2.III ODYSSEUS IS MADE WELCOME
About the time that the maiden Nausicaa arrived at her father’s house, Odysseus left the spring in the grove of Pallas Athene and went into the City. There he met someone who showed him the way to the palace of King Alcinous. The doors of that palace were golden and the doorposts were silver. There was a garden by the great door filled with fruit trees—pear trees and pomegranates; apple trees and trees bearing figs and olives. Below it was a vineyard with thick bunches of grapes.
Odysseus stood there with many thoughts on his mind but at last with a prayer to Zeus he went through the door and into the great hall. On that particular evening the Captains and the Councillors of the Phæacians sat drinking wine with the King. Odysseus passed by them, and did not stop at the King’s chair, but went to where Arete, the Queen, sat. He knelt before her and clasped her knees with his hands and spoke to her ,’Arete, Queen! After many suffering and perils I have come to you and your husband, and to these, your guests! May the gods give all who are here a happy life. I have come to you to beg that you help me return home, for I have suffered much, far from my friends.’
Then, having spoken, Odysseus went and sat down in the ashes of the hearth with his head bowed. No one spoke for a long time. Then an aged Councillor who was there spoke to the King.
‘Oh Alcinous,’ he said, ‘it is not right that a stranger should sit in the ashes by your hearth. Tell the stranger to rise now and let a chair be given to him and supper set before him.’
Then Alcinous took Odysseus by the hand, and raised him from where he sat, and told his son Laodamas to give a place to him. He sat on a chair inlaid with silver and the maid brought him bread and wine and other food. He ate, and King Alcinous spoke to everyone and said, ‘Tomorrow I shall call you together and we will entertain this stranger with a feast in our halls, and we shall see in what way we can help him return to his own land.’
The Captains and Councillors agreed to this, and then each one arose and went to his own house. Odysseus was left alone in the hall with the King and the Queen. Now Arete, looking closely at Odysseus, recognized the robe he wore, for she herself had made it. When all the guests had gone she spoke to Odysseus and said,’ Stranger, who are you? Didn’t you say you came to us from across the sea? And if you did come that way, who gave you the clothes that you have on?’
Odysseus said, ‘Lady, for seventeen days I sailed across the sea, and on the eighteenth day I sighted the hills of your land. But my troubles had not yet ended. The storm winds shattered my raft, and when I tried to reach land the waves overwhelmed me and smashed me against great rocks in a desolate place. At last I came to a river, and I swam through its mouth and I found a shelter from the wind. There I lay amongst the leaves all night long and from dawn to midday. Then your daughter came down to the river. I was aware of her playing with her friends, and so I asked for her help. She gave me bread and wine, and she gave these clothes to me, and showed an understanding that was far beyond her years.’
Then Alcinous the King said, ‘Our daughter should have brought you straight to our house.’
Odysseus said, ‘My Lord, do not blame your daughter. She told me follow her group, and she was only careful that no one should have any reason to gossip about the stranger she found.’
Then Alcinous, the King, praised Odysseus and said that he should like such a man to stay in his house and that he would give him land and wealth, in the country of the Phæacians. ‘But if you do not wish to live with us,’ he said, ‘I shall give you a ship and a group of men to take you to your own land, even if that land is as far away as Eubæa, which, our men say, is the farthest of all lands.’ As he said this Odysseus uttered a prayer in his heart, ‘Oh Father Zeus, grant that Alcinous the King may fulfil all that he has promised and for that may he be rewarded and that I reach my own land.’
Arete now told the maids prepare a bed for Odysseus. This they did, laying warm purple blankets on it. When Odysseus came to the bed and lay in it, after the tossing of the waves, rest in it seemed wonderfully good.
