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The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 - 2018 by Peter J Ponzio

Home - Book XIII

Why were the Phaeacians punished?  They observed the role of host and assisted Odysseus in his journey home.  In addition, they provided him with gifts so that when he arrived home, he would not be penniless.  They lauded him as a hero in the Trojan War and listened attentively to his tales, memorialized him in song, and praised him for his athletic achievements.  For all intents, they were the perfect host and observed the rules that were set forth by Zeus for the treatment of guests. There are several reasons.  The primary reason is that the god Poseidon was offended by the behavior of the Phaeacians.  Poseidon had to save face among the other Olympians.  Rather than allow his brother to lose face, Zeus condoned the destruction of the ship and the sealing of the harbor.  The second reason is that the harbor of the Phaeacians was fated to be destroyed; even Zeus could not alter that which was fated.  The workings of fate were powerful; even the gods respected that which is fated.  Although Poseidon did his best to hamper the return of Odysseus, harassing him for ten years after the War, he could not prevent Odysseus from returning home.  Odysseus was fated to return to Ithaca, and the gods were bound to respect the dictates of fate. Just as King Alcinous and the Phaeacians realized that their fate was sealed and their ship and port would be destroyed, Odysseus woke from his slumber on Ithaca.  Because he’d been away from home for years, he did not recognize where he was.  Fearing that the Phaeacians had deceived him, he uttered this curse: So damn those lords and captains, those Phaeacians!  Not entirely honest or upright, were they? Sweeping me off to this, this no-man’s land, and they, they swore they’d sail me home to sunny Ithaca-well, they never kept their word.  Zeus of the Supplicants pay them back- he keeps an eye on the world of men and punishes all transgressors!  (XII 237-243) Was Odysseus, in some way, responsible for the destruction of Phaeacia?  Did his curse bring down the wrath of Poseidon on the Phaeacians?  Earlier, the curse of Polyphemus caused Odysseus to spend years exiled from his land:  curses had a peculiar force in the narratives of ancient Greece.  Was it possible that Odysseus unwittingly caused the ancient prophecy to come to fruition? After determining that his gifts were still intact, Odysseus surveyed the landscape and spotted a young man, dressed as a shepherd, approaching him.  Dropping on his knees, the man of sorrow asked the shepherd where he was.  The shepherd, who is really Athena in disguise, replies as follows:  So,/ stranger, the name of Ithaca’s reached as far as Troy,/and Troy, they say, is a long hard sail from Greece” (XIII 281-283).  Odysseus was glad at heart to hear the name of Ithaca, although he knew that he must maintain his composure, lest his plans be overturned.  His reply to the shepherd gave no hint of his identity or plans:  “Ithaca. . . yes, I seem to have heard of Ithaca,/Even on Circe’s island far across the sea,/and now I’ve reached it myself, with all this loot,” (XIII 290-292).  The hero claimed that he was a fugitive, having killed Idomeneus’ son, Archilochus, at Troy, and that he’d wandered for many years in an attempt to get home. Smiling at the lie, the goddess revealed herself to Odysseus, complimenting him on the lies he weaved:  Any man-any god who met you-would have to be some champion lying cheat to get past you for all-round craft and guile!  You terrible man, foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks so, not even here, on native soil, would you give up those wily tales that warm the cockles of your heart Come, enough of this now.!  We’re both old hands at the arts of intrigue.  Here among mortal men you’re far the best at tactics, spinning yarns, and I am famous among the gods for wisdom, cunning wiles, too.  (XIII 329-339)