Scheria (ancient Greek Σχερία Schería or Σχερίη Scheríē) is the home of the Phaiaks in Greek mythology. In Homer's Odyssey, Scheria is the last stop of Odysseus' odyssey. There, Odysseus relates his experiences to the Phaeacians, who eventually take him home to Ithaca from Scheria on one of their ships.
Odysseus in Scheria
After Odysseus has left the island of Calypso on a raft and is already close to Scheria with favorable westerly winds and 18 days of sailing on the sea, he is shipwrecked by a storm sent by Poseidon. Because of the high swell and the rocky coast of Scheria, Odysseus reaches land at a river mouth only with great difficulty and with the help of the sea goddess Ino Leukothea.
The next morning, Nausikaa, the daughter of the Phaiak king Alkinoos, goes with her servants to a washing place on the river not far from the beach. After washing clothes, they begin a ball game.
As the ball flies far away, Odysseus is awakened by the shrieking of the girls. While the servants are frightened of the naked stranger and back away, Nausikaa talks to him and lets him convince her that he has no evil intentions.
She gives Odysseus food and clothing and shows him the way to her parents' palace. Odysseus, after reaching the city, encouraged by Athena and protected in the city by a mist, goes to the palace, by whose splendor he is very impressed.
He succeeds in winning the favor of Alkinoos and his wife Arete, so that they receive the stranger kindly and also convince the other Phaiaks to be hospitable to Odysseus. Alkinoos promises to take the Greek hero to his homeland on one of the fast Phaeacian ships.
In honor of the guest, celebrations are held and games are organized, during which Odysseus, irritated by the suspicion of the Phaiak athlete Eurylaos that he is a seafaring merchant and grocer who is a stranger to competitive games, demonstrates his skill in discus throwing.
Since Odysseus obviously carries a deep pain inside himself, is considered an important hero because of his appearance and his body, and Alkinoos notices several times that Odysseus cannot hold back his tears during songs of the blind singer Demodokos about the battles before Troy, the Phaiaks urge him to reveal his whole identity.
Thereupon Odysseus gives his name, his homeland, and gives a detailed account of his experiences after the destruction of Troy (Odyssey 9th to 12th canto). Finally, Odysseus, richly presented by Alkinoos and the twelve other kings of Sheria, is taken to Ithaca, where they set him down asleep.
In the main hall there was, among other things, the precious throne Alkinoos and a brazen tripod on which sacrifices were made. In the courtyard of the palace there was a large garden, where a wide variety of fruits flourished throughout the year: Apples, but also figs and vines. In the garden there were two springs - one for the palace, the other for the rest of the Phaeacians.
Poseidon, who was with the Aithiopians during these events, did not notice Odysseus' homecoming until the Phaeacian ship was on its way back. Close to the coast of Sheria, he transformed it into a rock and anchored it to the seabed.
This was a partial fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: because they would bring every stranger to their homeland, one day a Phaeacian ship would turn to stone. Poseidon was prevented by Zeus from realizing the other part of the prophecy, that the capital would be surrounded by a high mountain range.
Information of Homer about Scheria
Scheria is said to be situated far away from Ithaca, at the end of the world, much surrounded (πολύκλυστος polýklystos) by the sea. The last statement suggests that it is an island, but Scheria is not explicitly referred to as such in any place in Homer - in contrast to the islands of Kirke, Kalypso and others, for which Homer uses the expression νῆσος nḗsos.
The coast is rocky and has the shape of a shield when viewed from the sea. Homer describes Scheria as very fertile in several places, which he attributes to the mild westerly wind that prevails there.
At the place where Odysseus goes ashore, a river flows into the sea. Between this place and the capital was a sacred grove of Athena, consisting of poplars surrounded by meadows. Here Odysseus stops on the way to the palace and prays to Athena.
