Home » I. Poetic Beginnings » b. Homeric Odyssey, Book VIII, lines 100-255

b. Homeric Odyssey, Book VIII, lines 100-255

Translated by Samuel Butler

Revised by Soo-Young Kim, Kelly McCray, Gregory Nagy, and Timothy Power

[100] let us proceed therefore to the athletic sports [athlos], so that our guest on his return home may be able to tell his friends how much we surpass all other nations as boxers, wrestlers, jumpers, and runners.” With these words he led the way, and the others followed after.

[105] A servant hung Demodokos’ lyre on its peg for him, led him out of the hall, and set him on the same way as that along which all the chief men of the Phaeacians were going to see the sports; a crowd of several thousand people followed them,

[110] and there were many excellent competitors for all the prizes. Akroneos, Okyalos, Elatreus, Nauteus, Prymneus, Ankhialos, Eretmeus, Ponteus, Proreus, Thoön, Anabesineos, and Amphialos son of Polyneos son of Tekton.

[115] There was also Euryalos son of Naubolos, who was like manslaughtering Ares himself, and was the best looking man among the Phaeacians except Laodamas. Three sons of stately Alkinoos, stately Laodamas, Halios, and godlike Klytoneus, competed also. [120] The foot races came first. The course was set out for them from the starting post, and they raised a dust upon the plain as they all flew forward at the same moment. Stately Klytoneus came in first by a long way; he left every one else behind him by the length of the furrow that a couple of mules can plow

[125] in a fallow field. They then turned to the painful art of wrestling, and here Euryalos proved to be the best man. Amphialos excelled all the others in jumping, while at throwing the disc there was no one who could approach Elatreus.

[130] Alkinoos’ fine son Laodamas was the best boxer, and he it was who presently said, when they had all been diverted with the games [athlos], “Let us ask the stranger whether he excels in any of these sports [athlos]; he seems very powerfully built;

[135] his thighs, calves, hands, and neck are of prodigious strength, nor is he at all old, but he has suffered much lately, and there is nothing like the sea for making havoc with a man, no matter how strong he is.”

[140] “You are quite right, Laodamas,” replied Euryalos, “go up to your guest and speak to him about it yourself.” When Laodamas heard this he made his way into the middle of the crowd and said to Odysseus,

[145] “I hope, sir, that you will enter yourself in some one or other of our competitions [athloi] if you are skilled in any of them – for you seem to know of sports [athloi]. There is no greater kleos for a man all his life long as the showing himself good with his hands and feet. Have a try therefore at something, and banish all sorrow from your mind.

[150] Your return home will not be long delayed, for the ship is already drawn into the water, and the crew is found.” Resourceful Odysseus answered, “Laodamas, why do you taunt me in this way? My mind is set rather on cares than contests [athloi];

[155] I have been through infinite trouble, and am come among you now as a suppliant, praying your king and people [dēmos] to further my homecoming [nostos].” Then Euryalos reviled him outright and said, “I gather, then, that you are unskilled

[160] in any of the many sports [athloi] that men generally delight in. I suppose you are one of those grasping traders that go about in ships as captains or merchants, and who think of nothing but of their outward freights and homeward cargoes. There does not seem to be much of the athlete [athlētēs] about you.”

[165] “For shame, sir,” answered resourceful Odysseus, fiercely, “you are an insolent man – so true is it that the gods do not grace all men alike in speech, person, and understanding. One man may be of weak presence,

[170] but the gods have adorned him with such a good conversation that he charms every one who sees him; his honeyed moderation [aidōs] carries his hearers with him so that he is leader in all assemblies of his fellows, and wherever he goes he is looked up to. Another may be as handsome as a god,

[175] but his good looks are not crowned with verbal grace [kharis]. This is your case. No god could make a finer looking man than you are, but you are empty with respect to noos. Your ill-judged [= without kosmos] remarks have made me exceedingly angry, for I excel

[180] in a great many athletic exercises [athlos]; indeed, so long as I had youth and strength, I was among the first athletes of the age. Now, however, I am worn out by labor and sorrow, for I have gone through much both on the field of battle and by the waves of the weary sea; still, in spite of all this I will engage in the competition [athlos],

[185] for your taunts have stung me to the quick.” So he hurried up without even taking his cloak off, and seized a disc, larger, more massive and much heavier than those used by the Phaeacians when disc- throwing among themselves. Then, swinging it back, he threw it from his brawny hand,

[190] and it made a humming sound in the air as he did so. The Phaeacians quailed beneath the rushing of its flight as it sped gracefully from his hand, and flew beyond any mark [sēma] that had been made yet. Athena, in the form of a man, came and marked the place where it had fallen. [195] “A blind man, sir,” said she, “could easily tell your mark [sēma] by groping for it – it is so far ahead of any other. You may make your mind easy about this contest [athlos], for no Phaeacian can come near to such a throw as yours.” Much-enduring great Odysseus was glad

[200] when he found he had a friend among the lookers-on, so he began to speak more pleasantly. “Young men,” said he, “come up to that throw if you can, and I will throw another disc as heavy or even heavier. If anyone wants to have a bout with me

[205] let him come on, for I am exceedingly angry; I will box, wrestle, or run, I do not care what it is, with any man of you all except Laodamas, but not with him because I am his guest, and one cannot compete with one’s own personal friend. At least I do not think it a prudent or a sensible thing

[210] for a guest to challenge his host’s family at any game [athlos], especially when he is in a foreign dēmos. He will cut the ground from under his own feet if he does; but I make no exception as regards any one else, for I want to have the matter out and know which is the best man. I am a good hand at every kind of athletic sport [athlos] known among humankind.

[215] I am an excellent archer. In battle I am always the first to bring a man down with my arrow, no matter how many more are taking aim at him alongside of me. Philoctetes was the only man who could shoot better than I could

[220] when we Achaeans were before the dēmos of the Trojans. I far excel every one else in the whole world, of those who still eat bread upon the face of the earth, but I should not like to shoot against the mighty dead, such as Herakles, or Eurytos of Oikhalia –

[225] men who could shoot against the gods themselves. This in fact was how great Eurytos came prematurely by his end, for Apollo was angry with him and killed him because he challenged him as an archer. I can throw a dart farther than any one else can shoot an arrow.

[230] Running is the only point in respect of which I am afraid some of the Phaeacians might beat me, for I have been brought down very low at sea; my provisions ran short, and therefore I am still weak.” They all held their peace

[235] except King Alkinoos, who began, “Sir, we have had much pleasure in hearing all that you have told us, from which I understand that you are willing to show your prowess [aretē], as having been displeased with some insolent remarks that have been made to you by one of our athletes, and which could never have been uttered

[240] by any one who knows how to talk with propriety. I hope you will apprehend my meaning, and will explain to any one of your chief men who may be dining with yourself and your family when you get home, that we have an hereditary aptitude [aretē]

[245] for accomplishments of all kinds. We are not particularly remarkable for our boxing, nor yet as wrestlers, but we are singularly fleet of foot and are excellent sailors. We are extremely fond of good dinners, music, and dancing [khoros]; we also like frequent changes of linen, warm baths, and good beds; so now,

[250] please, some of you who are the best dancers set about dancing, that our guest on his return home may be able to tell his friends how much we surpass all other nations as sailors, runners, dancers, minstrels. Demodokos has left his clear-voiced lyre at my house,

[255] so run some one or other of you and fetch it for him.”

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