Letters from Crete (vii) : The Real Phaecia



So, I am back at Star Beach a few hours before my flight – where I shall attempt one final essay before returning 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. In fact, a few dope-smoking travellers were chilling out there – idling the time perhaps until they could return to the East. My attempts at getting a boat to Pseira were of no use, however, & we were redirected to Tholos, a lovely, sandy local beach for locals – set amidst an immense olive grove which carpeted the valley between mountains. Leaving the girls to frolic in the waves, I availed myself of a local sailor to take me to Pseira – an island 2 miles off the coast. I would have an hour or so to potter about the Minoan town which I have strong reasons to believe was Scheria, the capital city of the Phaecians, among whom Odysseus spent a little time on his was back to Ithica.

The Phaecians were said to have originally come from the city of Hyperia, near Kalaureia, on the Greek mainland at the plain of Troezen, before finding new home somewhere on the edge of the known – or rather known Grecian world, ‘far from men that live by toil.’ Interestingly, the name Kalaureia, is also given to ‘a small island near Crete’ by Pausanius. The new Phaecian realm is well described in the Odyssey & most people associate it with the island of Corfu, on account of a rock in the harbour. However, that the Phaecians called Odysseus ‘a stranger’, the king of Kephalonia just down the coast from Corfu, does seem unlikely, especially when Odysseus says “…if I outlive this time of sorrow, I may be counted as your friend, though I live so far away from all of you.” The answer lies elsewhere, & so we must cast our net wider to catch the Phaecian fish. Several clues in particular have pointed me to this Gulf of Mirrabello, the ‘Lovely Bay’ of the Venetians.

1 – The Phaecians are said to have transported Rhadamanthys – a Cretan Prince – to see Tytus on Euboea.

2 – The name Scheria, the chief Phaecian city, seems present in the name ‘Pseiria’.

3 – On Psiera there is a Minoan town with two harbours divided by a main street which is a perfect match for the description of Scheria as given in the Odyssey.

4 – Pseira lies in a gulf, the Gulf of Mirrabello, a key word used in the Odyssey… ‘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.’

5 – Pseira lies across the Aegean Sea from Athens, which connects 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, with both races being praised for their high seamanship. At Pseria in 1991, archeologists found a Minoan serpentinite seal stone, which shows a ship with a beak-shaped prow, high stern, and single mast connected to the vessel by ropes – & significantly, no oars. This connects to the concept of the Phaecian ships being ‘steered by thought’ – ie by sailing, the intellectual use of the wind. Indeed, the greatest Minoan shipwreck – dated to between 1800 & 1675 -was found just of Pseira by Greek archaeologist Elpida Hadjidaki in 2003. There is also the story-telling of a poet at Phaecia, which involved the use of nine singer/dancers which mirror the Cretan ‘Curetes.’ At Pseira, there is a great deal evidence of such ritualistic entertainment ceremonies, where at the so-called ‘House of Rhyta’ – named after a drinking vessel known as the rhyton – many cups & goblets were found.  Chemical traces in one rhyton hint of barley, beer, and wine. In the House of the Rhyta there was also a very large, almost communal, kitchen space, suggesting the building was used for feasting purposes.

Archeologists also tell us that Psiera was a Minoan settlement (high point c.1600 BC) that was destroyed in the Mycynean ‘conquest’ of 1450. After this date, Linear B turns up on the island, while we can also see the Mycynean Greeks beginning to incorporate Minoan gods into their pantheon. As recorded in their Linear A script on tablets found across Crete & beyond, the Minoans worshipped many dieties who would later be picked up by the Greeks;

 Atana Potinija =Athena;

Ereutija = Eileithyia,

Posedaone or Poseidon;

Pajawone = Paian was a classical epithet for Apollo;

Are = Ares

Enuwarijo = Enyalios was a classical epithet for Ares.


This means that the Pheacian elements of the Odyssey must be older than 1450 BC, which assimilates into my earlier essay in the Menalean layer of the Homeric material dating to the 16th century BC.

The barren, rocky island of Pseira rises from the sea, two miles from the coast by the Kavousian plain, & sailing there was a joy, over a perfect sea & under gigantic slopes of the mainland peaks. En route I was delighted to discover my ships pilot knew what I was on about when I began babbling about Odysseus & Alcinus & Phaecia. ‘”Scheria?” he said, with an understanding eye. ‘Yes, yes,’ I replied, sweeping my hands in a broad circle about me, ‘it was here?’ Arriving at the island, my boat would wait for me for an hour as I explored the ruined town, a section of the Minoan world was excavated in the early 20th century. It was beautifully peaceful & with my notes in hand I began to make my correlations, being;


Inhospitable coast

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.

One side of the island of Pseira is indeed a sheer surface of unclimbable, unlandable cliffs.


There is a river below a wood

 As he swam, he came to the mouth of a fair-flowing river, where seemed to him the best place, since it was smooth of stones, and besides there was shelter from the wind… If I climb up the slope to the shady wood and lie down to rest in the thick brushwood, in the hope that the cold and weariness might leave me.

 Pseira is an arid place these days. But small rivers & springs once flowed here, & if one were to round the island to the south from its sheer side 3,500 years ago, one would have come to a river mouth under a steep climb as described by the Odyssey.


A Walled City

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

Remnants of the wall can still be found at the top of the ‘city,’ which was a quite substantial settlement of 60 houses.


 Two Harbours

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.

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.


Place of Assembly

Their place of assembly about the fair temple of Poseidon, fitted with huge stones set deep in the earth. Here the men are busied with the tackle of their black ships, with cables and sails, and here they shape the thin oar-blades. For the Phaeacians care not for bow or quiver, but for masts and oars of ships, and for the shapely ships, rejoicing in which they cross over the grey sea… Alcinous led the way to the place of assembly of the Phaeacians, which was builded for them hard by their ships. Thither they came and sat down on the polished stones close by one another

To the north of the Grand Staircase resembles the village square, or plateia, common in modern Cretan villages.


