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by Alfred de Grazia




Here then is this song of love. It is presented fifth-hand: My literal verse is based upon a number of translations of what is ultimately a tenth century A. D. manuscript in Greek (the earliest extant - as written down in the seventh-century B. C. and reedited in the next century) of Homer's Odyssey, which reports what was sung by a blind harpist, Demodocus, in a time and place that have been debatable questions for over two thousand years.

Alcinous the King announced the event: Now, all and one of you dancers, Phaeacia's finest! form in your corps de ballet so our stranger and guest can tell all his friends upon going back home, we're surpassing all manner of mankind; We are the paramount sailors on sea, and in running a foot race, singing of songs, and in dancing. So someone around us here go, go without loitering, bring to us here for Demodocus's use, that precious harp that so clearly resounds; it's the lyre carefully standing, it's somewhere, I know, within one of our great halls." Sacred commands of Alcinous! Quickly arose a herald, seeking to find and to fetch him the resonant harp from its palace place. Rising as well were a chosen nine men who were Lords Ceremonial, publically called, whenever the people foregathered and needed an ordering. These cleared out space for the dancing to come; they measured a broad ring. Meanwhile the herald returned; he carried the clear-intoned lyre. Taking the lyre in hand, Demodocus moved in the midst of the young boys standing there, all of them skilled in the dance though they blossomed with fair youth. Down stamped their feet on the floor made for beauteous magical dances. Spellbound Odysseus marveled as dancing feet twinkled in mid-air!


Whereupon the song of the Love Affair begins. Striking his masterly chords in the prelude to singing his sweet song, Demodocus charmingly told of Ares' love affair and Aphrodite, Golden of Crown. In secret they lay in the home of Hephaestus. Ares came carrying all manner of gifts to dishonor the Lord's bed.

Straightaway then went with the news, of course, Helios, who'd spotted them loving. Shocked and dismayed was Hephaestus to hear of the painful story. Deep down below to the depth of his forge he proceeded; there, placing a thunderbolt stone on the block of the anvil, he struck, and struck off unbreakable fetters that no one could hope to dissolve, for fixing the lovers in bondage, right where they loved, was his fierce aim. Then having fashioned his snare, imbued with a wrath against Ares, up to his chamber he went, by his bedstead of love, and all over, everywhere, round the four posts of the bed he moved, spreading the ligaments, dropping a number of them from above, from the beams to the floor, too, fine as the web of a spider, so fine that the Blessed Immortals, looking for them could not see them, such excellent craft was he capable of.

Soon as the bonds had been stretched over all of the lovers' trysting couch, Hephaestus pretended to move on the way to his well-founded Lemnos, dearly loved island. Wherewith the unwavering gaze of the Golden-bridled Ares fixed without fail on Hephaestus, Most Famed among Artisans, going off. And Ares straight made his way to the house of the Famous Hephaestus, eager for love of Cytherean Aphrodite of the Bright Crown. She had in fact come before him just now from her father, mighty Son of Kronos, and rested herself to await his arrival. Ares entered directly the house, reached for her hands, and spoke calling her name: "Dearest one, come to bed now with me; let us together lie. Hephaestus is no longer here or about and I do think he's gone. Lemnos must have him; he's gone to his Sintians who speak like barbarians." He spoke like that, and she was quite thrilled to lie in his lean arms.

Going to bed, they laid themselves together. But upon them showered the bonds engineered by versatile Hephaestus, tight drawn. Try as they might, they couldn't remove their limbs or even move them. Then they did realize no way could be found to escape the close bonds.

Nearing them now, having turned himself back before reaching his Lemnos, came close the Famous, the Strong-armed, the God with Disabled Legs. Helios had watched as before and again had delivered the story. So, to his mansion once more he returned, his heart so heavy. Standing astride of the door he was seized by a wild anger. Terrible cries went up; all of the Gods heard his shouting: "Zeus, my father and all of you Blessed Gods who are Eternal, come down! See for yourselves here a laughable matter, unyielding fact. Aphrodite, the daughter of Zeus, has ever shunned my lameness, but loved Annihilator Ares who is handsome and straight-footed, born to stumble that I am! Yet no one to blame save my parents. Better had they not begotten me. Here you can see how this pair climbed into my bed and twine around each other so lovingly. I am torn apart by the sight. But believe me, their desire will vanish. However in love, their lust is gone, and an end to their fornication. Nevertheless, the trap and the net will not let them go free. Gifts that I gave for the right to the bride, with her eyes of a spaniel, first must be paid back to me by her father; fair though his daughter, she is a wanton and reckless." So spoke Hephaestus, seeing the Gods had now met at the house by its brazen bright threshold.

