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Scheria (Ancient Greek Greek: Σχερίη or Σχερία)—also known as Scherie or Phaeacia—was a geographical region in Greek mythology, first mentioned in Homer's Odyssey as the home of the Phaiakians (Phaeacians) and the last destination of Odysseus after his 20 year long journey before returning home to Ithaca.

Odysseus meets Nausikaa

Odysseus and Nausicaa

Odysseus before Nausikaa. A 1619 painting by Pieter Lastman.

In the Odyssey, after Odysseus sails from Ogygia, his raft is wrecked by a storm and he is washed up on Scheria. Meanwhile, the goddess Athena, who sneaks into the palace, disguises herself as a sea-captain's daughter and instructs princess Nausikaa, the daughter of King Alkinoös in her sleep to go to the seashore to wash her clothes. The next morning Nausikaa and her maids go to the seashore, and after washing the clothes, they start to play a ball game called naked ball.[1] on the beach, with laughs, giggles and shouts. Odysseus, who was exhausted from his adventure and was sleeping nearby, is awakened by the shouts. He covers his nakedness with thick leaves and goes to ask for help from the playing team. On seeing the unkempt Odysseus in this state, the maids run away, but Nausikaa, encouraged by Athena, stands her ground and talks to him. To excuse the maids she admits that the Phaeacians are "the farthermost of men, and no other mortals are conversant with them",[2] so they run away since they have never seen a stranger before. Nausikaa, being hospitable, provides clothes, food and drink to Odysseus, then she directs him to the palace of King Alkinoös, since she doesn't want to be seen with a stranger, let alone a man, as she is yet unmarried and people watch and talk and may raise rumors of her befriending men.

The palace of King Alkinoös

Francesco Hayez 028

Odysseus at the palace of Alkinoös. Painting by Francesco Hayez.

On his way to the palace, Odysseus meets Athena disguised as a little local girl. Athena advises him clearly on how to enter the palace, which is guarded by mechanical dogs made of silver and gold, constructed by Hephaestus. The palace is surrounded by bronze walls that "shine like the sun", secured with gates made of gold. Within the walls there is a magnificent garden[3] with trees that grow all kinds of fruit, pears, pomegranates, and apples, all the year round. The palace is even equipped with a lighting system consisting of golden statues of young men with lighted torches in their hands to give light during the night. Following her through the town, he is told to enter the palace and plead for mercy from the queen Arete. Odysseus, covered with a cloaking cloud provided by Athena, passes through all the protection systems of the palace and enters the chamber of King Alkinoös. He throws his arms around the queen's legs and appeals to her. Naturally, Alkinoös and his court were surprised to see a stranger walking in to their secured palace, but immediately offer him hospitality and to help him on his journey.

After Odysseus tells Alkinoös and his court the story of his adventures after the Trojan War, the Phaiakians bring him to Ithaca on one of their sophisticated ships.

The Phaeacian ships

The Phaeacians possessed remarkable ships. They were quite different from the ancient galleys, the ships used during the Trojan War, and they were steered by thought. King Alkinoös says that Phaeacians carried Rhadamanthus to Euboea, "which is the furthest of any place" and came back on the same day.[4] He also explains to Odysseus what sort of information the Phaeacian ships require in order to take him home to Ithaca.[5]

Tell me also your country, nation, and city, that our ships may shape their purpose accordingly and take you there. For the Phaeacians have no pilots; their vessels have no rudders as those of other nations have, but the ships themselves understand what it is that we are thinking about and want; they know all the cities and countries in the whole world, and can traverse the sea just as well even when it is covered with mist and cloud, so that there is no danger of being wrecked or coming to any harm.

Homer describes the Phaeacian ships as fast as a falcon and gives a vivid description of the ship's departure.

The ship bounded forward on her way as a four in hand chariot flies over the course when the horses feel the whip. Her prow curvetted as it were the neck of a stallion, and a great wave of dark blue water seethed in her wake. She held steadily on her course, and even a falcon, swiftest of all birds, could not have kept pace with her.[6]

Geographical location of Scheria

Many ancient and modern interpreters favour identification of Scheria with the island of Corfu, which is within 80 miles of Ithaca. Locals on Corfu had long claimed this, based on the rock outside Corfu harbour, which is supposedly the ship that carried Odysseus back to Ithaca, but was turned to stone by Poseidon, to punish the Phaiakians for helping his enemy:

with one blow from the flat of his hand turned her [the ship] into stone and rooted her to the sea bottom[6]

The Phaiakians did not participate in the Trojan War. The Greek word Phaiakians (Φαίακες) is derived from phaios (φαιός)[7] meaning gray, hence Phaiakians means "dark-skinned". The Phaiakians in the Odyssey did not know Odysseus (although they knew of him, as evidenced by the tales of Demodocus), so they called him a "stranger". Odysseus however was the king of the majority of the Ionian Islands,[8] not only of Ithaca, but also "of Cephallenia, Neritum, Crocylea, Aegilips, Same and Zacynthus"[9] so if Schería was Corfu, it would be surprising that the citizens of one of the Ionian Islands did not know Odysseus. Furthermore, when Odysseus reveals his identity, he says to the nobles: "...if I outlive this time of sorrow, I may be counted as your friend, though I live so far away from all of you"[10]indicating that Schería was far away from Ithaca. From the ancient times, some scholars having examined the work and the geography of Homer have suggested that Scheria was located in the Atlantic Ocean. Among them were Strabo and Plutarch. Many characteristics of the Phaiakians, including their seafaring and relaxed lifestyle are suggestive of Minoan Crete. The latter similarities make Scheria also suggestive of Atlantis. Helena Blavatsky proposed in her Secret Doctrine (1888) that it was Homer before Plato who first wrote of Atlantis.[11] Aside from the seafaring prowess, the palace walls that shone like the sun are read to be covered not by bronze but orichalcum.

Geographical account by Strabo

Approximately eight centuries after Homer, Strabo, the geographer criticized Polybius on the geography of the Odyssey. Strabo proposed that Schería and Ogygia were located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

At another instance he (Polybius) suppresses statements. For Homer says also "Now after the ship had left the river-stream of Oceanus"[12] and "In the island of Ogygia, where is the navel of the sea,"[13] where the daughter of Atlas lives; and again, regarding the Phaiakians, "Far apart we live in the wash of the waves, the farthermost of men, and no other mortals are conversant with us."[2] All these (incidents) clearly suggest that he (Homer) composed them to take place in the Atlantic Ocean.[14] (Strabo, 1.2.18)

Notes

  1. This is one of the earliest mentions of some sort of ball in world literature
  2. 2.0 2.1 Homer, Odyssey, 6.204
  3. This is one of the earliest description of a garden in world literature
  4. Homer, Odyssey, 7.320
  5. Homer, Odyssey, 555-563
  6. 6.0 6.1 Odyssey, Book XIII
  7. Entry: φαιός at Liddell & Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon.
  8. Map of Ionian Islands
  9. Iliad, Book II
  10. Odyssey, Book IX, 17
  11. "It was not he [Plato] who invented it, since Homer, who preceded him by many centuries, also speaks of the Atlantes and of their island in his Odyssey. Secret Doctrine, vol 2. pt3, ch6.
  12. Odyssey, XII, 1
  13. Odyssey, I, 50
  14. The original text of this passage by Strabo is ταῦτα γὰρ πάντα φανερῶς ἐν τῷ Ἀτλαντικῷ πελάγει πλαττόμενα δηλοῦται.

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