From Scheria to Ithaca

Departure of Ulysses from the Land of the Pheacians

Departure of Ulysses from the Land of the Phaeacians, Louvre Museum


Douglas Frame attended a conference hosted by the Center for Odyssean Studies in August of 2017. The topic of his presentation was the “homecoming” of Odysseus, concentrating on “nostos as taking place in a wholly imaginary world.”

The notion of a nostos as a “return to life” is deeply imbedded in the Odyssey. I have traced its origins to the Indo-European twin myth, which is still fully alive in Greek myth. I do not propose to deal today with this myth’s significance for Homeric epic, or for the Odyssey in particular. Instead I want to focus on Odysseus’s nostos as taking place in a wholly imaginary world. For however deep the roots of Greek nostos in Indo-European myth, the Odyssey stands out in making Odysseus’s return an exclusively imaginary voyage.

In the Odyssey, Menelaus and Nestor achieve homecoming and we hear from them through their accounts to Telemachus. Their homecomings have real geography. One can follow their journeys. When it comes to Odysseus, the homecoming journey crosses to an imaginary world.

Where Menelaos’s account verges on an imaginary world like that of Odysseus’s nostos is, significantly, when it actually touches on the world of Odysseus’s nostos. It requires the old man of the sea, the shape-shifting Proteus, to tell Menelaos of Odysseus’s fate, namely to be held by Calypso on an island in the middle of the sea. Proteus belongs both to the real world of Menelaos’s nostos in Egypt and to the imaginary world of Odysseus’s nostos. Being protean, he can cross over between the two worlds.

The Phaeacians, who bring Odysseus back from the imaginary world to the real world, have the same boundary crossing ability as the old man of the sea. Scheria, the Phaeacians’ land, is, like other places in Odysseus’s wanderings, unlocatable on a map.

This paper—along with others from the conference—is being published by the Center for Odyssean Studies, who have kindly given permission for it to be posted at the Kosmos Society. You can read the whole of Douglas Frame’s presentation From Scheria to Ithaca (PDF) and start discussing it on the Forums.

Douglas Frame

Douglas Frame1971 Harvard Ph.D. in classical philology; until 2000 college teaching for some of the time, other pursuits for more of the time; since 2000 Associate Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington; after retiring as Associate Director in 2012 continued affiliation with the CHS.

Publications, available from the Center for Hellenic Studies website:

Hippota Nestor

The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic.

Image credit

Image: Claude Lorrain, Departure of Ulysses from the Land of Phaeacians, Louvre Museum, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Note: Images have been selected from pictures that are freely available with open source or Creative Commons licenses or from photographs sent in by community members for the purpose. The images in this post are intended to suggest the subject, rather than illustrate exactly—as such, they may be from other periods, subjects, or cultures. Attributions are based where possible by those shown by museums, or on Wikimedia Commons, at the time of publication on this website.