Book Eight

The next morning King Alcinous addressed an assembly of his people: "My guest's name is still unknown to me, but I have promised him passage home. Therefore prepare our fastest ship. When all is done, let the crew join me and my nobles for a banquet at the palace."

To entertain the banqueters, Alcinous summoned his minstrel, Demodocus. This bard could sing of all life had to offer, having himself been favored with the gift of song but cursed with blindness. And Demodocus' chosen theme that day was the Trojan War.

He began by singing of Achilles and Odysseus, and this brought tears to that hero's eyes. He managed to hide them by burying his face in his cloak, though the king heard his sobs.

He spoke up at once: "Demodocus, put aside your harp for now. It is time for athletics."

And so the Phaeacians did their best to impress their guest with the discus, foot races and wrestling. And indeed their feats were prodigious. At length they noticed that Odysseus himself was well-muscled and fit. Perhaps he would care to join their contest?

Odysseus replied that he had other things than sport on his mind. But one of the competitors, a sailor like all the Phaeacians, took this as an excuse. "No doubt he's been to sea," he sneered, "but only as a purser."

The hero's eyes went cold. He picked up a discus and threw it with such a rush of wind that the Phaeacians hit the deck. It landed far beyond their own best shots.

Alcinous acknowledged that the guest had proven his point. "Perhaps there's another way we can impress him." He called for Demodocus to play a tune, and various dances were performed, culminating in one featuring a carved wooden ball.

This was tossed high in the air, and a dancer leapt up and deflected it. Then two dancers passed it back and forth, keeping it low to the ground. Odysseus was indeed impressed.

Now the king proposed that each of his senior lords go home and bring back a bar of gold for the still-nameless guest. The sailor who had taunted Odysseus earlier gave him his own sword in apology. The gold was brought and the queen herself stored it in a chest for Odysseus.

That evening, on his way to the banquet hall, Odysseus passed Nausicaa in the corridor. "When you are safely home," she said, "you might remember me."

"Princess," replied Odysseus, "I will give thanks to you, as to a goddess, each day until I die."

At table the minstrel was called upon once more, and this time it was Odysseus himself who suggested the theme. Demodocus began to sing of the Trojan Horse, how the men of Troy had brought it within their walls and then debated what to do. Should they smash it to pieces with axes, or push it over a cliff? Or should they preserve it as an offering to the gods? Fate, of course, made them choose the latter course.

Once more Odysseus cried into his mantle, and once more the king ordered a halt to the entertainment.

"Enough! Our guest is weeping. He came to us as a suppliant, and his conduct was proper in all respects. So we are doing as he asked. Now it is his turn. Tell us your name, stranger, and tell us your home. After all, our ship will need to set a course."

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NOTES

Demodocus (dee-MAH-duh-cus) (back)

blindness Legend has it, of course, that Homer himself was blind. (back)

Achilles (uh-KILL-eez) Achilles was the greatest fighter of the Greeks besieging Troy. His mother, a goddess, had made him invulnerable, either by holding him in a fire as an infant or dipping him in the River Styx. But she had neglected to protect the heel by which she held him. Aided by the god Apollo, Trojan prince Paris killed the hero with an arrow in this weak point, his proverbial Achilles' heel. (back)


The Temple of Apollo at Corinth (with the citadel of Corinth in the background). (back)




cried Homer compares the hero's weeping to that of a woman whose husband has been felled on the battlefield "on the day when his children learn the meaning of wrath". As he lays there gasping his last breath in her arms, she feels spear points prodding her from behind and goes grieving into slavery. (back)

course Being Phaeacian ships, however, they won't require a steersman once that course is set. They'll simply read the crew's mind. Elsewhere in this book, the supernatural seafaring ability of the Phaeacians and their vessels is indicated in a story told by Alcinous. On one occasion, according to the king, they took some passengers to the furthest end of the Greek mainland and returned the same day. Poseidon, however, the god of storms at sea, is offended by the Phaeacians' safety record. Alcinous has heard a prophesy that someday a Phaeacian vessel will be lost at sea and the kingdom's harbors cut off by an upthrusting ring of mountains. (back)

Book number: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24