Poseidon came, the Mover of Earth, and Hermes the Helper, too. Lord and Director of Far-removed Works, Apollo: he came. (Goddesses were absent, they remained home, away from the shameful scene.) Standing around the door, then, were the Gods, the Givers of Good Things. Laughter arose from the Blessed Gods, inextinguishably gleeful they were at the sight of Hephaestus' shrewd craft and cunning, saying amongst themselves, glancing at each other, "Bad deeds prosper poorly. The slow one can catch the most swift. See how Hephaestus, though slow he may be, has caught up with Ares, fastest of Gods who command high Olympus. Lame although he be, yet he has caught him by skill, so Ares must pay the just fine owed by one in adultery." To each other they spoke in this manner.

Apollo, Lord and the son of Great Zeus, said aside to God Hermes, "Hermes, the son of Great Zeus, and our Messenger, Giver of Good Things: would you be willing, on oath, to wed with the Golden Aphrodite, even though trapped by strong bonds?" The Messenger God, Slayer of Argus, retorted: "Would that this happened to myself! Yes, O Master Apollo, Unfailing Marksman. If unbreakable bindings of three times the number would fasten me down, yes, and all of the goddesses were to be looking upon the two of us. Would that it happened that I should be sleeping with Golden Aphrodite!" Speeches like this caused new laughter to rise from the Heavenly Deities.

Poseidon laughed not at all; he besought on the contrary Hephaestus, Supreme-of-all-Craftsmen, to let go of Ares, speaking in winged words: "Loose him, I promise, when ordered by you, to compel him to pay you all that is right, and I swear this before all these Gods, the Immortals." Famous and Strong-armed Hephaestus replied: "Do not ask this. Think! Poseidon, Earth-Surrounder. Bail for a reprobate! How can I place you in bondage among the immortal gods, granted that Ares will avoid both the debt and the bail and depart." Still the Shaker-of-Earth was insistent; Poseidon declared, "Surely if Ares shall flee from his debt I shall pay you Hephaestus." Then the Famous, the Strong-armed Hephaestus conceded in answer: "I am not right to deny you, nor would such an action be proper." Suddenly, so saying, the Mighty Hephaestus unfastened the bindings. Straightaway, freed from their powerful bonds, the lovers sprang upwards. Ares proceeded to Thrace, but Aphrodite, Lover of Laughter, went on to Cyprus, to Paphos, her domain with her fragrant-smoke alter. There she was bathed by the Graces, who salved her with oils of immortals, ointment refulgent on Gods who are Deathless. And they clothed her body. Such was the beauty of raiment, the vision astonished the eyes.


The opera is over, its audience charmed and relaxed: This was the song that the famous bard sang and Odysseus rejoiced; glad in his heart was the guest while he listened; glad, too, the Phaeacians, men of the long oars, famed for their sea-going vessels. Forthwith Alcinous bade Halius and Laodamas to dance by themselves. No one could match them. They grasped in their hands a beautiful purple ball that Polybus the Wise One had fashioned for them and their dancing. One would lean backwards and toss it up high towards the shadowy clouds. His brother would leap off the ground in the air, and skillfully catch it, even not touching the ground with his feet until holding it firmly. Showing their skill at casting the ball straight up high was a prelude; Now they began a new dance on the bounteous earth, flinging the same ball to and fro, to and fro, as other youths stood in the wings, beating time. Great was the din that arose! Odysseus then turned to Alcinous, saying: "Lord and Renowned among mankind, you boasted of your dancers; best you had said that they be, and true are your words in our full sight. Looking upon them, amazement takes hold of me here."

Alcinous is gladdened by this praise. He impetuously ordains that all manner of rich gifts be heaped up for the guest to carry along home when he leaves Scheria.


The "Love Affair" stands as a complete story in itself. More exactly, it is a summary of a long dramatic presentation which will never be heard or seen. And this long story is of course part of only one episode of the Phaeacian Adventure.

Phaeacia itself is a marvelous creation of Homer-Athena. If the "Love Affair" as a literary genre can be called the first bedroom farce, Phaeacia may be called the first Utopia, to be succeeded by hundreds of utopias in the millennia to come. It has aspects of More's Utopia, of Campanella's City of the Sun, of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, of Hilton's Shangrila, of Skinner's Walden II, and of many another.

Phaeacia means in Greek the "Shining Land". It is a new community, now in its second generation. Its people were once settled in Hypereia, probably far to the East, when they were oppressed by savage giant neighbors, "a quarrelsome people who took advantage of their greater strength to plague them", says Homer.

