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The Odyssey: Book 8 Analysis

Author: Poetry of Homer Type: Poetry Views: 109

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The Odyssey850 B.C.Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared,

Alcinous and Ulysses both rose, and Alcinous led the way to the

Phaecian place of assembly, which was near the ships. When they got

there they sat down side by side on a seat of polished stone, while

Minerva took the form of one of Alcinous' servants, and went round the

town in order to help Ulysses to get home. She went up to the

citizens, man by man, and said, "Aldermen and town councillors of

the Phaeacians, come to the assembly all of you and listen to the

stranger who has just come off a long voyage to the house of King

Alcinous; he looks like an immortal god."With these words she made them all want to come, and they flocked to

the assembly till seats and standing room were alike crowded. Every

one was struck with the appearance of Ulysses, for Minerva had

beautified him about the head and shoulders, making him look taller

and stouter than he really was, that he might impress the Phaecians

favourably as being a very remarkable man, and might come off well

in the many trials of skill to which they would challenge him. Then,

when they were got together, Alcinous spoke:"Hear me," said he, "aldermen and town councillors of the

Phaeacians, that I may speak even as I am minded. This stranger,

whoever he may be, has found his way to my house from somewhere or

other either East or West. He wants an escort and wishes to have the

matter settled. Let us then get one ready for him, as we have done for

others before him; indeed, no one who ever yet came to my house has

been able to complain of me for not speeding on his way soon enough.

Let us draw a ship into the sea- one that has never yet made a voyage-

and man her with two and fifty of our smartest young sailors. Then

when you have made fast your oars each by his own seat, leave the ship

and come to my house to prepare a feast. I will find you in

everything. I am giving will these instructions to the young men who

will form the crew, for as regards you aldermen and town

councillors, you will join me in entertaining our guest in the

cloisters. I can take no excuses, and we will have Demodocus to sing

to us; for there is no bard like him whatever he may choose to sing

about."Alcinous then led the way, and the others followed after, while a

servant went to fetch Demodocus. The fifty-two picked oarsmen went

to the sea shore as they had been told, and when they got there they

drew the ship into the water, got her mast and sails inside her, bound

the oars to the thole-pins with twisted thongs of leather, all in

due course, and spread the white sails aloft. They moored the vessel a

little way out from land, and then came on shore and went to the house

of King Alcinous. The outhouses, yards, and all the precincts were

filled with crowds of men in great multitudes both old and young;

and Alcinous killed them a dozen sheep, eight full grown pigs, and two

oxen. These they skinned and dressed so as to provide a magnificent

banquet.A servant presently led in the famous bard Demodocus, whom the

muse had dearly loved, but to whom she had given both good and evil,

for though she had endowed him with a divine gift of song, she had

robbed him of his eyesight. Pontonous set a seat for him among the

guests, leaning it up against a bearing-post. He hung the lyre for him

on a peg over his head, and showed him where he was to feel for it

with his hands. He also set a fair table with a basket of victuals

by his side, and a cup of wine from which he might drink whenever he

was so disposed.The company then laid their hands upon the good things that were

before them, but as soon as they had had enough to eat and drink,

the muse inspired Demodocus to sing the feats of heroes, and more

especially a matter that was then in the mouths of all men, to wit,

the quarrel between Ulysses and Achilles, and the fierce words that

they heaped on one another as they gat together at a banquet. But

Agamemnon was glad when he heard his chieftains quarrelling with one

another, for Apollo had foretold him this at Pytho when he crossed the

stone floor to consult the oracle. Here was the beginning of the

evil that by the will of Jove fell both Danaans and Trojans.Thus sang the bard, but Ulysses drew his purple mantle over his head