At dawn he went with the King to the assembly of the Phæacians. When the Princes and Captains and Councillors were gathered together, Alcinous spoke to them saying,’Princes and Captains and Councillors of the Phæacians! This stranger has come to my house in his wanderings, and he wants us to give him a ship and a group of men, so that he can cross the sea and reach his own land. Let us, as we have done for others, help him on his journey. Let us now take a black ship to the sea, and put fifty- two of our noblest youths on it, and let us prepare it for the voyage. But before he departs, come all of you to a feast that I shall give to this stranger in my house. Moreover, let us take with us the minstrel of our land, blind Demodocus, so that his songs may entertain us at the feast.’
So the Princes, Captains and Councillors of the Phæacians went with him to the palace. At the same time fifty- two youths went down to the shore of the sea, and took a ship and placed the masts and sails on it, and left the oars in their leathern loops. Having done all this they went to the palace where the feast was being given and where many men had gathered.
A man led in the minstrel, blind Demodocus. The gods had given him a good and an evil fortune—the gift of song with the lack of sight. The man led him through the guests, and placed him on a seat inlaid with silver, and hung his lyre on the pillar above his seat. When the guests and the minstrel had feasted, blind Demodocus took down the lyre and sang about things that were already famous—of the deeds of Achilles and Odysseus.
When he heard the words that the minstrel sang, Odysseus picked up his purple cloak and drew it over his head. Tears were falling down his cheeks and he was ashamed of their being seen. No one noticed his weeping except the King, and the King wondered why his guest should be so moved by what the minstrel sang.
When they had feasted and the minstrel had sung to them, Alcinous said, ‘Let us go now and engage in games and sports so that our guest can tell his friends when he is with them again what our young men can do.’
They all went out from the palace to the place where the games were played. There was a foot race, and a boxing match, and there was wrestling and weight throwing. All the youths present participated in the games. When the sports were ending Laodamas, the son of King Alcinous, said to his friends,’Come, my friends, and let us ask the stranger whether he is skilled or practised in any sport,’ He went to Odysseus and said, ‘Friend, come now and try your skill in the games. Don’t worry, your journey won’t be delayed long. Even now the ship is being pulled down to the sea, and we have with us the group of youths that is ready to help you to your own land.’
Odysseus said, ‘Sorrow is nearer to my heart than sport, for I have endured much recently.’
Then a youth who was with Laodamas, Euryalus, who had won in the wrestling bout, said insolently, ‘Laodamas is surely mistaken in thinking that you would be any good at sports. As I look at you I think that you are someone who makes voyages for profit—a trader whose only thought is for his cargo and his money,’
Then Odysseus replied angrily. ‘You are very wrong, young man. You have beauty, but you do not have good manners. And you have stirred the spirit in my heart by speaking such words to me.’
Then, Odysseus sprang up and took a weight that was larger than any yet lifted, and with one whirl he hurled it from his hands. It flew beyond all the marks, and someone who was standing far off cried out, ‘Even a blind man can see that none of the Phæacians can do better.’
Odysseus, turning to the youths, said, ‘Let anyone who wants to try, pass that throw. And if any of you wants to try me in boxing or wrestling or even in a foot race, let him stand forward—anyone except Laodamas, for he is a member of the house that has befriended me. Only a rude man would compete with him.’
Everyone was silent. Then Alcinous the King said, ‘So that you have something to tell your friends when you are in your own land, we shall show you the games in which we are most skilful. For we Phæacians are not great boxers or wrestlers, but we excel in running and in dancing and in rowing. Now, you dancers! Come forward and show your nimbleness, so that the stranger can tell his friends, when he is amongst them, how much we surpass others in dancing as well as in seamanship and speed of foot.’
A place was readied for the dance, and the blind minstrel, Demodocus, took the lyre in his hands and played, while youths skilled in the dance struck the ground with their feet. Odysseus marvelled at their grace and spirit. When the dance ended he said to the King, ‘My Lord Alcinous, you did boast your dancers to be the best in the world, and you were right. I am amazed as I looked at them.’
