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The Odyssey

by Homer
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In Homer's epic The Odyssey, for what craft are the Phaeacians best known?

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The Phaeacians are well known for their ships. As Nausicaa, the Phaeacian princess tells Odysseus in Book Six, her people pay particular homage to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and they have a road onto which each ship is pulled. Here, "sailors tend their black ships' tackle" (line 294, Fagels translation). She goes on to explain that her people "care nothing for bow and quiver" (line 296), meaning that they are not hunters. Instead, they care "only for masts and oars and good trim ships themselves" (line 297). Her people "glory in our ships" (page 298). Shipbuilding is central to the Phaeacians' identity.

In Book 7, when Odysseus heads towards Alcinous's palace (he is King of the Phaeacians), Athena herself, dressed as a young girl with a pitcher, is his guide. While following Athena, Odysseus sees the Phaeacians' ships, and Athena says to him that the men on the island do not trust strangers. Instead, they only trust their ships, and "what ships they are--quick as a bird, quick as a darting thought!" (lines 40-41). The ships are described as gifts given by Poseidon to the Phaeacians. The people are the beneficiaries of Poseidon's favor, and their ships have a divine origin.

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In Homer’s epic story of Odysseus’s ten-year journey to return to his wife and son, The Odyssey, the story’s protagonist encounters many challenges and peoples along the way, all the while overcoming the wrath of the very formidable God of the Oceans and Seas, Poseidon.  The final stop on Odysseus’ voyage is the land of Phaeacia, populated by the Phaeacians, a seafaring people.  As described by Nausicca, daughter of the king, Alcinous, the Phaeacians are skilled at martime-related tasks:

“Here people deal in ship’s gear of all kinds, such as cables and sails, and here, too, are the places where oars are made, for the Phaeacians are not a nation of archers; they know nothing about bows and arrows, but are a sea-faring folk, and pride themselves on their masts, oars, and ships, with which they travel far over the sea.”

The craft for which the Phaeacians are best known, then, is shipbuilding.  As a seafaring people, the Phaeacians are completely dependent upon the goodwill of Poseidon.  Their assistance to Odysseus in helping him return to Ithaca, then, is a cause of anger for the God of the Seas, who proceeds to punish these people by destroying their vessel after he discovers that they transported Odysseus to Ithaca in defiance of Poseidon’s wishes.  

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