and covered his face, for he was ashamed to let the Phaeacians see

that he was weeping. When the bard left off singing he wiped the tears

from his eyes, uncovered his face, and, taking his cup, made a

drink-offering to the gods; but when the Phaeacians pressed

Demodocus to sing further, for they delighted in his lays, then

Ulysses again drew his mantle over his head and wept bitterly. No

one noticed his distress except Alcinous, who was sitting near him,

and heard the heavy sighs that he was heaving. So he at once said,

"Aldermen and town councillors of the Phaeacians, we have had enough

now, both of the feast, and of the minstrelsy that is its due

accompaniment; let us proceed therefore to the athletic sports, so

that our guest on his return home may be able to tell his friends

how much we surpass all other nations as boxers, wrestlers, jumpers,

and runners."With these words he led the way, and the others followed after. A

servant hung Demodocus's lyre on its peg for him, led him out of the

cloister, and set him on the same way as that along which all the

chief men of the Phaeacians were going to see the sports; a crowd of

several thousands of people followed them, and there were many

excellent competitors for all the prizes. Acroneos, Ocyalus, Elatreus,

Nauteus, Prymneus, Anchialus, Eretmeus, Ponteus, Proreus, Thoon,

Anabesineus, and Amphialus son of Polyneus son of Tecton. There was

also Euryalus son of Naubolus, who was like Mars himself, and was

the best looking man among the Phaecians except Laodamas. Three sons

of Alcinous, Laodamas, Halios, and Clytoneus, competed also.The foot races came first. The course was set out for them from

the starting post, and they raised a dust upon the plain as they all

flew forward at the same moment. Clytoneus came in first by a long

way; he left every one else behind him by the length of the furrow

that a couple of mules can plough in a fallow field. They then

turned to the painful art of wrestling, and here Euryalus proved to be

the best man. Amphialus excelled all the others in jumping, while at

throwing the disc there was no one who could approach Elatreus.

Alcinous's son Laodamas was the best boxer, and he it was who

presently said, when they had all been diverted with the games, "Let

us ask the stranger whether he excels in any of these sports; he seems

very powerfully built; his thighs, claves, hands, and neck are of

prodigious strength, nor is he at all old, but he has suffered much

lately, and there is nothing like the sea for making havoc with a man,

no matter how strong he is.""You are quite right, Laodamas," replied Euryalus, "go up to your

guest and speak to him about it yourself."When Laodamas heard this he made his way into the middle of the

crowd and said to Ulysses, "I hope, Sir, that you will enter

yourself for some one or other of our competitions if you are

skilled in any of them- and you must have gone in for many a one

before now. There is nothing that does any one so much credit all

his life long as the showing himself a proper man with his hands and

feet. Have a try therefore at something, and banish all sorrow from

your mind. Your return home will not be long delayed, for the ship

is already drawn into the water, and the crew is found."Ulysses answered, "Laodamas, why do you taunt me in this way? my

mind is set rather on cares than contests; I have been through

infinite trouble, and am come among you now as a suppliant, praying

your king and people to further me on my return home."Then Euryalus reviled him outright and said, "I gather, then, that

you are unskilled in any of the many sports that men generally delight

in. I suppose you are one of those grasping traders that go about in

ships as captains or merchants, and who think of nothing but of

their outward freights and homeward cargoes. There does not seem to be

much of the athlete about you.""For shame, Sir," answered Ulysses, fiercely, "you are an insolent

fellow- so true is it that the gods do not grace all men alike in

speech, person, and understanding. One man may be of weak presence,

but heaven has adorned this with such a good conversation that he

charms every one who sees him; his honeyed moderation carries his

hearers with him so that he is leader in all assemblies of his

fellows, and wherever he goes he is looked up to. Another may be as

handsome as a god, but his good looks are not crowned with discretion.

This is your case. No god could make a finer looking fellow than you

are, but you are a fool. Your ill-judged remarks have made me

exceedingly angry, and you are quite mistaken, for I excel in a

great many athletic exercises; indeed, so long as I had youth and

strength, I was among the first athletes of the age. Now, however, I

am worn out by labour and sorrow, for I have gone through much both on

the field of battle and by the waves of the weary sea; still, in spite

of all this I will compete, for your taunts have stung me to the

quick."So he hurried up without even taking his cloak off, and seized a

disc, larger, more massive and much heavier than those used by the

Phaeacians when disc-throwing among themselves. Then, swinging it

back, he threw it from his brawny hand, and it made a humming sound in

the air as he did so. The Phaeacians quailed beneath the rushing of

its flight as it sped gracefully from his hand, and flew beyond any

mark that had been made yet. Minerva, in the form of a man, came and

marked the place where it had fallen. "A blind man, Sir," said she,

"could easily tell your mark by groping for it- it is so far ahead

of any other. You may make your mind easy about this contest, for no

Phaeacian can come near to such a throw as yours."Ulysses was glad when he found he had a friend among the lookers-on,

