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CHAPTER IX. THE PHAEACIANS

The next day the King arose at dawn, as also did Ulysses, and the King led the way to the place of assembly. Meanwhile Athene, wearing the guise of the King's herald, went throughout the city, and to each man she said, “Come to the assembly, captains and counsellors of the Phaeacians, that ye may learn concerning this stranger, who hath lately come to the hall of Alcinous.”

So she roused their desire, and the place of assembly was filled to the utmost; much did the men marvel to see Ulysses, for Athene had poured marvellous grace upon him, making him fairer and taller and stronger to see.

Then the King rose up and spake: “Hearken, captains and counsellors of the people, to what I say. This stranger hath come to my hall; I know not who he is or whence he comes, whether it be from the rising or the setting of the sun; and he prays that he may be safely carried to his home. Let us therefore choose a ship that hath never sailed before, and two and fifty youths that are the best to ply the oar; and when ye have made ready the ship, then come to my house and feast; I will provide well for all. Bid. also, Demodocus [Footnote: De-mod'-o-cus.] the minstrel to come, for the gods have given to him above all others the gift of song wherewith to rejoice the hearts of men.”

Then they did as the King counselled. They made ready the ship, and moored her by the shore, and after that they went to the palace of the King. From one end thereof to the other it was crowded, for many were there, both young and old. And Alcinous slew for them twelve sheep, and eight swine, and two oxen; and his men prepared for the people a goodly feast.

Then came the servants of the King, leading the blind minstrel by the hand. The servants set him in a silver chair, in the midst of the guests, and hung a harp above his head, and showed him how he might reach his hand to take it. And close by his side they placed a table and a basket and a cup of wine, that he might drink at his pleasure.

So the Phaeacians feasted in the hall; and when they had had enough of meat and drink, then the minstrel sang. He sang a song, the fame of which had reached to heaven, of the quarrel between Ulysses and Achilles, when they were fighting to capture Troy.

But as the minstrel sang, Ulysses held his purple cloak before his face, for he was ashamed to weep in the sight of the people. Whensoever the singer ceased from his song, then did Ulysses wipe away the tears; but when he began again, for the chiefs loved to hear the song, then again he covered his face and wept. But none noted the thing but Alcinous.

Then the King said to the chiefs, “Now that we have feasted and delighted ourselves with song, let us go forth, that this stranger may see that we are skilful in boxing and wrestling and running.”

Then stood up many Phaeacian youths, and the fairest and strongest of them all was Laodamas, eldest son to the King, and they ran a race, and wrestled, and threw quoits, and leaped.

Then Laodamas said to Ulysses, “Wilt thou not try thy skill in some game, and put away the trouble from thy heart?”

But Ulysses answered: “Why askest thou this? I think of my troubles rather than of sport, and care only that I may see again my home.”

Then said another: “And in very truth, stranger, thou hast not the look of a wrestler or boxer. Rather would one judge thee to be some trader, who sails over the sea for gain.”

“Nay,” answered Ulysses, “this is ill said. True it is that the gods give not all gifts to all men, beauty to one, and sweet speech to another. Fair of form art thou; no god could better thee; but thou speakest idle words. I am not unskilled in these things, but stood among the first in the old days; but since have I suffered much in battle and shipwreck. Yet will I make trial of my strength, for thy words have angered me.”

Whereupon, clad in his mantle as he was, he took a quoit, heavier far than such as the Phaeacians were wont to throw, and sent it with a whirl. It flew through the air, so that the brave Phaeacians crouched to the ground in fear, and it fell far beyond all the rest.

Then Athene, for she had taken upon herself the guise of a Phaeacian man, marked the place where it fell, and spake, saying: “Stranger, verily, even a blind man might find this token of thy strength, for it is not lost among the others, but lies far beyond them. Be of good courage, therefore, in this contest; none of the Phaeacians shall surpass thee.”

Then was Ulysses glad, seeing that he had a friend among the people, and he said: “Now match this throw, young men, if ye can. Soon will I cast another after it, as far, or further yet. And, if any man is so minded, let him rise up and contend with me, for I will match myself in wrestling or boxing, or even in the race, with any man in Phaeacia, save Laodamas only, for he is my friend. I can shoot with the bow; and I can cast a spear as far as other men can shoot an arrow. But as for the race, it may be that some one might outrun me, for I have suffered much on the sea.”

But they were all silent, till the King stood up and said: “Thou hast spoken well. But we men of Phaeacia are not mighty to wrestle or to box; only we are swift of foot and skilful to sail upon the sea. And we love feasts, and dances, and the harp, and gay clothing, and the bath. In these things no man may surpass us.”

Then the King bade Demodocus the minstrel to sing again. And when he had done so, the King's two sons danced together; and afterwards they played with the ball, throwing it into the air, cloud high, and catching it right skilfully.

And afterwards the King said: “Let us each give this stranger a mantle and a tunic and a talent of gold.”

Then all the princes brought their gifts. And Alcinous said to the Queen: “Lady, bring hither a chest, the best that thou hast, and put therein a robe and a tunic. And I will give our guest a fair golden cup of my own, that he may remember me all the days of his life, when he poureth out offerings to the gods.”

Then the Queen brought from her chamber a fair chest, and put therein the gifts which the princes had given; also with her own hands she put therein a robe and a tunic. And she said:—

“Look now to the lid, and tie a knot, that no man rob thee by the way, when thou sleepest in the ship.”

So Ulysses fixed well the lid, and tied it with a cunning knot which Circe had taught him. After that he went to the bath. As he came from the bath Nausicaa met him by the entering in of the hall, and marvelled at him, so fair was he to look upon. And she spake, saying: “Stranger, farewell. But when thou comest to thine own country, think upon me once and again, for indeed thou owest to me the price of thy life.”

Ulysses made answer to her, “Nausicaa, if Zeus grant me safe return to my home, I will do honour to thee as to a goddess, forever; for indeed I owe thee my life.”

Then he went into the hall, and sat down by the side of the King, and the squire came leading the blind minstrel by the hand. Now Ulysses had cut off a rich portion from the chine [Footnote: chine, backbone.] of a boar that had been set before him, and he said to the squire: “Take this and give it to Demodocus, for the minstrel should be held in honour by men.”

So the squire bare the dish, and set it on the knees of the minstrel, rejoicing his heart.

When they all had had enough of food and drink, then Ulysses spake to the minstrel, saying: “Demodocus, I know not whether the gods have taught thee, but of a truth thou singest of all the toil and trouble that the Greeks endured before the great city of Troy as if thou hadst thyself been there. Come, now, sing to us of the Horse of Wood, and how Ulysses contrived that it should be taken up into the citadel of Troy when he had filled it with the bravest of the chiefs. Sing me this aright, and I will bear witness for thee that thou art indeed a minstrel whom the gods have taught.”

Then did the minstrel sing this song. He told how one part of the Greeks set fire to their camp, and embarked upon their ships, and sailed away; and how the other part—Ulysses and his comrades—sat hidden in the Horse which the men of Troy had dragged with their own hands into their place of assembly. All about sat the people, and three counsels were given. The first was to cleave the wood, and the second to drag it to the brow of the hill and cast it down thence, and the third to leave it as an offering to the gods; and the third counsel prevailed, for it was the doom of the city that it should perish through the Horse.

Also the minstrel sang how the chiefs came forth from the Horse, and went through the city, wasting it; and much also of Ulysses and his brave deeds.

Thus did the minstrel sing, and the heart of Ulysses was melted within him as he listened, and the tears ran down his cheeks.

But none of the company, save King Alcinous only, noticed this. Then the King spake, saying: “Hearken, ye princes of the Phaeacians, and let Demodocus cease from his singing, for since he set his hand to the harp, this stranger hath not ceased to weep. Let, therefore, the minstrel cease, and let us make merry and rejoice as it is fitting to do. Are we not met together that we may give gifts to this stranger, and send him to his home? And hide not thou, stranger, from us aught that I shall ask thee. Tell us by what name they call thee at home, for no man lacketh a name. Tell us also of thy land and thy city, that our ships may shape their course to take thee thither. For these are not as the ships of other men, that have steersmen and rudders. They have an understanding of their own, and know all the cities of men, and they pass over the deep, covered with cloud, and have no fear of wreck. But my father was wont to say that Poseidon bore a grudge against us because we carry all men safely to their homes; and that one day he would smite a ship of ours as it came home from such an errand, changing it to a rock that should overshadow our city. But thou, stranger, tell us of thyself,—whither thou hast wandered, and what cities thou hast seen, be they cities of the unrighteous, or cities of them that are hospitable to strangers and fear the gods. Tell us, too, why thou didst weep at hearing of the tale of Troy. Hadst thou, perchance, a kinsman, or a friend— for a wise friend is ever as a brother—among those that perished at Troy?”