The Real Phaecia

I am currently back sitting at my favorite table in Star Beach, a few hours before my return flight to Britain as, I hope, a Pendragon. Yesterday we drove around the coast of Mirrabello to Mochlos, a startlingly mellow village-cluster reminscent of an Indian getaway. A few dope-smoking travelers were chilling out, idling the months away, I imagined, until they could return to the East. My attempts to procure a boat & sailor to take me to the island of Pseira soon fail’d, & we were directed instead to Tholos, a lovely sandy beach full of locals, perched beside an immense olive grove which carpeted the valley between tall mountains. Leaving the girls to frolick in the waves, I availed myself of a local sailor to take me to my long-thought-of destination. A handsome, tann’d feloow, we soone established that on arrival at the island I would have an hour or so to potter about its Minoan town. I have strong reasons to believe Pseira was once Scheria, the capital city of the Phaecians, among whom Odysseus spent a little time before his final return to Ithica.

The Phaecians were said to have originally dwelt at the city of Hyperia, near Kalaureia, on the Greek mainland. Abandoning the Plains of Troezen en masse, they relocated to a new home somewhere on the edge of the known Grecian world, ‘far from men that live by toil.’ That the name Kalaureia is also given by Pausanius to ‘a small island near Crete’, I began ruminating on the hyperfact of the Phaecians having settle’d in the area on, & around Pseira. It was time to search for topographicalo matches between the Odysseyean account of the Phaecian homeland. Many people associate this realm of deep antiquity with the island of Corfu, on account of a rock in its chief harbor matching a description of a sunken-ship as given by Homer.

Now when Poseidon, the earth-shaker, heard this he went his way to Scheria, where the Phaeacians dwell, and there he waited. And she drew close to shore, the seafaring ship, speeding swiftly on her way. Then near her came the Earth-shaker and turned her to stone, and rooted her fast beneath by a blow of the flat of his hand, and then he was gone

The Corfu link is unlikely, for the Phaecians call Odysseus a ‘stranger.’ With Kephalonia lying just down the coast from Corfu, why would Odysseus say ‘…if I outlive this time of sorrow, I may be counted as your friend, though I live so far away from all of you.’ Scheria must lie elsewhere, so let us cast our net wider to catch the Phaecian fish. Several clues in particular have pointed me to the Gulf of Mirrabello, the ‘Lovely Bay’ of the Venetians, in which wave-soothed Pseira serenely sits.

1: The Phaecians are said to have transported a Cretan Prince called Rhadamanthys to Euboea.

2: The name Scheria, the chief Phaecian city in the Odyssey, seems a philochisp of Pseira.

3: Pseira lies in a gulf, the Gulf of Mirrabello, which leads us to the Odyssey’s, ‘for seventeen days I sailed over the sea, and on the eighteenth appeared the shadowy mountains of your land; and my heart was glad, ill-starred that I was; for verily I was yet to have fellowship with great woe, which Poseidon, the earth-shaker, sent upon me. For he stirred up the winds against me and stayed my course, and wondrously roused the sea, nor would the wave suffer me to be borne upon my raft, as I groaned ceaselessly. My raft indeed the storm shattered, but by swimming I clove my way through yon gulf of the sea, until the wind and the waves, as they bore me, brought me to your shores.’

4: Pseira lies across the Aegean Sea from Athens, which connects well with the Odyssey’s ‘flashing-eyed Athena departed over the unresting sea, and left lovely Scheria. She came to Marathon and broad-wayed Athens.’

The descriptions of the Phaecians heavily invoke the Minoans of Crete; both of whom, for instance, were praised for their high seamanship. In 1991, archeologists found a Minoan serpentinite seal stone at Pseira, upon which can be seen a ship with a beak-shaped prow, high stern, and single mast connected to the vessel by ropes. Significantly, the ship does not have any oars, which embsosoms the concept of Phaecian ships being ‘steered by thought,’ i.e. by sailing’s intellectual use of wind. Indeed, the greatest Minoan shipwreck ever discovered was found just off Pseira by the Greek archaeologist Elpida Hadjidaki in 2003. We must also acknowledge the story-telling of the Phaecian bard Demodocus in the Odyssey. During his recital, he involved in the telling nine singer-dancers, holding up a perfect mirror to the nine all-drumming, all-dancing ‘Curetes’ of Bronze Age Cretan tradition.