so he began to speak more pleasantly. "Young men," said he, "come up

to that throw if you can, and I will throw another disc as heavy or

even heavier. If anyone wants to have a bout with me let him come

on, for I am exceedingly angry; I will box, wrestle, or run, I do

not care what it is, with any man of you all except Laodamas, but

not with him because I am his guest, and one cannot compete with one's

own personal friend. At least I do not think it a prudent or a

sensible thing for a guest to challenge his host's family at any game,

especially when he is in a foreign country. He will cut the ground

from under his own feet if he does; but I make no exception as regards

any one else, for I want to have the matter out and know which is

the best man. I am a good hand at every kind of athletic sport known

among mankind. I am an excellent archer. In battle I am always the

first to bring a man down with my arrow, no matter how many more are

taking aim at him alongside of me. Philoctetes was the only man who

could shoot better than I could when we Achaeans were before Troy

and in practice. I far excel every one else in the whole world, of

those who still eat bread upon the face of the earth, but I should not

like to shoot against the mighty dead, such as Hercules, or Eurytus

the Cechalian-men who could shoot against the gods themselves. This in

fact was how Eurytus came prematurely by his end, for Apollo was angry

with him and killed him because he challenged him as an archer. I

can throw a dart farther than any one else can shoot an arrow. Running

is the only point in respect of which I am afraid some of the

Phaecians might beat me, for I have been brought down very low at sea;

my provisions ran short, and therefore I am still weak."They all held their peace except King Alcinous, who began, "Sir,

we have had much pleasure in hearing all that you have told us, from

which I understand that you are willing to show your prowess, as

having been displeased with some insolent remarks that have been

made to you by one of our athletes, and which could never have been

uttered by any one who knows how to talk with propriety. I hope you

will apprehend my meaning, and will explain to any be one of your

chief men who may be dining with yourself and your family when you get

home, that we have an hereditary aptitude for accomplishments of all

kinds. We are not particularly remarkable for our boxing, nor yet as

wrestlers, but we are singularly fleet of foot and are excellent

sailors. We are extremely fond of good dinners, music, and dancing; we

also like frequent changes of linen, warm baths, and good beds, so

now, please, some of you who are the best dancers set about dancing,

that our guest on his return home may be able to tell his friends

how much we surpass all other nations as sailors, runners, dancers,

minstrels. Demodocus has left his lyre at my house, so run some one or

other of you and fetch it for him."On this a servant hurried off to bring the lyre from the king's

house, and the nine men who had been chosen as stewards stood forward.

It was their business to manage everything connected with the

sports, so they made the ground smooth and marked a wide space for the

dancers. Presently the servant came back with Demodocus's lyre, and he

took his place in the midst of them, whereon the best young dancers in

the town began to foot and trip it so nimbly that Ulysses was

delighted with the merry twinkling of their feet.Meanwhile the bard began to sing the loves of Mars and Venus, and

how they first began their intrigue in the house of Vulcan. Mars

made Venus many presents, and defiled King Vulcan's marriage bed, so

the sun, who saw what they were about, told Vulcan. Vulcan was very

angry when he heard such dreadful news, so he went to his smithy

brooding mischief, got his great anvil into its place, and began to

forge some chains which none could either unloose or break, so that

they might stay there in that place. When he had finished his snare he

went into his bedroom and festooned the bed-posts all over with chains

like cobwebs; he also let many hang down from the great beam of the

ceiling. Not even a god could see them, so fine and subtle were

they. As soon as he had spread the chains all over the bed, he made as

though he were setting out for the fair state of Lemnos, which of

all places in the world was the one he was most fond of. But Mars kept

no blind look out, and as soon as he saw him start, hurried off to his

house, burning with love for Venus.Now Venus was just come in from a visit to her father Jove, and

