The Odyssey, Book VIII

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The Phaeacian Banquet

On the next day Athena, in disguise as Alcinous’ herald, summoned the Phaeacians to an assembly. Alcinous gave orders for a black ship with fifty two oarsmen to be prepared to take his guest, Odysseus, home. When this had been done he invited the princes to a banquet in the palace in honour of Odysseus and he sent for the blind bard, Demodocus, who, after a sacrifice had been made and everyone had eaten, entertained the guests with the story of the quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles.

Ancient Greek polychromatic pottery painting of Achilles during the Trojan War, c. 300 BC. (c)

Odysseus hid his head in his cloak and wept at the reminder of the Trojan War. Noticing this Alcinous suggested that the Phaeacians competed in games: a running race won by Clytoneus, wrestling won by Euryalus, jumping won by Amphialus, throwing the discus won by Elatreus and boxing won by Alcinous’ son, Laodamas.

The latter then challenged Odysseus to a sport of his choice. Initially, Odysseus refused saying he was exhausted from his travels but, having been goaded by Euryalus, he rose to the challenge and threw a large discus which went farther than any the Phaeacians had thrown. Odysseus then challenged all but Laodamas, his host’s son, at any sport they chose, claiming to be the best archer or javelin thrower alive but admitting he might be beaten in a running race.

The “Discobolus” is a copy of a Greek statue, 5th c. BC. It represents an ancient Olympic discus thrower. (c) Livioandronico2013

Alcinous intervened and said Odysseus had nothing to prove; he wanted him to remember the Phaeacians as outstanding in seamanship, running, dancing and singing. Demodocus was recalled and sung of the love affair between Ares and Aphrodite, how Hesphaestus ensnared them in a net and the other gods were called  to witness this. A group of young male dancers danced in accompaniment; then Laodamas and Halius danced whilst throwing a ball, all of which Odysseus greatly admired.

For his appreciation Odysseus was given gifts of clothing, talents of gold and a golden chalice from Alcinous. Euryalus was ordered to apologise to Odysseus and he presented to Odysseus a bronze sword with a silver hilt and ivory scabbard.

Reconstructed Mycenaean swords. (c) Janmad

Arete gave Odysseus a chest in which to place the gifts which he fastened securely with a rope knot taught him by Circe. He then bathed in hot water, a luxury he had not experienced since leaving Calypso, thanked Nausicaa for rescuing him and returned to feasting. He thanked Demodocus for singing so movingly about the Greeks’ struggles and asked him to tell the story of the Wooden Horse, which he did. Again Odysseus was moved to tears. Alcinous noticing Odysseus’ distress once again stopped Demodocus’ song and questioned Odysseus about his family, his country of origin, his wanderings and why he became so upset when he listened to the story of the Greeks and Troy.

Book VII Book IX