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homer : the odyssey, 800 bc 
Homer  : Odysseus Survives a Shipwreck, circa 800 B.C.

Extracts from
Homer: The Odyssey.
Translated and edited by Albert Cook
W. W. Norton and Company Inc., New York, 1967, 1974.
Chapter 5: Verses 365 to 463 (pages 74 to 77).

While most writing about surfriding focuses almost exclusively of the thrill and/or the art of wave riding, other skills are essential to achieve such a performance in what is esentially a highly dangerous activity.
In extreme surf conditions the return to shore, which may appear to be the most simple of procedures to the uninitiared, can be fraught with difficulties.

Some of these difficulties are illustrated by Homer in the earliest written report of a shipwreck from ancient times.
Odysseus survives the destruction of his raft by a great wave, then swims for three days before negotiating the surf zone with considerable difficulty and safely returns to shore in the land of the Phaeacians.
The edited text below basically excludes the role of several Greek gods and their interactions with Odysseus during the ordeal.

In an extended account following his arrival on shore (Lines 465 to 493 and not included here) Odysseus is aware of the potential of death due to hypothermia and sensibly chooses to spend the night inland under cover rather than remaining exposed to the elements on the beach.

The account is so remarkably rich in realistic detail it is hard to imagine that the author has not had some personal experience of such a near-drowning event.
Odysseus' difficulties in negotiating the surf zone to return to shore parrallel the experiences of some surfriders up to the universal adoption of the leg rope, circa 1976.
Before then, surfboard riders who were separated from their boards in a wipe-out had to swim and bodysurf back to the beach to retrieve their boards.

Chapter V
365 While he pondered these things in his mind and in his heart, 
Earth-shaker Poseidon (5) stirred up a great wave,
A terrible disastrous one, overarching; it dashed him.
As when a blustering wind shakes up a heap
Of dry husks, and scatters them in all directions,
370 So it scattered the raft's long beams. And Odysseus
Bestrode one spar as if he were riding a horse.
He took off the clothes that divine Calypso gave him,
And he stretched the veil right away beneath his chest.
He fell headlong down in the sea, spreading out his hands
375 And striving to swim. ...


Then for two nights and two days upon the thick wave
He wandered, and his heart many times saw destruction ahead.
But when fair-braided Dawn finished the third day,
Then at that point the wind died down and there was
A windless calm, and he sighted land nearby,
Scanning sharply, as he raised himself from the great wave.
398 So delightful did land and forest appear to Odysseus.
400 Vigorously he swam to set foot on the mainland.
But when he was as far off as a shout may carry,
And had heard against the reefs the noise of the sea-
For the great wave was dashing upon the dry mainland.
Fearfully spraying, it covered all with saltwater foam;
405 For there were indeed no secure harbors for ships, or channels, 
But headlands there were, jutting out, and reefs and cliffs; 
Then Odysseus' knees and his own heart went slack,
And, grieving, he addressed his own great-hearted spirit:
"Alas, that Zeus has granted me to see unhoped-for land
And I have come to the end of cleaving this gulf,
410 And no way of escape appears from the hoary sea.
But offshore there are sharp reefs, and the wave about them
Moans as it surges, and the rock runs on up smooth.
The sea is deep close in, and there is no way
To stand with both feet and to escape misfortune,
415 For a great wave perhaps may snatch me as I am getting out
And hurl me on rough rock, and my trying would be in vain.
But if I can swim along still further and can find
Spits of land jutting out and harbors of the sea,
Then I fear that a storm will seize me back again
420 And bear me heavily groaning onto the fish-laden ocean,
Or some god may drive a great monster on me from the sea,
Of the kind that in numbers the renowned Amphitrite (6) feeds; 
For I know how angry the renowned earth-shaker is at me."
He pondered these matters in his mind and in his heart
425 Till a great wave bore him up on the rugged shore.
There his skin would all have been stripped off and his bones broken
If the bright-eyed goddess Athene had not put a thought in his mind;
He caught at the rock with both hands as he dashed upon it,
430 And held onto it moaning, till a great wave came along.
And he avoided it so, but it struck him again with its backwash, 
And dashed on him and threw him far into the ocean.
As when an octopus is pulled out of its den,
Numerous pebbles are caught in its suckers,
435 So against the rocks the skin from his stout hands
Was stripped off. And the great wave covered him over.
Then surely wretched Odysseus would have died in excess of fate
If bright-eyed Athene had not given him presence of mind. 
Getting up out of the wave that spewed on the mainland,
440 He swam along it outside, looking for land, if he might happen
On spits of land jutting out and harbors of the sea.
But when as he swam on he came up to the mouth
Of a fair-flowing river (7), there the best place seemed to him to be. 
It was bare of rocks, and it had a shelter from the wind.
451 ... At once the river stopped flowing and held the wave.
It made a calm in front of him and rescued him
At the issue of the river. Then he bent both his knees
And his stout hands. For his own heart was downed by salt water.
455 All his skin was swollen,and much seawater oozed 
From his mouth and his nostrils. Breathless and voiceless
He lay with slight strength, and dread fatigue came upon him. 
462 ... He slipped out of the river,
Lay down on a rush bed, and kissed the grain-giving earth.

5. Poseidon is fabled to ride a horse chariot through the waves.
6. A goddess of the sea.
7. The rivers are gods in Homer.

Homer: The Odyssey.
Translated and edited by Albert Cook
W. W. Norton and Company Inc., New York, 1967, 1974.

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Geoff Cater (2008) : Homer : The Odyssey, circa 800 B. C.