Their first king, Nausithous, father of the present king, the divine Alcinous, "made them migrate and settled them in Scheria [probably a mythical name, like Phaeacia and Hypereia], far from the busy haunts of men."

"There he laid out the walls of a new city, built them houses, put up temples to the gods, and allotted the land for cultivation." They have an abundance of food and water, and of niceties of civilization. "We run fast and we are firstrate seamen. But the things in which we take a perennial delight are the feast, the lyre, the dance, clean linen in plenty, a hot bath, and our beds." The wash is done in "the noble river with its never-failing pools, in which there was enough clear water always bubbling up and swirling by to clean the dirtiest clothes." [1]

The beautiful princess, Nausicaa, is impelled by Athena to go with attendants to the river banks to wash clothes and play games, activities suggestive of the rites of Spring to at least one authority, Emile Mireaux [2] . There she inevitably encounters Odysseus, begrimed from his many days adrift but refreshed from sleep. Her ball falls near the thicket where he lay, she meets him and he wins her trust. She in turn reassures her playmates.

"Stop, my maids. Where are you flying to at the sight of a man? Don's tell me you take him for an enemy, for there is no man on earth, nor ever will be, who would dare set hostile feet on Phaeacian soil. The gods are too fond of us for that. Remote in this sea-beaten home of ours, we are the outposts of mankind and come in contact with no other people." [3]

A town square, marketing-place and meeting place, well-paved, adjoins the Temple of Poseidon, chief of the gods favoring the city, for he fathered king Nausithous. Poseidon is not always pleased with his Phaeacians, because they are sometimes too hospitable to travelers who have offended him, and it was fore-told by King Nausithous that Poseidon would be jealous enough one day to petrify a vessel of theirs and swing about the mountains behind them into a ring that would foreclose the sea.

Meanwhile they lived well and gave their energies to the building and sailing of fleet ships. They held commerce, too, in contempt. Neither grim warriors nor merchants, yet they enjoyed all the good things of life.

The King's name of Alcinous (Alkynoos) is significant. The central star of the Pleiades, the gate to Paradise and to the world of spirits, is Alkyone. Alkyonic Lake is the waters of death leading of Paradise. There has since time immemorial been a worldwide knowledge, among tribes and great civilizations, about the Pleiades, early November celebrations occur centering upon them [4] .

The palace of Alcinous, too, is shining and grand, "for a kind of radiance, like that of the sun or moon, lit up the high-roofed halls of the great king." The palace enjoys a large household of retainers and its gardens extend into a bush-enclosed orchard.

Homer is as respectful of women as anyone in this age of brutal male chauvinism. Queen Arete, mother of Nausicaa, "sits at the hearth in the light of the fire, spinning the purple yarn, a wonder to behold, leaning against a pillar and her hand maids sit behind her," [5] but she is a powerful factor in setting policy for the realm. "If you secure her favor, Nausicaa tells Odysseus, you may hope to regain home and friends. "On mother's wishes much depends." [6]

The places of public assembly can hold "many thousands": all of the nobles, their families and the population. The king is beloved, but ruler by consensus. Social and political functions are performed by men chosen, perhaps elected, from the aristocracy. For example, when the performance of "Love Affair" was announced, a committee of nine official stewards took matters in hand. "They were public servants who supervised all the details on such occasions."

The Phaeacians are a well-organized community. They have a public opinion. There are conventional moral standards: gossip, respect, a time for marriage, a place for everyone and for strangers: these seem all the more utopian as they seem real.

A peaceful people, we are induced to believe, a people beloved by and respecting the gods, a people who lived serenely under an ultimate belief that their special god, Poseidon, would take away their sea, their precious sea-fairing way of life.

In the end, we are told, these beautiful people, hospitable, who had sublimated all terrors to the arts and crafts, were punished as Poseidon had promised: for their kindness to Odysseus, their returning ship was frozen to stone and a range of mountains was about to encircle them.

Notes (Chapter 2: The Song of Love)

1. Ibid., VI.

2. Vol I, chap. X.

3. Loc. cit.

4. R. G. Halliburton, 25 Nature (Dec. 1, 1881) 100-1; E. B. Tylor 25 Nature (Dec. 15, 1881) 150-1; R. G. H., 25 Nature (Feb. 2, 1882) 317-8.

5. A. T. Murray, op. cit., I, 229.

6. Robert Fitzgerald, Homer: The Odyssey (New York: Doubleday, 1961).

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