulysses as he entered the city wondered to see its magnificence, itsmarkets, buildings, temples; its walls and rampires; its trade, and resort of men; its harbours for shipping, which is the strength of the Phaeacian state. But when he approached the palace, and beheld its riches, the proportion of its architecture, its avenues, gardens, statues, fountains, he stood rapt in admiration, and almost forgot his own condition in surveying the flourishing estate of others; but recollecting himself, he passed on boldly into the inner apartment, where the king and queen were sitting at dinner with their peers, Nausicaa having prepared them for his approach.
To them humbly kneeling, he made it his request that, since fortune had cast him naked upon their shores, they would take him into their protection, and grant him a conveyance by one of the ships of which their great Phaeacian state had such good store, to carry him to his own country. Having delivered his request, to grace it with more humility he went and sat himself down upon the hearth among the ashes, as the custom was in those days when any would make a petition to the throne.
He seemed a petitioner of so great state and of so superior a deportment that Alcinous himself arose to do him honour, and causing him to leave that abject station which he had assumed, placed him next to his throne, upon a chair of state, and thus he spake to his peers:
“Lords and councillors of Phaeacia, ye see this man, who he is we know not, that is come to us in the guise of a petitioner: he seems no mean one; but whoever he is, it is fit, since the gods have cast him upon our protection, that we grant him the rites of hospitality while he stays with us, and at his departure a ship well manned to convey so worthy a personage as he seems to be, in a manner suitable to his rank, to his own country.”
This counsel the peers with one consent approved; and wine and meat being set before Ulysses, he ate and drank, and gave the gods thanks who had stirred up the royal bounty of Alcinous to aid him in that extremity. But not as yet did he reveal to the king and queen who he was, or whence he had come; only in brief terms he related his being cast upon their shores, his sleep in the woods, and his meeting with the princess Nausicaa, whose generosity, mingled with discretion, filled her parents with delight, as Ulysses in eloquent phrases adorned and commended her virtues. But Alcinous, humanely considering that the troubles which his guest had undergone required rest, as well as refreshment by food, dismissed him early in the evening to his chamber; where in a magnificent apartment Ulysses found a smoother bed, but not a sounder repose, than he had enjoyed the night before, sleeping upon leaves which he had scraped together in his necessity.