was about sitting down when Mars came inside the house, an said as

he took her hand in his own, "Let us go to the couch of Vulcan: he

is not at home, but is gone off to Lemnos among the Sintians, whose

speech is barbarous."She was nothing loth, so they went to the couch to take their

rest, whereon they were caught in the toils which cunning Vulcan had

spread for them, and could neither get up nor stir hand or foot, but

found too late that they were in a trap. Then Vulcan came up to

them, for he had turned back before reaching Lemnos, when his scout

the sun told him what was going on. He was in a furious passion, and

stood in the vestibule making a dreadful noise as he shouted to all

the gods."Father Jove," he cried, "and all you other blessed gods who live

for ever, come here and see the ridiculous and disgraceful sight

that I will show you. Jove's daughter Venus is always dishonouring

me because I am lame. She is in love with Mars, who is handsome and

clean built, whereas I am a cripple- but my parents are to blame for

that, not I; they ought never to have begotten me. Come and see the

pair together asleep on my bed. It makes me furious to look at them.

They are very fond of one another, but I do not think they will lie

there longer than they can help, nor do I think that they will sleep

much; there, however, they shall stay till her father has repaid me

the sum I gave him for his baggage of a daughter, who is fair but

not honest."On this the gods gathered to the house of Vulcan. Earth-encircling

Neptune came, and Mercury the bringer of luck, and King Apollo, but

the goddesses stayed at home all of them for shame. Then the givers of

all good things stood in the doorway, and the blessed gods roared with

inextinguishable laughter, as they saw how cunning Vulcan had been,

whereon one would turn towards his neighbour saying:"Ill deeds do not prosper, and the weak confound the strong. See how

limping Vulcan, lame as he is, has caught Mars who is the fleetest god

in heaven; and now Mars will be cast in heavy damages."Thus did they converse, but King Apollo said to Mercury,

"Messenger Mercury, giver of good things, you would not care how

strong the chains were, would you, if you could sleep with Venus?""King Apollo," answered Mercury, "I only wish I might get the

chance, though there were three times as many chains- and you might

look on, all of you, gods and goddesses, but would sleep with her if I

could."The immortal gods burst out laughing as they heard him, but

Neptune took it all seriously, and kept on imploring Vulcan to set

Mars free again. "Let him go," he cried, "and I will undertake, as you

require, that he shall pay you all the damages that are held

reasonable among the immortal gods.""Do not," replied Vulcan, "ask me to do this; a bad man's bond is

bad security; what remedy could I enforce against you if Mars should

go away and leave his debts behind him along with his chains?""Vulcan," said Neptune, "if Mars goes away without paying his

damages, I will pay you myself." So Vulcan answered, "In this case I

cannot and must not refuse you."Thereon he loosed the bonds that bound them, and as soon as they

were free they scampered off, Mars to Thrace and laughter-loving Venus

to Cyprus and to Paphos, where is her grove and her altar fragrant

with burnt offerings. Here the Graces hathed her, and anointed her

with oil of ambrosia such as the immortal gods make use of, and they

clothed her in raiment of the most enchanting beauty.Thus sang the bard, and both Ulysses and the seafaring Phaeacians

were charmed as they heard him.Then Alcinous told Laodamas and Halius to dance alone, for there was

no one to compete with them. So they took a red ball which Polybus had

made for them, and one of them bent himself backwards and threw it

up towards the clouds, while the other jumped from off the ground

and caught it with ease before it came down again. When they had

done throwing the ball straight up into the air they began to dance,

and at the same time kept on throwing it backwards and forwards to one

another, while all the young men in the ring applauded and made a

great stamping with their feet. Then Ulysses said:"King Alcinous, you said your people were the nimblest dancers in

the world, and indeed they have proved themselves to be so. I was

astonished as I saw them."The king was delighted at this, and exclaimed to the Phaecians