If the Phaecians were Minoan, they must have spoken the same language as inscribed in the Linear A tablets found across Crete & beyond. This long-lost tongue should then be able to be traced back to the original Phaecian homelands in the Troezen, which had been established by a Lydian called Pelops. Lydia is essentially western Turkey, in which region Mount Ida towers over the Trojan Plain, & thus the Mount Ida of Crete gives us our first clear lingual connection. That ancient Minoan tongue was an offshoot of Lydian makes sound sense, for it can be readily observed how the seventeen symbols of the classical Lydian alphabet have indentical, or near identical, correspondents among the Linear A glyphs. Phonetical similarities also abound between Lydian & Linear A, such as;

LYDIAN — LINEAR A

Atr / Atros (dead) —A-Du / A-Du-Re-Za

Kopai (abundant)— Ka-Pa

Kue (collect) — Ku-pa / Ku-ra / Ku-ro
(appears to mean ‘total’)

Ovie (sheep) —Ovis

IMG_20170719_075156855

If we assimilate Lydian words into the Egyptian name for Crete, Kaftiu/Kapthor, we gain a most agreeable translation of Kaf (cavity) Tiuae (divine), as in the sacred cave of Zeus as placed by the ancients on Crete. We may also combine the Lydian words FUE (flee) & KIN (clan) to create something like, ‘the clan which fled to safety.’ This is an apt desciption of the Troezen-based Phaecians, who fled their homelands in the wake of the rampaging Cyclops tribe. Such a conjecture opens up a basketful of potential answers to academic conundrums such as, ‘why does Linear A contain elements of the Anatolian languages?’ Answer: Because the Minoans were Phaecians whose original home was in Lydia. ‘Why is Linear A found in certain places on the Peloponnese?’ Answer:’ Because it was introduced there by Pelops. ‘Why is the Lydian word for the votive double-axe, ‘Labrys’ the phonetical base-root of the Cretan labyrinth, & why is the labrys itself found all over Minoan art?’’ Answer: Because the labrys was introduced to Crete by the Lydians. ‘Why does King Manes, son of Zeus, the first monarch of Lydia, sound so much like ‘Minos,’ son of Zeus, the great king of Crete?’ Answer: Because their name means king in Lydian. ‘Why did the genius Michael Ventris, the cracker of Linear B, instinctively feel that Linear A was connected to the Etruscan language?’ Answer: According to Herodotus, the Etruscans came from Lydia, a statement recently supported by recent DNA analysis & also an Etruscan-like language found on the Lemnos stele.

The barren, rocky island of Pseira rises from the sea, two miles from the coast by the Kavousian plain. Sailing there was sheer joy, skimming over a perfect sea under the gigantic slopes of those hearty mainland peaks. I was delighted to discover my ship’s pilot actually knew what I was babbling on about. ‘Scheria?’ he said, with an understanding eye. ‘Yes, yes,’ I replied, sweeping my hands in a broad circle about me, ‘it was here?’ As we approached, I noticed the western side of the island is a sheer surface of unclimbable, unlandable cliffs, fitting perfectly with the Odyssey’s description of Odysseus approaching Scheria;

There were neither harbors where ships might ride, nor road-steads, but projecting headlands, and reefs, and cliffs… without are sharp crags, and around them the wave roars foaming, and the rock runs up sheer, and the water is deep close in shore, so that in no wise is it possible to plant both feet firmly and escape ruin.

Arriving at Pseira in 2017, my boatman sat down in a spot of shade while I set off to explore the foundations & streets of the ruined town. It was so, so peaceful as with notes in hand I began to make my correlations;
A Walled City: Remnants of a wall can still be found at the top of the ‘city,’ which was a quite substantial settlement of 60 houses.
About the city he had drawn a wall, he had built houses and made temples for the gods, and divided the ploughlands…. when we are about to enter the city, around which runs a lofty wall
Two Harbours: A very impressive, tall, steep flight of steps known as the Grand Staircase leads up from the beach to the town. On either side of the Peninsular was a Minoan harbour.

