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During the Odyssey, many singers are mentioned. They told stories of the past and the stories about the gods to entertain the household they were singing for. Singers were well respected because they had a divine gift from the Muses. Phemios and Demodokos are two examples of singers in the poem.
Phemios was a singer in the house of Odysseus. While Odysseus was away in battle and his journey home, Phemios was made to sing at Odysseus s house by Penelope s suitors.
A herald put the beautifully wrought lyre in the hands of Phemios, who sang for the suitors because they made him. (53 54, Book I)
He sang of Odysseus being lost in his homecoming (326 327, Book I). This made Penelope upset and she asked Phemios to stop his song (337 344, Book I). Then Telemachos reminded her that Phemios was not to blame.
Why, my mother, do you begrudge this excellent singer his pleasing himself as the thought drives him? It is not the singers who are to blame, it must be Zeus is to blame, who gives out to men who eat bread, to each and all, the way he wills it. There is nothing wrong in his singing the sad return of the Danaans. People, surely, always give more applause to that song which is the latest to circulate among the listeners. So let your heart and let your spirit be hardened to listen. (346 353, Book I)
When Odysseus came back to his house to take revenge on the suitors, Phemios is seen again. He had been singing for the suitors under their force, and feared that Odysseus would take his life for what he might think to be betrayal. Phemios caught the knees of Odysseus to beg for his life.
Then do not be furious to behead me. Telemachos too, your own dear son, would tell you, as I do, that it was against my will, and with no desire on my part, that I served the suitors here in your house and sang at their feasting. They were too many and too strong, and they forced me to do it. (349 353, Book XXII)
Odysseus spared Phemios because Telemachos said that he was innocent. Odysseus sent Phemios and Medon away from the palace, in the courtyard, so they would not be harmed in battle.
Demodokos is another singer mentioned. He was the excellent, but blind singer on the island of the Phaiakians. He sang about history of mortals and immortals.
But when they had put away their desire for eating and drinking, the Muse stirred the singer to sing the famous actions of men on that venture, whose fame goes up into the wide heaven, the quarrel between Odysseus and Peleus son, Achilleus, how these once contended, at the gods generous festival, with words of violence, so that the lord of men, Agamemnon, was happy in his heart that the best of the Achaians were quarreling; for so in prophecy Phoibos Apollo had spoken to him in sacred Pytho, when he had stepped across the stone doorstep to consult; for now the beginning of evil rolled on, descending on Trojans, and on Danaans, through the designs of great Zeus. (72 82, Book VIII)
Demodokos also sang the story of the Trojan Horse and how the Achaians won the Trojan War (499 520, Book VIII), and Hephaistos, his wife Aphrodite, and the affair between Aphrodite and Ares (266 366, Book VIII).
Singers were very well respected in the Odyssey. People believed that the singers not only sang for mortals, but the gods as well. When the suitors forced Phemios to sing for them while Odysseus was away, they were respectful of him when he was singing.
The famous singer was singing to them, and they in silence sat listening. (325 326, Book I)
When Phemios feared for his life when Odysseus was killing the suitors, he caught the knees of Odysseus, and gave him many reasons why his life should be spared.
I am at your knees, Odysseus. Respect me, have mercy. You will be sorry in time to come if you kill the singer of songs. I sing to the gods and to human people, and I am taught by myself, but the god has inspired in me the song-ways of every kind. I am such a one as can sing before you as to a god. Then do not be furious to behead me. (344 349, Book XXII)
Singers in the Odyssey had an important part in the story because they gave the background stories of some characters and gods. They widely respected by all who listened to them. This is also why they have a relatively big part in the story.
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