Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – A Modern Nausicaa

Nausicaa passed here yesterday, seated astride of a donkey. She was neatly dressed in blue homespun, and her sister sat behind her, directly over the animal’s hind legs. Her mother, a wholesome-looking peasant woman, was walking and driving another donkey laden with a great mountain of soiled linen and other wearing apparel. An enormous copper kettle, bound to one side of the mountain, blazed intolerably except for its blackened bottom. The little caravan was on its way to Heftamyloi, or Seven Mills, to do a washing that had been collecting during — no one knows how long. There are many gushing springs at Heftamyloi, which is situated high up in the hills. These springs furnish power for several old-fashioned water mills, where the farmers take their grain to be ground.

Every man has moments when he is discontented with his lot, when he dreams that he should like to be something as widely different as possible from what he is, — an Arab sheik, for instance, dwelling in a tent in the desert ; a South Sea trader, captain of a pearling vessel ; or the Grand Lama of Lassa. When I have the blues, I sometimes wish I were the Sultan of Sulu, and at other times that I were those millers up there in the mountains of Argolis. “The air they drink is champagne of a most divine blending — sea breeze and mountain breeze. The waters sing to them and work for them, so that they have nothing to do but sit in the shade of the great platane trees and look down upon the rest of the world. Silver-white olive orchards, red plowed fields, molten gleaming seas, purple islands, are all spread out below them like a mighty panorama. The miller sees the ships, their sails no bigger than pocket hand-kerchiefs, come into the harbor; he watches them open. their wings and fly away, but he asks not whence they come or whither they go. He is as indifferent to the cares of men as were the happy gods. There is room in his soul for no other voice than the eternal pouring of the waters and the purring of the millstones.

To this beautiful spot the maidens of the surrounding country bring the family washing every month or so — an expedition that is often more of a picnic than a hard day’s work. I never see a mountain of soiled clothing trotting by on the four legs of a donkey, that I do not think of Nausicaa. Change the donkey into a lofty chariot drawn by mules, and the peasant woman into a princess and her beautiful attendants, and there you are.

I could spare any passage of equal length out of the poets, rather than that Homeric dream of the Phaeacian isles. What a glorious old socialist Homer must have been at heart, despite the fact that he made his living by singing of the prowess of the nobility. Was ever labor more ingenuously and more heartfully glorified than in that incident of Nausicaa? In Homer’s ideal community the king’s daughter helps with the family washing as a matter of course, and she rejoices in her task. And labor goes hand in hand with play to such an extent that you hardly realize when the work ends and the sport begins. For after those beautiful girls had put the garments into the tubs and had trodden them clear with their white feet, they spread them out upon the shining sands to dry ; then they disported in the river like nymphs, and ate their lunch with much chattering, no doubt, and no end of silvery laughter, after which they played at ball, and Nausicaa led them in song. In mentioning that game of ball, old Homer does not fail to speak of the participants as ” white-armed,” and that one adjective brings the whole graceful, lovely, aesthetic, joyous tableau up before us: the princess, most beautiful where all are fair, the flying draperies, the lithe movements and unconscious classic poses, the little river, the seashore, and the sea.

Abridged from ” In Argolis ”

Heftamyloi (lief ta’me le). — Grand Lama (la’ma) of Lassa : the supreme pontiff of an order of Buddhist (bood’ist) monks living in Lassa, the capital of Tibet (ti bet’). — Sultan of Sulu (sod loo’): Lord of the Sulu Islands, an archipelago in the Philippines.— platane (plat’an): plane tree.