The Odyssey by Homer

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Book 8 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Demodocus: the blind bard who entertains Odysseus and the Phaeaceans

Laodamas: the son of Alcinoös and one of the greatest athletes of Scheria

Euryalus: a Phaeacean athlete who insults Odysseus

Summary
The next morning, Alcinoös orders a grand feast to be held in Odysseus’ honor. Disguised as Alcinoös’ herald, Pontonoös, Athene summons the mighty men of Scheria, including the twelve kings who reside on the island, to come to the feast. Alcinoös orders that a ship and companions be readied to speed Odysseus on his way. After his orders have been fulfilled, the Phaeacean king continues to entertain Odysseus.

The feast continues, and the assembled guests are entertained by the blind bard, Demodocus, renowned throughout Scheria as a singer gifted by the Muses. Demodocus sings of a quarrel which had broken out late in the war between Odysseus and Achilles. When hearing the song, Odysseus weeps secretly, detected by no one but Alcinoös.

Alcinoös then leads Odysseus and the Phaeaceans outside so that his guest can witness the athletic prowess of the youth of Scheria. After several contests have been performed, Laodamas, Alcinoös’ son, suggests that Odysseus take part in the games. Odysseus politely declines, but another athlete, Euryalus, insults Odysseus for declining. He suggests that Odysseus has led a life concerned solely with avarice and gain on the high seas, and that the attributes of manliness and sportsmanship are lacking in Odysseus. Sorely angered, Odysseus takes up a discus and hurls it much further than any other athlete had done in that day’s competition. Provoked to fiery bitterness, Odysseus then rebukes Euryalus and challenges every athlete present to meet him in any competition whatsoever.

Alcinoös wisely steps forward and cools Odysseus, apologizing for Euryalus and offering Odysseus gifts from all the Phaeacean lords to console him in his homesick sorrow. He then commands Laodamas and the other Phaeacean dancers to perform for Odysseus.

While the Phaeaceans dance, Demodocus accompanies them by singing a tale of the gods. Helius, god of the sun, had informed Hephaestus, the lame god of blacksmiths, of his wife Aphrodite’s unfaithfulness. It seems that the war god, Ares, had been making love to the goddess behind her husband’s back. Infuriated, Hephaestus retired to his smithy and created a durable net that was so thin that it was invisible. He then fixed the trap around his bed so that it would constrict anyone who would lie there. While Hephaestus pretended to travel to the isle of Lemnos, Ares and Aphrodite met swiftly in Hephaestus’ bed; soon they were trussed up in the master smith’s indestructible coils. Meanwhile, Hephaestus himself, informed by Helius, returned to his palace and witnessed the adulterous pair ensnared in his trap. The angry blacksmith then called upon all the gods to witness the iniquitous affair so that he might regain the wedding presents he bestowed on Zeus for Aphrodite’s hand; the goddesses, embarrassed by the situation, remained at home. When the gods arrived, they amused themselves greatly to the expense of the captive pair. Apollo asked Hermes if he would lie thus with Aphrodite with such consequences, and Hermes responded that no degree of exposure or punishment would keep him away from Aphrodite’s embraces, if such opportunity presented itself. Poseidon, however, was not amused, and acted as a guarantee for Ares’ responsibility to pay Hephaestus an adulterer’s penalty. Hephaestus agreed to Poseidon’s offer, and the pair, humiliated, fled from Olympus.

With the tale concluded, Laodamas and the others also conclude their dancing. Afterwards, Euryalus offers Odysseus an apology, and awards him a handsome sword, for which Odysseus thanks him. The Phaeaceans again enter Alcinoös’ palace, and, after Odysseus has bathed, received his gifts, and said farewell to Nausikaa, they resume their feasting. Odysseus entreats Demodocus to tell the tale of...

(The entire section is 1,015 words.)