"Aldermen and town councillors, our guest seems to be a person of

singular judgement; let us give him such proof of our hospitality as

he may reasonably expect. There are twelve chief men among you, and

counting myself there are thirteen; contribute, each of you, a clean

cloak, a shirt, and a talent of fine gold; let us give him all this in

a lump down at once, so that when he gets his supper he may do so with

a light heart. As for Euryalus he will have to make a formal apology

and a present too, for he has been rude."Thus did he speak. The others all of them applauded his saying,

and sent their servants to fetch the presents. Then Euryalus said,

"King Alcinous, I will give the stranger all the satisfaction you

require. He shall have sword, which is of bronze, all but the hilt,

which is of silver. I will also give him the scabbard of newly sawn

ivory into which it fits. It will be worth a great deal to him."As he spoke he placed the sword in the hands of Ulysses and said,

"Good luck to you, father stranger; if anything has been said amiss

may the winds blow it away with them, and may heaven grant you a

safe return, for I understand you have been long away from home, and

have gone through much hardship."To which Ulysses answered, "Good luck to you too my friend, and

may the gods grant you every happiness. I hope you will not miss the

sword you have given me along with your apology."With these words he girded the sword about his shoulders and towards

sundown the presents began to make their appearance, as the servants

of the donors kept bringing them to the house of King Alcinous; here

his sons received them, and placed them under their mother's charge.

Then Alcinous led the way to the house and bade his guests take

their seats."Wife," said he, turning to Queen Arete, "Go, fetch the best chest

we have, and put a clean cloak and shirt in it. Also, set a copper

on the fire and heat some water; our guest will take a warm bath;

see also to the careful packing of the presents that the noble

Phaeacians have made him; he will thus better enjoy both his supper

and the singing that will follow. I shall myself give him this

golden goblet- which is of exquisite workmanship- that he may be

reminded of me for the rest of his life whenever he makes a

drink-offering to Jove, or to any of the gods."Then Arete told her maids to set a large tripod upon the fire as

fast as they could, whereon they set a tripod full of bath water on to

a clear fire; they threw on sticks to make it blaze, and the water

became hot as the flame played about the belly of the tripod.

Meanwhile Arete brought a magnificent chest her own room, and inside

it she packed all the beautiful presents of gold and raiment which the

Phaeacians had brought. Lastly she added a cloak and a good shirt from

Alcinous, and said to Ulysses:"See to the lid yourself, and have the whole bound round at once,

for fear any one should rob you by the way when you are asleep in your

ship."When Ulysses heard this he put the lid on the chest and made it fast

with a bond that Circe had taught him. He had done so before an

upper servant told him to come to the bath and wash himself. He was

very glad of a warm bath, for he had had no one to wait upon him

ever since he left the house of Calypso, who as long as he remained

with her had taken as good care of him as though he had been a god.

When the servants had done washing and anointing him with oil, and had

given him a clean cloak and shirt, he left the bath room and joined

the guests who were sitting over their wine. Lovely Nausicaa stood

by one of the bearing-posts supporting the roof if the cloister, and

admired him as she saw him pass. "Farewell stranger," said she, "do

not forget me when you are safe at home again, for it is to me first

that you owe a ransom for having saved your life."And Ulysses said, "Nausicaa, daughter of great Alcinous, may Jove

the mighty husband of Juno, grant that I may reach my home; so shall I

bless you as my guardian angel all my days, for it was you who saved

me."When he had said this, he seated himself beside Alcinous. Supper was

then served, and the wine was mixed for drinking. A servant led in the

favourite bard Demodocus, and set him in the midst of the company,

near one of the bearing-posts supporting the cloister, that he might

lean against it. Then Ulysses cut off a piece of roast pork with

plenty of fat (for there was abundance left on the joint) and said

to a servant, "Take this piece of pork over to Demodocus and tell

him to eat it; for all the pain his lays may cause me I will salute

him none the less; bards are honoured and respected throughout the

world, for the muse teaches them their songs and loves them."The servant carried the pork in his fingers over to Demodocus, who

took it and was very much pleased. They then laid their hands on the

good things that were before them, and as soon as they had had to

eat and drink, Ulysses said to Demodocus, "Demodocus, there is no

one in the world whom I admire more than I do you. You must have

studied under the Muse, Jove's daughter, and under Apollo, so

accurately do you sing the return of the Achaeans with all their

sufferings and adventures. If you were not there yourself, you must

have heard it all from some one who was. Now, however, change your

song and tell us of the wooden horse which Epeus made with the

assistance of Minerva, and which Ulysses got by stratagem into the

fort of Troy after freighting it with the men who afterwards sacked

the city. If you will sing this tale aright I will tell all the

world how magnificently heaven has endowed you."The bard inspired of heaven took up the story at the point where

some of the Argives set fire to their tents and sailed away while

others, hidden within the horse, were waiting with Ulysses in the

Trojan place of assembly. For the Trojans themselves had drawn the

horse into their fortress, and it stood there while they sat in

council round it, and were in three minds as to what they should do.

