What does the fact that Odysseus won't bathe in front of girls tell us about the kind of person he is?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the sixth book of Homer's Odyssey, we find Odysseus after he has washed ashore in the land of the Phaeacians. Exhausted after swimming ashore following his raft being wrecked, he falls asleep near the shore with only a blanket of leaves to cover him. The next morning he is awakened by the sounds of women's voices. Naked, he covers himself with a leafy branch and approaches Princess Nausicaa and her maidservants. Odysseus speaks to Nausicaa with flattering words and successfully begs her for some clothing. Nausicaa also gives Odysseus some oil for bathing.

Odysseus, however, does not want to bathe in front of the women. His reasoning is as follows: "I will not bathe with you here, and I am ashamed to stand naked among lovely women" (A.S. Kline translation).

Odysseus' remark here demonstrates that he is a person of modesty and civility, but it is also a sign of respect to the princess and her maidservants. Also, it may have been a taboo in Greek culture for a freeborn man of marriageable age to appear naked in front of a freeborn unmarried woman of marriageable age. So, while it would probably have been okay for Nausicaa's maidservants (they are slaves) to see Odysseus naked and even to give him a bath, it would not have been appropriate for Nausicaa to see Odysseus naked or to bathe him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial