The Art of Order -III-

When they were all satisfied with the contest, Laodamas, said:

“Friends, let’s ask the stranger whether he’s practised in any familiar sport. He’s a fine build in thighs and calves, with two strong arms, a stout neck, plenty of strength. Nor has he lost the power of youth, he is only wearied with suffering. There’s nothing like the sea to sap a man’s strength, however tough he might be.”

Euryalus replied: ‘Laodamas, what you say is right. Go and challenge him yourself, and make the challenge a public one.’

At this Alcinous’ fine son came to the centre, and spoke to Odysseus: ‘Sir stranger, come, enter the contest too, if you have any skill as seems likely, since there is no greater glory for a living man than that which he wins with his own hands and feet. Come, prove yourself, and throw off your cares. Your journey will soon start. The ship is launched now and the crew are ready.’

‘Laodamas’ replied resourceful Odysseus, ‘why provoke me with a challenge? My mind is on trouble not on play, since I have toiled and suffered greatly in the past, and now I long only to return home, and so I sit in your gathering and plead with your king and people.’

Euryalus answered then, mocking him to his face: ‘Indeed, stranger, you look like a man unused to manly sports, more like the captain of a merchant crew, trading to and fro in a sailing ship, careful for his cargo, keeping a greedy eye on freight and profit. You are no athlete.’

With a dark look, resourceful Odysseus replied:

‘Stranger, you speak unwisely. You are a man blinded by foolishness. How true it is that the gods seldom grace men equally with their gifts, of mind, form or speech. One man is meagre in appearance, but the gods crown his words with beauty, and men delight in him as he speaks sweetly in modest eloquence, conspicuous in a crowd, and looked on like a god as he crosses the city. Another seems an immortal, but his words lack grace. You too have exceptional looks a god could not better – but yet your mind is crippled. You have roused my spirit by speaking rudely. I am no novice in your sports: indeed I was one of the best when I had my youth, and strength lay in my hands. While now I’m constrained by pain and suffering, since I have endured many things in my passage through mortal warfare and hostile seas. And yet, though I’ve suffered deeply, I will join your contest, since your speech has stung me, and your words have riled me to the heart.’

With this he leapt to his feet, still wrapped in his cloak, and seized a discus bigger than the rest, thicker and heavier by some way than those the Phaeacians normally used in competition.

Spinning around, he sent it from his huge hand, and it hummed as it flew: the Phaeacians cowered, those lords of the ship and the long oar, beneath the flying stone.

Flung smoothly from the hand, it sailed past all their marks, and Athene, in human likeness, pegged the distance, then, spoke to him:

‘Stranger! Even a blind man, groping with his hands, could find your mark, by far and away the furthest, and separate from the cluster. You can take heart from this, at any rate: none of the Phaeacians will meet or pass it.’

And noble and long-suffering Odysseus was pleased by her words, happy to find a genuine supporter at the games.

He spoke to the Phaeacians now with a lighter heart.

~ Homer, The Odyssey, Book 8

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