Some were for breaking it up then and there; others would have it

dragged to the top of the rock on which the fortress stood, and then

thrown down the precipice; while yet others were for letting it remain

as an offering and propitiation for the gods. And this was how they

settled it in the end, for the city was doomed when it took in that

horse, within which were all the bravest of the Argives waiting to

bring death and destruction on the Trojans. Anon he sang how the

sons of the Achaeans issued from the horse, and sacked the town,

breaking out from their ambuscade. He sang how they over ran the

city hither and thither and ravaged it, and how Ulysses went raging

like Mars along with Menelaus to the house of Deiphobus. It was

there that the fight raged most furiously, nevertheless by Minerva's

help he was victorious.All this he told, but Ulysses was overcome as he heard him, and

his cheeks were wet with tears. He wept as a woman weeps when she

throws herself on the body of her husband who has fallen before his

own city and people, fighting bravely in defence of his home and

children. She screams aloud and flings her arms about him as he lies

gasping for breath and dying, but her enemies beat her from behind

about the back and shoulders, and carry her off into slavery, to a

life of labour and sorrow, and the beauty fades from her cheeks-

even so piteously did Ulysses weep, but none of those present

perceived his tears except Alcinous, who was sitting near him, and

could hear the sobs and sighs that he was heaving. The king,

therefore, at once rose and said:"Aldermen and town councillors of the Phaeacians, let Demodocus

cease his song, for there are those present who do not seem to like

it. From the moment that we had done supper and Demodocus began to

sing, our guest has been all the time groaning and lamenting. He is

evidently in great trouble, so let the bard leave off, that we may all

enjoy ourselves, hosts and guest alike. This will be much more as it

should be, for all these festivities, with the escort and the presents

that we are making with so much good will, are wholly in his honour,

and any one with even a moderate amount of right feeling knows that he

ought to treat a guest and a suppliant as though he were his own

brother."Therefore, Sir, do you on your part affect no more concealment

nor reserve in the matter about which I shall ask you; it will be more

polite in you to give me a plain answer; tell me the name by which

your father and mother over yonder used to call you, and by which

you were known among your neighbours and fellow-citizens. There is

no one, neither rich nor poor, who is absolutely without any name

whatever, for people's fathers and mothers give them names as soon

as they are born. Tell me also your country, nation, and city, that

our ships may shape their purpose accordingly and take you there.

For the Phaeacians have no pilots; their vessels have no rudders as

those of other nations have, but the ships themselves understand

what it is that we are thinking about and want; they know all the

cities and countries in the whole world, and can traverse the sea just

as well even when it is covered with mist and cloud, so that there

is no danger of being wrecked or coming to any harm. Still I do

remember hearing my father say that Neptune was angry with us for

being too easy-going in the matter of giving people escorts. He said

that one of these days he should wreck a ship of ours as it was

returning from having escorted some one, and bury our city under a

high mountain. This is what my used to say, but whether the god will

carry out his threat or no is a matter which he will decide for

himself."And now, tell me and tell me true. Where have you been wandering,

and in what countries have you travelled? Tell us of the peoples

themselves, and of their cities- who were hostile, savage and

uncivilized, and who, on the other hand, hospitable and humane. Tell

us also why you are made unhappy on hearing about the return of the

Argive Danaans from Troy. The gods arranged all this, and sent them

their misfortunes in order that future generations might have

something to sing about. Did you lose some brave kinsman of your

wife's when you were before Troy? a son-in-law or father-in-law- which

are the nearest relations a man has outside his own flesh and blood?

or was it some brave and kindly-natured comrade- for a good friend

is as dear to a man as his own brother?"


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