A fair harbor lies on either side of the city and the entrance is narrow, and curved ships are drawn up along the road, for they all have stations for their ships, each man one for himself

Palace of Alcinous: To the north of the town square, on the west side of the peninsula, lie the remains of ‘House of the Pillar Partitions.’ The house appears to have been a smaller version of the Minoan Hall, which connects with the Palace of Alcinus as described in the Odyssey. Fragments of loom weights were found at the house, which suggest the weaving Phaecian maidens. In addition to these corellations, just as Homer describes Phaecian women sitting & weaving, so at Pseira a relief was found which shows the very same thing.

The houses of the Phaeacians are no wise built of such sort as is the palace of the lord Alcinous. But when the house and the court enclose thee, pass quickly through the great hall, till thou comest to my mother, who sits at the hearth in the light of the fire, spinning the purple yarn, a wonder to behold, leaning against a pillar, and her handmaids sit behind her. There, too, leaning against the selfsame pillar, is set the throne of my father, whereon he sits and quaffs his wine, like unto an immortal. Of bronze were the walls that stretched this way and that from the threshold to the innermost chamber, and around was a cornice of cyanus… golden were the doors that shut in the well-built house, and doorposts of silver were set in a threshold of bronze. Of silver was the lintel above, and of gold the handle. On either side of the door there stood gold and silver dogs… Filled were the porticoes and courts and rooms with the men that gathered… within, seats were fixed along the wall on either hand, from the threshold to the innermost chamber, and on them were thrown robes of soft fabric, cunningly woven, the handiwork of women. On these the leaders of the Phaeacians were wont to sit drinking and eating, for they had unfailing store. And golden youths stood on well-built pedestals, holding lighted torches in their hands to give light by night to the banqueters in the hall.

The House of Rhyta: There is a great deal evidence that ritualistic entertainment ceremonies took place at the so-called ‘House of Rhyta,’ named after a drinking vessel known as the rhyton. Many cups & goblets were found, some of which contain’d hints of barley, beer, and wine. There was a very large, almost communal kitchen space, in the building, suggesting it was used for feasting purposes. It is in this very place I believe the following occurred as given in Book 10 of the Odyssey.

The herald returned, leading their skilful bard, whom the Muse loved more than other men, though she gave him both good and evil: she robbed him of his sight, but gifted him the power of sweet song. Pontonous, the herald, placed a silver-embossed chair in the midst of them all, with its back against a high pillar, and hung the ringing lyre on a peg above his head, and showed him how to find it with his hands. And he set a handsome table by his side, with a basket of bread, and a cup of wine to drink if he was so minded. Then they all stretched out their hands to the fine feast spread before them. When they had satisfied their need for food and drink, the Muse inspired her bard to sing of the heroes’ glorious deeds… This was the bard’s song, and Odysseus clutched at his long purple cloak with his great hands, and dragged it over his head to hide his handsome face, ashamed lest the Phaeacians see the tears pouring from his eyes. Whenever the divine bard stopped singing, Odysseus wiped the tears away, drew the cloak from his head, and reaching for his two-handled cup made libations to the gods. But when the bard began again, prompted by the Phaeacian lords who enjoyed his song, Odysseus covered his head once more and groaned.
Meeting Place: While wandering the town ruins, I paused in the sun at a large & level spot near the harbor which is evidently identical to the Odysseyean, ‘place of assembly of the Phaeacians, which was builded for them hard by their ships.’ It was upon this very place, I felt, that Odysseus had been led to after listening to the recitation of Demodocus;

The herald hung the ringing lyre on the peg, and led Demodocus by the hand from the hall along the same path the Phaeacian nobles had taken to see the games. They headed for the gathering place, and a countless throng went with them… The first trial was a foot race… then they tested each other in painful bouts of wrestling, where Euryalus beat the best

