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Thursday, April 15, 2021

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - N Is For Nausicaa And Narcissus


Public Domain

Who would have thought that washing clothes could be fun? A social occasion even? But this is what happens in the Odyssey when a bunch of girls go out to the river to do the laundry and run into a stranded hero. 

Not that it’s quite by chance. 

Nausicaa, daughter of the Phaeacian king, has a dream - or, rather, a Dream - in which she is told to get the laundry and go to the river to wash. The dream is from the goddess Athene, who wants to help Odysseus, and takes the form of Nausicaa’s best friend, Dynas. 

So, in the morning, Nausicaa and her friends go off down to the river, not far from the beach, with all the palace laundry in a cart driven by our heroine, plus a picnic lunch and wine packed by Nausicaa’s Mum, Queen Arete, and cheerfully wash everything in the river before settling down for lunch and playing ball while they wait for the clothes to dry.

See what I mean about washing clothes being fun? 

As they play games, a badly thrown ball wakes up the shipwrecked Odysseus, who stands and asks Nausicaa where he is and please, could he borrow some clothes to get into town. 

The Princess obliges, as well as feeding him and letting him get washed, and soon Odysseus is at the palace, where he is made welcome and tells the story of his adventures. Eventually the Phaeacians take him the rest of the way home and leave him on the beach at Ithaca with some gifts. 

Nausicaa is such a delightful teenager, complete with best friends, and gets on with everyone. It must be such a relief for Odysseus to finally meet some nice people and a young woman who isn’t trying to keep him as her lover. 

Robert Graves has suggested that not only did a woman probably write the Odyssey, because of all the domestic detail(Nausicaa’s mother is already busy weaving when she gets up in the morning and goes to ask her parents if she can go clothes washing), but that the author was Nausicaa. He wrote a novel about it, Homer’s Daughter.

The 1950s film Ulysses, with Kirk Douglas, is worth a watch.

Here it is on YouTube. 

It was a pleasant break to find our hero not being menaced by monsters or held prisoner by some goddess wanting him as a toy boy. But now, back to the standard Greek myth! The story of Narcissus! 

Narcissus. Public Domain

Narcissus is a beautiful young man who has never seen his reflection. His mother has had some advice from the seer Tiresias that Narcissus will live a good long life as long as he never sees himself.

Echo is a nymph with a pretty voice who got into trouble with Hera for distracting her with funny stories while Zeus was busy with other women. Hera lets her keep her voice, but only allows her to repeat what other people have said.

So - a woodland. A beautiful boy and a girl who is smitten with him, but can’t tell him so. And - fatally - a pool. No, nobody drowns. But fatal anyway.

Echo lets Narcissus see her. He gets annoyed with her for repeating him and he certainly isn’t interested in a romance. Flinging her aside, he turns to the pool. 

You probably heard this story in primary school and know what happens next, but I’ll say it anyway. The boy sees his reflection in the pool and, like a budgie in front of a mirror, falls deeply in love, thinking it’s someone else looking back at him. Unlike a budgie, he doesn’t get distracted, and keeps staring at himself till some god turns him into a flower. 

This is what we call a narcissus flower today, the humble daffodil. 

Public domain

Whether the flower was named for the myth or not, I don’t know, but we certainly use the term narcissist for someone who thinks more about himself than others and has no empathy for anyone else. I’m sure we can all think of someone who fits this description! 

As for poor sad Echo, she faded away till there was nothing left of her but her voice, still only able to repeat what someone else says.

Tomorrow we will meet Orpheus, a King of Thrace who went on the voyage of the Argo, but is best known for what happened to his wife... 


AJ Blythe said...

I know the story of Narcissus and Echo is sad, but for some reason I've always liked it. I had it in a story of Greek myths and fables when I was a kid and it was the one I always wanted my parents to read to me.

Sue Bursztynski said...

It IS sad, yes. It’s the one we all heard as kids, though I do remember about Atlas, my Grade 6 teacher told us that, though Inread the Narcissus and Echo story.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Finally a Greek myth that doesn't end in tragedy!

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge with an A-Z of Faerie: The Nightmare Steed

Anne Young said...

Both great stories. Narcissus is very familiar but I had forgotten the one about Nausicaa and I enjoyed your retelling.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I've always liked the Narcissus and Echo story. Back in the bad old days when homosexuality had to be "coded" when appearing in books/movies, the abundant presence of mirrors surrounding the ostensibly straight character was a common way to tip off those with good gaydar that the character was, in fact, meant to be gay or lesbian. That trope owes a lot to the Narcissus myth of a male falling in love with his reflected vision of "another" male.

Melanie Atherton Allen said...

These are great! I knew the details of the Narcissus one, but, like Anne, had forgotten most of the Nausicaa stuff--all I remembered is that washing clothes came into it somehow. And that's only because it is mentioned in one of my favorite books, Michael Innes' Appleby's End, which I have memorized long sections of, by accident, including the part where they discuss Nausicaa. Otherwise, I think I probably wouldn't have retained anything about her. It is nice to get the details!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Ronel! Well, there was a tragedy for the Phaeacians that I should have mentioned. When they got back, Poseidon was annoyed with them and blocked off the island, surrounding it with mountains so they wouldn’t be able to get out any more. And Homer tells us that the Phaeacians didn’t care about anything but sailing! They were passionate about their seamanship. Those gods were horrible.

Hi Debra! I first read this story when I was too young to know about gay. But Greek gods were very much bisexual. Ganymede, Hyacinthus and others were desired by male gods who also went after women.

Hi Melanie! I just love the idea of people turning a washing expedition into a girls’ day out and it gives us a flavour of what it might have been back then when you had to slap clothes on the rocks. I appreciate my washing machine, but it’s very different.