The capital is surrounded by high walls. Near it are two harbors, from which narrow entrances lead into the city. Near the harbors is a sanctuary to Poseidon, paved with erratic blocks, and a marketplace where meetings, games and dances are also held. The palace was located in the city, among the houses of the other Phaiaks, whose high walls (truss-like?) were piled.
The palace was easily distinguishable from the other houses, at least because of its size and magnificence. The facades were clad in ore, the surrounding cornices enameled.
The entrance doors were of gold, their bases of iron, the jambs and lintel of silver, and the door ring of gold; golden and silver dogs flanked the doors. A long hall leading to the main room of the palace was lit by torches attached to a total of 50 golden statues of youths.
Scheria was ruled by 12 princes who had royal power in their territories. They were apparently presided over by Alkinoos. An assembly of the 12 princes and officials described by Homer as advisors, at which it was decided to bring Odysseus home, took place in the market near the harbors.
The inhabitants were famous for their ships, whose speed Homer emphasizes several times. They managed without rudders, being guided by the thoughts of the crew and finding their destination safely even in fog.
As the most distant place the Phaiaks sailed to, Euboea is mentioned, where they once brought Rhadamanthys. Because of its exposed position, Scheria has never been attacked by enemies, as we learn from Nausikaa when she reassures her maids on the beach that they need not fear the shipwrecked stranger:
Girls, stand still! Why do you run because you see the man? Do you perhaps think that he is one of the enemy's men? The man was not yet born and may never live, Who comes here to the land of the Phaacian men
And brings enmity; for very dear are we to the gods. Far away we live here, surrounded by the rushing sea, At the very end, and none of the other men visit us.
Interpretation and localization hypotheses
In the opinion of many classical philologists and ancient historians, Odysseus' stay on Scheria represents a kind of transition from the fairy-tale world, in which the previous adventures of his odyssey take place, to the "real" world (arrival in Ithaca).
Scheria and the Phaiaks thereby exhibit both mythical and "real" features and, according to Karl Reinhardt, stand between "fairy-tale wonderland and present heightened historicity".
In order to escape the fairy-tale world for good and to be brought home by the Phaiaks, he has to fight on Scheria: first, he has to convince Nausikaa of his peaceful intentions, then he has to win the favor of the royal couple Alkinoos and Arete. He also has to convince the other Phaiaks, of whom Homer writes that they are reserved towards strangers and do not like to entertain them.
Finally, Nausicaa's growing desire to marry Odysseus represents a temptation to stay on Scheria; especially since Alkinoos would also gladly accept the stranger as his son-in-law.
Odysseus, however, resists the lure of a - at least materially - carefree life in Phaiak land with the prospect of rule, and is able to convince Alkinoos that his pain of being far from home for many years is very great. The wealth of Sheria, especially the appearance and magnificence of the palace, are reminiscent of Near Eastern palaces and could possibly have a real model.
Although it is questionable whether Homer's statements about Odysseus' odysseys refer to real places at all, and already Eratosthenes in the 3rd century B.C. made fun of most localizations, already in antiquity attempts were made to connect the stations of Odysseus with real places, so also Scheria.
Already from the late 5th century BC, some ancient authors identified it with Corfu, the ancient Kerkyra. Thus Thucydides wrote that Corfu was once inhabited by the Phaiaks. It was often claimed that the earlier name of Kerkyra was Scheria.
Modern Corfu also uses the presumed mythical past of the island as Scheria for its symbols. However, a Mycenaean Linear B clay tablet from Pylos, which speaks of a man from Korkyra, argues against an early naming of Corfu as Scheria. Strabon located Scheria based on Homer's statement that it was very distant, as was Ogygia in the Atlantic.
Modern hypotheses suppose Scheria in many different places, e.g. Corfu (Heinrich Schliemann, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Ernle Bradford), Andalusia (in connection with Tartessos: Richard Hennig, Adolf Schulten), Sardinia (Massimo Pittau), Calabria (Armin Wolf), Apulia and Tunisia. Sometimes the land of the Phaiaks is also associated with Atlantis.