Text Primary Source Analysis Paper

Homer, The Odyssey, Book 8, 1-5

Samuel Butler, trans. (1900)

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[Odysseus has escaped the island of Circe, and has made his way to Phaeacia, which had stayed out of the Trojan War, where he was welcomed by the king, Alkinous, or strong mind].

Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, Alkinous and Odysseus both rose, and Alkinous led the way to the Phaeacian 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 Athena [wisdom] took the form of one of Alkinous’ servants, and went round the town in order to contrive nostos [a welcome] for great-hearted Odysseus. She went up to the citizens, man by man, and said, “Aldermen and town councilors 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 Alkinous; 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. Everyone was struck with the appearance of Odysseus, for Athena had beautified him about the head and shoulders, making him look taller and stouter than he really was, that he might impress the Phaeacians favorably 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, Alkinous spoke:

“Hear me,” said he, “aldermen and town councilors 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 choicest young sailors in the dêmos [people]. 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 provide you with everything. I am giving these instructions to the young men who will form the crew, for as regards you aldermen and town councilors, you will join me in entertaining our guest in the cloisters. I can take no excuses, and we will have Demodokos to sing to us; for there is no bard like him whatever he may choose to sing about.”

Alkinous then led the way, and the others followed after, while a servant went to fetch Demodokos. 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 [rowing oarlock] 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 Alkinous. The outhouses, yards, and all the precincts were filled with crowds of men in great multitudes both old and young; and Alkinous 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 Demodokos, 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. Pontonoos 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 Demodokos to sing the feats of heroes, and most especially a matter whose kleos [glory] at that time reached wide heaven, to wit, the quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles, and the fierce words that they heaped on one another as they sat together at a banquet. But Agamemnon was glad in his noos [mind] when he heard his chieftains quarreling with one another, for Apollo had foretold him this at Pytho when he crossed the stone floor to consult the oracle. Here the beginning of the evil started rolling down, by the will of Zeus, toward both Danaans [Greeks] and Trojans.

Thus sang the bard, but Odysseus 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 Demodokos to sing further, for they delighted in his lays, then Odysseus again drew his mantle over his head and wept bitterly. No one noticed his distress except Alkinous, who was sitting near him, and heard the heavy sighs that he was heaving. So he at once said, “Aldermen and town councilors 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 Demodokos’ lyre on its peg for him, led him out of the room, 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 thousand people followed them, and there were many excellent competitors for all the prizes. Akroneos, Okyalos, Elatreus, Nauteus, Prymneus, Anchialos, Eretmeus, Ponteus, Proreus, Thoon, Anabesineos, and Amphialos son of Polyneos son of Tekton. There was also Euryalos son of Naubolos, who was like Ares himself, and was the best looking man among the Phaeacians except Laodamas [tamer of the people]. Three sons of Alkinous, 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 everyone 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 Euryalos proved to be the best man. Amphialos excelled all the others in jumping, while at throwing the disc there was no one who could approach Elatreus. Alkinous’ 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, calves, 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 Euryalos, “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 Odysseus, “I hope, sir, that you will enter yourself in some one or other of our competitions if you are skilled in any of them – for you seem to know of athletics. There is no greater kleos [glory] for a man all his life long as the showing himself good 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.”

Odysseus answered, “Laodamas, why do you taunt me in this way? My mind is set rather on cares than athletic contests; I have been through infinite trouble, and am come among you now as a suppliant, praying your king and dêmos [people] to further me on my return home.”

Then Euryalos reviled him outright and said, “I gather, then, that you are unskilled in any of the many athletic 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 Odysseus, fiercely, “you are an insolent man – 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 everyone 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 verbal grace. This is your case. No god could make a finer looking man than you are, but you are empty with respect to noos [intellect]. Your ill-judged remarks have made me exceedingly angry, 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 labor 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. Athena, 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.”

Odysseus 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 dêmos [people]. He will cut the ground from under his own feet if he does; but I make no exception as regards anyone else, for I want to have the matter out and know who the best man is. I am a good hand at every kind of athletic sport known among humankind. 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 the dêmos [people] of the Trojans. I far excel everyone 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 Herakles, or Eurytos the Cechalian- men who could shoot against the gods themselves. This in fact was how Eurytos 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 anyone else can shoot an arrow. Running is the only point in respect of which I am afraid some of the Phaeacians 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 Alkinous, 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 anyone who knows how to talk with propriety. I hope you will apprehend my meaning, and will explain to any one of your chief men who may be dining with yourself and your family when you get home, that we have a 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. Demodokos has left his lyre at my house, so run someone or other of you and fetch it for him.”

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