Palace of Alcinous

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.

This could well have been the ‘House of the Pillar Partitions’ dound found on the West side of the peninsula, to the north of the town square. Fragments of loom weights were found at the house, connecting with the weaving maidens. Indeed, as the Odyssey describes Phaecian women sitting & weaving, so at Pseira was found a relief showing just the same thing.


Then, with a toot of his horn, my hour was up & it was time to sail back to Tholos. As I did so, I could make out the small offshore island which looked the stony hull of an upturned boat. During my investigations, & googleearth trawls, I had searched in vain for such a topgraphical feature, which had been connected to the Phaecians in the Odyssey;

 Then Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, answered him and said: “Lazy one, hear what seems best in my sight. When all the people are looking forth from the city upon her as she speeds on her way, then do thou turn her to stone hard by the land—a stone in the shape of a swift ship, that all men may marvel; and do thou fling a great mountain about their city.”

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

So would one of them speak, but they knew not how these things were to be. Then Alcinous addressed their company and said: “Lo now, verily the oracles of my father, uttered long ago, have come upon me. He was wont to say that Poseidon was wroth with us because we give safe convoy to all men. He said that some day, as a beautiful ship of the Phaeacians was returning from a convoy over the misty deep, Poseidon would smite her, and would fling a great mountain about our town. So that old man spoke, and lo, now all this is being brought to pass. But now come, as I bid let us all obey. Cease ye to give convoy to mortals, when anyone comes to our city, and let us sacrifice to Poseidon twelve choice bulls, if haply he may take pity, and not fling a lofty mountain about our town.”

This is where the poem leaves off, & we may assume their protestations to Zeus worked. The problem is, however, that the island is just off shore at the Minoan town of Gournia. The Minoan Pompei, it is in a state of great preservation, the foundations of all the houses still intact in stone, only the mud-brick upper storeys fading in the dust the millenia. Its many similarities with Pseira, however, suggest they were part of the same realm, which would also have included including Kavousi, Tholos, Vronda, Kastro, Azoria, Mochlos & Chrysokamino. These, then, would have been among the Phaecian princes as described by Alcinous;

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

 In conclusion, there are too many pieces available when reconstructing a Pseiran Phaecia, & thus by the accumulation of coincidences we may at least begin to place this part of the Odyssey in its proper contextus. It is upon this hyperchisp – ie hyperthetical chisp – that further investigations may be made into the creation of the Odyssey. There are Cretan elements in the epic which pop up as almost outsiders, chaffing against the grain of the Athenian recension, but in fact may be the deepest levels of the Odyssean tale, one which took place before 1450 BC.

One also gains an inkling that if the Phaecians truly were the Minoans, then they would have spoken the language as inscribed in Linear A tablets. This language could then be traced back to their original homelands in the Troezen – at Calaureia – which were established by a Lydian called Pelops – son of Tantalus, the king at Mount Sipylus in Anatolia –  after whom the Pelopponese would be named. Now, Lydia is essentially western Turkey, where Mount Ida towers over the Trojan Plain – & of course there is a Mount Ida in Crete. Therefore, it makes sense that ancient Minoan was Lydian. Indeed, 17 letters of the classical Lydian alphabet have indentical or near identical correspondents among the Linear A glyphs.


There are also a number of phonetical similarities between Lydian & Linear A, as in


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

What is also interesting is that if we assimilate Lydian into the Egyptian name for Crete, Kaftiu, alongside the Biblical ‘Kapthor,’ we gain a possible translation of Kaf (Cavity, from Proto-Indo-European ḱówHwos) Tiuae (divine), as in the divine cave(s) of Zeus on Crete. In addition, that the Phaecians said themselves to have fled their homelands after the Cyclops’ went on a rampage, we may gain a Lydian transliteration of the word as FUE (flee) – KIN (clan) – ie. the clan which fled to safety.


We may now presume that classical Lydian evolved from the Bronze Age Minoan as contained in the Linear A inscriptions. This opens up a whole of potential answers to academic conundrums. Why does Linear A contain elements of the Anatolian languages such as Lycian & Carian, yet have no connections to Minoan Crete?Well, through the Phaecians they do. Why is Linear A found in certain places on the Peloponnese? 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? Because it was introduced there by the Lydians.  Why did the genius Michael Ventris, the cracker of Linear B, instinctively feel that Linear A was connected to the Etruscan language? Because according to Herodotus stated, the Etruscans came from Lydia, supported by recent DNA analysis & the Etruscan-like language was found on the Lemnos stele. 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? Because their name means king in Lydian… and so on. The idea of the Phaecians introducing a language & new aspects of culture into Crete, creating what we know as the Minoans, resonates rather well with all the information we have at the moment, & should be well worth looking into by future bards & scholars.

Finally, we may now 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

We may now assemble a timeline using some of the findings I have made so far in these ‘Letters from Crete.’

 c.1700 BC : Crete is conquered by Manes of Lydia. He is known as Minos. Neopalatial buildings spring up across Crete. Lydian is introduced into the island alongside an alphabet to write it (Linear A)

c.1600 : Pseira island settled by the Phaecians, ie 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 (Herod.)

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

c.1450 : The Cretan civil war in which the house of Mycynea are 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 (Herod.)


Star Beach

17th July

* An Anatolian invasion of Crete c.1700 is suggested in  Beck, Roger B.; Linda Black; Larry S. Krieger; Phillip C. Naylor; Dahia Ibo Shabaka (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell

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