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The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 - 2018 by Peter J Ponzio

Revelations, Book VIII

After Odysseus finished, King Alcinous acknowledged his feat, and his prowess, apologizing for the actions of his young subjects.  The King then asked his servants to fetch the bard's lyre so that he could finish his songs for the crowd. The bard sang a song about the tryst between Ares and Aphrodite, and how the god Hephaestus, spying them, forged a net made of gold, and caught them in the act in a net.  The smithy god then invited the other Olympians to witness the two lovers caught in his net.  Some of the gods wished to trade places with Ares, even if it meant being caught in the smithy's net, but Poseidon asked Hephaestus to release the two lovers.  Finally, the smithy god acceded to his uncle's wishes and released the two. It might seem odd that this tale was inserted into the song of the bard.  Yet, the passions of love and war were the proximate cause of the Trojan War, as well as being the cause of the capture of Aphrodite and Ares.  The bard, like Homer, was aware that these two passions - love and war- were among the strongest known to man, as well as to the gods. After the bard finished his tale, Antinous asked the nobles of the island to contribute gifts to Odysseus, saying: There are twelve peers of the realm who rule our land, thirteen, counting myself. Let each of use contribute a fresh cloak and shirt and a bar of precious gold. Gather the gifts together, hurry, so our guest can have them all in hand when he goes to dine, his spirit filled with joy. (VIII, 435-440) The gift-giving of the Phaeacians is an example of the code that binds visitors and hosts.  Gifts were expected to be reciprocal: when one party visited another, they were expected to give a gift of commensurate worth.  Failure to give a gift was considered a bad breach of etiquette.  In all cases except one in the Odyssey, those who followed this code were rewarded; those who failed to observe the code were punished. After he received his gifts from the nobles and thanked them, Odysseus went before Queen Arete, who also gave him gifts and ordered her servants to bathe the man of many sorrows before his departure.  After his bath, Nausicaa appeared to Odysseus to see him off, reminding him “to remember me at times./Mainly to me you owe the gift of life” (VIII, 519 - 520).   Odysseus, touched by her concern answered as follows: “Even at home I'll pray to you as a deathless goddess/all my days to come.  You saved my life, dear girl” (VIII, 525-526). Before leaving, the king ordered a great feast and asked Demodocus, the bard, to sing another tale.  The bards who lived during the time of Odysseus, sang their poems, accompanied by a lyre.  These bards made their living traveling from town to town, entertaining the townsfolk with tales of heroes and wars. As a guest, Odysseus was entitled to the choice cuts of meat, but he, valuing the bard gave instructions to the serving-men: Here, herald, take this choice cut to Demodocus so he can eat his fill-with warm regards from a man who knows what suffering is. . . From all who walk the earth our bards deserve esteem and awe, for the Muse herself has taught them paths of song. She loves the breed of harpers. (VIII, 537-540)