While imagining the famous & sportive games of Odysseus & the Phaecians, with a toot of the boatman’s horn my hour was too-soon completed. My disappointment soon turned to joy, however, for as we sped off back to Tholos, over the perfect waters, I began to make out the small offshore island which looked rather like the stony hull of an upturned boat. During my investigative trawls through Google Earth, I had searched in vain for the following sunken boat, but this rocklet called Konida I began reckoning was the stone-ship island. It lies just offshore by the well-preserved Minoan town of Gourni, the ‘Minoan Pompeii,’ whose houses’ foundations remain intact, with only the mud-brick upper storeys fading into millennial dust. A casual walk around the ruins with the ladies reveal’d many similarities with Pseira, suggesting that they were both part of a wider realm which would have included Kavousi, Tholos, Vronda, Kastro, Azoria, Mochlos & Chrysokamino. This would have been the land of the Phaecians, & the leaders of those named places would have been among the princes described by Alcinous;

Our folk have for their chiefs & rulers twelve eminent princes, or thirteen if you count myself

A Cretan Phaecia also helps us to understand how the Odyssey contains quite bizarre elements known as the Cretan Lies, that despite popping up as outsiders to the narrative could well in fact be the original strata of the Odyssean tale. An excellent example has Odysseus say;

From broad Crete I declare that I am come by lineage, the son of a wealthy man. And many other sons too were born and bred in his halls, true sons of a lawful wife; but the mother that bore me was bought, a concubine. Yet Castor, son of Hylax, of whom I declare that I am sprung, honored me even as his true-born sons. He was at that time honored as a god among the Cretans in the land for his good estate, and his wealth, and his glorious sons. But the fates of death bore him away to the house of Hades, and his proud sons divided among them his substance.

To complete today’s letter, & the last one I shall be writing on Crete itself, I would like to look at the tradition of Minos as given by two classical era historians.

Minos is the first to whom tradition ascribes the possession of a navy. He made himself master of a great part of what is now termed the Hellenic sea; he conquered the Cyclades, and was the first coloniser of most of them, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons to govern in them. Lastly, it was he who, from a natural desire to protect his growing revenues, sought, as far as he was able, to clear the sea of pirates Thucydides

Minos, according to tradition, went to Sicania, or Sicily, as it is now called, in search of Daidolos, and there perished by a violent death… Men of various nations now flocked to Crete, which was stripped of its inhabitants; but none came in such numbers as the Hellenes. Three generations after the death of Minos the Trojan war took place; and the Cretans were not the least distinguished among the helpers of Menelaos. But on this account, when they came back from Troy, famine and pestilence fell upon them, and destroyed both the men and the cattle. Crete was a second time stripped of its inhabitants, a remnant only being left; who form, together with fresh settlers, the third Cretan people by whom the island has been inhabited Herodotus

Interweaving these two accounts into my own researches, I would like to now assemble a timeline from the findings I have made so far in these ‘Letters from Crete.’

c.1700 BC: Crete is conquered by a Lydian king called Manes. He is also known as Minos. Neopalatial buildings spring up across Crete. Lydian is introduced into the island alongside an alphabet to write it (Linear A): ‘Minos… made himself master of a great part of what is now termed the Hellenic sea; he conquered the Cyclades, and was the first coloniser of most of them, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons to govern in them.’ An Anatolian invasion of Crete c.1700 is suggested in World History: Patterns of Interaction (2005).

c.1600: Pseira island settled by the Phaecians, i.e. the Minoans who have left the Troezen: Men of various nations now flocked to Crete, which was stripped of its inhabitants; but none came in such numbers as the Hellenes.

c.1550: Events surrounding Menaleus (& possibly Odysseus) occur which will be later incorporated into the Homeric narratives: Three generations after the death of Minos the Trojan war took place

c.1450: The Cretan civil war in which the house of Mycenae is triumphant. Greek becomes the native language of the island, but retains the Linear A alphabet: When they came back from Troy, famine and pestilence fell upon them, and destroyed both the men and the cattle. Crete was a second time stripped of its inhabitants, a remnant only being left; who form, together with fresh settler, the third Cretan people by whom the island has been inhabited

Star Beach
17th July

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