Phaeacians in The Odyssey

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  • 0:02 Introduction to ''The…
  • 1:04 Who Are the Phaeacians?
  • 3:38 Aftermath and Significance
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
'The Odyssey' tells the tale of the hero Odysseus and his long, long journey home from war. Odysseus encounters a multitude of obstacles and interesting people along his path. In this lesson, we'll learn about one of those groups, the Phaeacians.

Introduction to The Odyssey

The Odyssey is a Greek epic composed by the poet Homer sometime in the late 8th century B.C. Homer is also credited with authorship of The Iliad, which is about the Trojan War and is a sort of prequel to The Odyssey.

The Odyssey follows Odysseus, a Trojan War hero, on his journey back to his home of Ithaca in Greece. You know how sometimes it feels like your trip home from the grocery store takes about ten years? Well, Odysseus's journey took an actual ten years, and that's just his trip home! The Trojan War itself also took ten years. His wife Penelope and his son Telemachus had to wait twenty years to see him, all the while dealing with Penelope's suitors hanging around their palace eating all their food. Eventually, Odysseus is reunited with his family, but he has a long road first. One of the most instrumental stops he makes is with the Phaeacians. So who are these people?

Who Are the Phaeacians?

The Phaeacians are a people in Greek mythology who live on the island of Scheria, sometimes spelled Scherie. They're excellent mariners and skilled with all kinds of ocean activities - fishing, boatbuilding, navigating, you name it. They are instrumental in Odysseus's return to Ithaca. They seem almost like the surfer dudes of The Odyssey, because they're very laid-back and helpful, and they listen to Odysseus's tale of his journey with rapt attention.

The Phaeacians, like modern surfers, also know a ton about the ocean and how to read it. Their ships are said to be different than the ones Odysseus is used to from the Trojan War and are much swifter. Apparently, these ships are also steered by thought. (Hopefully nobody ever gets distracted or hungry when steering one!) Scheria is described as a land of plenty in the book, and the palace is surrounded by bronze walls. The landscape is dotted with fruit trees.

Odysseus and the Phaeacians

Odysseus comes to the Phaeacians by mistake. After he is finally freed by the sorceress Calypso and sets off from her island on his raft, Poseidon smites him with the full force of a storm as revenge. See, Odysseus blinded Poseidon's son Polyphemus a few years back, so the opportunity presented itself to get one back against the poor guy. Odysseus washes up on the Phaeacian beach three days later. Nausicaa, the daughter of the Phaeacian King Alcinous and Queen Arete, finds him there. Well, really, Odysseus is drawn by her laughter while she washes her clothing and, naked and weak, he begs her for help. Shockingly, Nausicaa does not run away screaming from the shaggy naked wild man - it turns out that Athena prepared the girl for this encounter when she was asleep, so she just tells him to seek help from her parents.

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