The Mythic Scheria and the legendary Phaeacians
Scheria is a mythical place in ancient Greek mythology that was the home of the legendary and mysterious Phaeacians, who were known to be masters of the seas. The first reference to this place is found in Homer’s Odyssey.
If we start with the etymology of the word Phaeacians, we will see that the first part ‘Phaios’ means ‘Grey’, probably referring to them as dark skin people. According to Homer, the kings of the Phaeacians where ancestors of the God Poseidon and started with one of his sons, Phaeax.
Phaeacians were the beloved of the Gods but also friends to humans. Their place of abode was initially mentioned to be far away at the end of the world. They were relatives to the Gods in the same way as Cyclopes and Giants were too. When Cyclopes attacked the Phaeacians then they had to move to Scheria the ‘island of the Phaeacians’, which was probably an island of unknown location (I say probably because Homer doesn’t clarify if it was an island or a place next to the sea).
The island of the Phaeacians was the last destination of Odysseus before arriving to Ithaca. Therefore, we could assume that it could be a place close to Ithaca. That assumption gave birth to the suggestion that the island of the Phaeacians was the Greek island Corfu. Corfu is one island close to Ithaca and it matches the description of Scheria in the Odyssey. However, no excavations have brought to the surface any evidence for the mythical civilization of the Phaeacians. Furthermore, the island is so close to Ithaca that it wouldn’t have taken one night for Odysseus to arrive, as written in the Odyssey.
The second major assumption is that Scheria was on Tartessos, a harbour city in Spain. The assumption is based on Homer mentioning that Odysseus travelled beyond the Gates of Hercules (Gibraltar). However, if this was the last stop before Ithaca then the journey back to Ithaca would have been a much longer trip than one night. Furthermore, no excavations have produced evidence to support such a theory.
According to Homer, the Phaeacians had developed an advanced but peaceful civilization and they were very hospitable. In this part of the story, goddess Athena participates and communicates with princess Nausicaa of the Phaeacians in her dreams in order to help Odysseus.
The king of the Phaeacians at that time on Scheria was Alkinoos, son of Phaeax, son of Poseidon, who ruled with a council of 12 archons that were equal to him in governing. The palace on the island of Scheria is said to have had bronze walls and golden gates shining like the Sun. The palace was guarded by mechanical dogs made of silver and gold. King Alkinoos would later help Jason and the Argonauts with their trip to get the Golden Fleece and Phaeacian ships were said to have accompanied Jason on his mission.
Let’s see now why their ships and their skills in navigating made them so famous. The Phaeacians were expert navigators. However, according to Homer, the ‘ships’ were vehicles in black colour that could ‘fly’ over the sea. They didn’t have oars or a rudder, nor did they have captains to navigate them. The ships were driven by thought – they could connect to the human minds and execute their commands, and they could travel under any condition; they were unsinkable. The ‘ships’ had advanced navigation systems with knowledge of all cities and all countries of the ancient World and could navigate easily under any condition. This ‘technology’ was given to them by the god Poseidon, their protector.
Who were the Phaeacians and where was their place of abode? No definite answers and no clues have been found but yet their extraordinary seafaring abilities and the intriguing description by Homer make them appear to be either a fascinating advanced civilization of the past yet to be discovered, or a fiction of the imagination for the sake of a good story. It is worth mentioning that Homer’s description of Troy was also once considered to be a work of fiction. However, the city of Troy has now been discovered, turning myth into reality.
By John Black