The Odyssey Book 8
Alcinous wakes at dawn and calls the assembly of old men. Athena rouses them to get up and go to the assembly. She makes Odysseus look more lordly and everyone is impressed when he arrives. Alcinous tells the assembly that the traveler has appealed to them for passage home. They grant him a ship and fifty-two crewmen . While this is being prepared, they all go to a feast and listen to the songs of the singer Demodokos. The singer begins:
"In time, when hunger and thirst were turned away,
the Muse brought to the minstrel's mind a song
of heroes whose great fame rang under heaven:
the clash between Odysseus and Akhilleus,
how one time they contended at the godfeast
raging, and the marshal, Agamemnon
felt inward joy over his captains' quarrel" Book 8, lines 78-84
Odysseus tries to hide that he is crying as this story continues. Alcinous sees this and decides to hold a contest of physical prowess instead of the harp. He has men line up outside in preparation for the running contest. His son wins. Next there is a wrestling match, the broad jump, the javelin, and boxing. Alcinous suggest that they ask Odysseus if he competes in anything because he looks impressively strong. Laodamas encourages him to join the contest and Odysseus asks them why they want to challenge him. At this, a young man nicknamed Seareach jests that he must be of a lowly birth because he never learned a sport. Odysseus tells Seareach that he has a fine body but no brains. Then he says that although he is old and cramped with pains he will take the challenge because he feels insulted. He grabs a discus and throws it further than anyone else. The he announces that he will accept a challenge (from anyone except Laodamas, the son of his host ) in any sport but running because his legs are weak from his days on the sea. Alcinous tells him that he shouldn't fear offending Laodamas because he was offended first and then calls for another feast. The minstrel sings of Ares' affair with Aphrodite and how her husband Hephaistos crafted a trap to catch them in the act of love. When Hephaistos returned to find his trap full he called out to Zeus: "O Father Zeus, O gods in bliss forever,/ here is indecorous entertainment for you," Book 8, lines 323-4.
All the gods crowded into to gawk at the shameful scene and then tried to appease Hephaistos so that he would release them. Apollo offers him a chain coverlet and Hephaistos says all he wants is to lie next to his wife... The gods laugh at this and Poseidon says that he will pay what ever Hephaistos asks if he releases Ares. Hephaistos releases them and they both flee. Odysseus enjoys the tale and when it is finished Alcinous calls his sons to dance. They balance and bounce a ball as they dance. Odysseus compliments the king. Alcinous calls the men together and announces that each should present Odysseus with a cloak and a bar of gold. Seareach gives Odysseus a broad sword as well as an apology. Odysseus accepts this and the gifts of everyone else. Arete has everything put in a chest for him and tells him to bind it up so that no one may steal anything. He is lead to the wine hall and Nausicaa wishes him farewell. At the feast, Odysseus eats with Alcinous and has a piece of meat given to Demodokos in praise for his songs of the Akhaians and advises him "Now shift your theme and sing that wooden horse/ Epeios built, inspired by Athena-." Book 8, lines 526-7. The minstrel sings about the horse and the destruction of Troy. He mentions how Odysseus fought side by side with Menelaus and Odysseus begins to weep again. He tries to hide it but Alkinous sees it and asks for Demodokos to stop because it is not right to harm a guest. Then he turns to Odysseus and asks him to tell them where he is from and what he has been doing. He says that his father once told him that some of his men would be killed for giving passage to a stranger. Then he asks Odysseus if any of his friends or kin died at Troy.