Homer’s The Odyssey introduces us to a wide variety of characters. Two of the younger characters in The Odyssey are Telemachos, the son of Odysseus, and Nausikaa, the daughter of King Alkinoos. Both Telemachos and Nausikaa are taken to be approximately of the same age, although the book is not specific about Nausikaa’s age. More importantly, we know that they are both teenagers. Almost all adolescents share two central traits, the wish for independence and rebelliousness, and Nausikaa and Telemachos are no exceptions.
Adolescence is defined as the transitional period between childhood and adulthood. Despite Telemachos’s age, he doesn’t really begin this transitional period until Athena comes to him. In the beginning of the book, although Telemachos is eighteen, he is still a child. Telemachos’s childhood was, for the most part, without a father. Because of this, he feels it is his duty to protect his mother. In my opinion, that is just a delusion of grandeur. What does his mother need protection from? Anyway, Telemachos lacks the resolve to expel the suitors and he doesn’t completely think his actions through.
However, when Athena comes to him in the form of Mentes, everything suddenly changes. Athena acts as a catalyst to propel Telemachos into the next stage of his life. This is where his adolescence truly begins. Telemachos now wants to be independent. It is possible that he wants to harvest his father’s kleos and live up to the “Odysseus tradition” and the Odysseus name. Telemachos rebels against his mother, whom he thought he was supposed to protect, and mounts an expedition to go search for his father – without telling her anything.
It is clear that when Telemachos “became a teenager”, he immediately began exhibiting strong rebellious and independent feelings. The main difference between Telemachos and Nausikaa in this respect is that Telemachos went from being a child to a teenager practically overnight, and therefore it is likely that his rebellious outburst was far more sudden and far more pronounced. On the other hand, Nausikaa grew up in a balanced family, and her development was much more gradual. Consequently, her acts of rebellion would be more discreet.
We first meet Nausikaa in Book VI, in which Odysseus begins his stay in Phaiakia. Nausikaa is a princess, and it is most likely that she was sheltered as she grew up by her parents. In most cases, children of noble descent are discouraged from mingling with the common folk, discouraged from doing risky or dangerous things, manual labor, etc. Athena comes to Nausikaa and tells her to go to the washing in the morning so that she may meet Odysseus. Athena does not need to tell her that she will meet a strange man and that she should help him, because the goddess already knows that Nausikaa will do just that.
Children who grow up with overprotective parents are taught to be wary of strangers and to abstain from conversation with anyone except trusted members of the family. In the case of adolescents, however, the situation is completely reversed. When Odysseus approaches the maidens, they all run away except for Nausikaa. Common sense dictates that one should run away from haggard looking strangers who approach. In Nausikaa’s case, she commits her rebellious act by talking to Odysseus and giving him nourishment and a bath.
Another possibility, although one that doesn’t stand up to much criticism, is that Nausikaa’s marriage is another form of expressing her wish to be independent. In today’s society, people often marry someone of a completely different personality and character as a way of showing their rebelliousness to their parents. However, in high society at that time, marriages are usually arranged or they require the utmost approval of the parents. In most fairy tales, the appointed husband is always someone who the girl never truly loves, and at the end, she runs away with her Prince Charming, much to her parents’ dismay. In this case, it’s different.
Athena approves of the marriage, and Nausikaa does as well. In fact, it’s clear that Nausikaa is enthusiastic about the wedding, “She had no word to say of her own wedding, though her keen father saw her blush.” (Book VI, l. 73) At the same time, Athena says that, “…will make the folk admire, and bring thy father and gentle mother joy.” (Book VI, l.35-6) On one hand, marriage is an excellent way of getting away from your parents. On the other, it results in being permanently attached to your spouse. Although this may be an act of independence, it certainly is not one of rebellion, as both the parents are quite content with it.
Regardless of upbringing or family circumstances, adolescence is always a stage in which pent-up frustrations manifest themselves as acts of rebellion. These manifestations may vary in magnitude, but it would be extremely hard to find an individual in whom they don’t exist at all. Telemachos and Nausikaa are different people with different backgrounds, but the basic situation remains the same.