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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 8

Summary

The Phaecians gather together at an assembly. Alcinous arranges for a convoy to accompany Odysseus over the seas to Ithaca. After the ship is moored near the shore and sacrifices have been made to the gods, Demodocus, the divine minstrel, sings of the quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles. Odysseus, deeply moved, sheds tears under the cover of his cloak. Alcinous notices him weeping and immediately calls forth everybody to participate in sports of every kind. After some games, Laodamas, one of Alcinous' sons, asks Odysseus to try his skill in some sport, but he replies that his heart is too sorrowful to do so. Euryalus, one of the competitors, rebukes him for this answer, saying that he is like a merchant whose only interest is in his greedily gotten gains. Odysseus' pride is hurt by this insult, and he proceeds to prove his strength by throwing a heavy disc much further than any Phaecian. He also talks about his skill in other sports, and when he stops, Alcinous decides to show him the Phaecians' skill in both dancing and singing. Demodocus sings of the love of Ares and Aphrodite and then Laodamas and his brother Halios dance together with a ball. Odysseus praises their dance and Alcinous is pleased. He asks all the princes in Phaecia to present gifts to Odysseus and also asks Euryalus to apologize with sweet words and a gift as well.


When the presents are packed in a beautiful coffer and Odysseus himself has tied a curious knot on the lid, they sit together to feast in the hall. Odysseus offers a portion of meat to Demodocus and asks him to sing about the Trojan horse that Odysseus himself had designed. When the minstrel sings, Odysseus starts weeping again, and this time Alcinous asks the hero what his name is and why he cries. Alcinous also mentions a prophecy of his father, Nausithous, according to which Poseidon would get angry with the Phaecians one day and overshadow the Phaecian city with mountains.

Notes

This is a long Book, and the lively entertainment at Phaecia provides an interlude before Odysseus recounts the tale of his sufferings. The canvas of the epic comes alive with Demodocus' songs of incidents in the Trojan War and of the love between gods. The songs make Odysseus nostalgic, and he reveals his vulnerability when he cries. The reader is filled with compassion on seeing this tender side of a strongman. At the same time, Odysseus proves his physical strength in his response to Euryalus' rebuke. Odysseus comes across as a hero who is both genteel and sentimental but who can rise to a challenge with strength and eloquence. The gifts that he receives from the Phaecians signifies their acceptance of him as a hero and ensures that, as such, he does not return home empty-handed. The Phaecian episode, therefore, allows the poet to have Odysseus, despite his suffering and losses, to return home in the manner befitting the heroic tradition.

The Phaecians themselves are unlike any other race. They are blessed by the gods and enjoy comforts throughout the year. They have magical ships and live in isolation. They live not for war, but for dance and song, in which they excel. The games, dancing, and singing are a great contrast to the grave adventures that Odysseus relates from the next Book onwards.

Alcinous himself comes across as a capable, diplomatic leader. He arranges for Odysseus' departure and is the only one to notice his tears. He placates Odysseus' anger at Euryalus by proposing dancing and singing. He makes Euryalus apologize to the god-like hero and asks the princes to give gifts to Odysseus. Later, he notices again Odysseus' tears and finally stops the minstrel from singing any further. The poem has eventually reached the point where Odysseus will have to reveal his true identity to the noble Phaecians.

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