At the end of the day Alcinous spoke to his people and said, ‘This stranger, in all that he does and says, shows himself to be a wise and mighty man. Let each of us now give him the stranger’s gift. Here there are twelve princes of the Phæacians and I am the thirteenth. Let each of us give him a worthy gift, and then let us go back to my house and sit down to supper. As for Euryalus, let him apologise to the stranger for his rudeness by offering him a gift.’
All agreed with the King’s words, and Euryalus went to Odysseus and said, ‘Stranger, if I have said something that offended you, may the storm winds snatch it and carry it away. May the gods grant that you see your wife and reach your own country. You have suffered too much and for too long away from your own country.’
Having said this, Euryalus gave Odysseus a sword of bronze with a silver hilt and a sheath of ivory. Odysseus took it and said, ‘And to you, my friend, may the gods grant all happiness, and may you never miss the sword that you have given me. Your gracious speech has made full amends.’
Each of the twelve princes gave gifts to Odysseus, and the gifts were brought to the palace and left by the side of the Queen. Arete herself gave Odysseus a beautiful coffer with robes and gold in it, and Alcinous, the King, gave him a beautiful cup, all of gold.
In the palace a bath was prepared for Odysseus, and he entered it and was glad of the warm water, for he had not had a hot bath since he left the Island of Calypso. He got out of the bath and put on the beautiful robe that had been given to him and he walked through the hall, looking like a king amongst men.
The maiden, Nausicaa, stood by a pillar as he passed, and she knew that she had never seen a man who was more splendid. She had thought that the stranger she had saved would stay in her father’s house, and that one day he would be her husband. But now she knew that by no means would he stay in the land of the Phæacians. As he passed by, she spoke to him and said, ‘Farewell, Stranger! When you are in your own country, think sometimes of me, Nausicaa, who helped you.’ Odysseus took her hand and said to her, ‘Farewell, daughter of King Alcinous! May Zeus grant that I may return to my own land. There ,every day I shall remember you, to whom I owe my life.’
He passed on and he came to where the Princes and Captains and Councillors of the Phæacians sat. His seat was beside the King’s. Then a man brought in the minstrel, blind Demodocus, and placed him on a seat by a pillar. When supper was served Odysseus sent to Demodocus a portion of his own meat. He spoke too in praise of the minstrel saying, ‘You are right when you sing of the Greeks and all they suffered as well, I think, as if you had been present at the war of Troy. I would ask if you can sing of the Wooden Horse that brought destruction to the Trojans. If you can, I shall be a witness amongst all men how the gods have surely given you the gift of song.’
Demodocus took down the lyre and sang. His song told how the Greeks sailed away in their ships and how others ,with Odysseus to lead them, were now in the center of Priam’s City all hidden in the great Wooden Horse which the Trojans themselves had dragged through their broken wall. So the Wooden Horse stood there, and the people who gathered around talked of what should be done with such a wonderful thing—whether to break it open, or drag it to a steep hill and hurl it down on the rocks, or leave it there as an offering to the gods. It was left at last as an offering to the gods. Then the minstrel sang how Odysseus and his companions poured out from the horse and took the City.
As the minstrel sang, tears fell down Odysseus’s cheeks. None of the guests saw him weeping except Alcinous the King. But the King cried out to everyone saying, ‘Let the minstrel stop, for there is one amongst us to whom his song is not pleasing. Ever since it began the stranger here has wept with tears flowing down his cheeks.’
The minstrel stopped playing, and everyone looked in surprise at Odysseus, who sat with his head bowed. Why did he weep? No one had asked him his name, for each thought it was more noble to serve a stranger without knowing his name.
The King, speaking again said, ‘Tell us what name they call you in your own land. Tell us, too, of your land and your city. And tell us, too, where you went on your wanderings, and to what lands and peoples you encountered. Tell us why you weep and mourn over the tale of the Greeks going to the war of Troy. Did you have a kinsman who fell before Priam’s City—a daughter’s husband, or a wife’s father, or someone nearer by blood? Or did you have a loving friend who fell there?’
The King asked these questions, and Odysseus turned round to face them all.