Halfway through his tale of his journey to the Underworld, Odysseus paused. All the Phaiakians were silent, overwhelmed by the story.
Alkinoos spoke up:
Odysseus, we, as we look upon you, do not imagine
that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth
breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up
lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have
a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them . . .
I’d read the Odyssey a dozen times, and I never really read those lines until a few years ago, when, preparing for class, I read them and felt a sudden chill. My stomach tightened. What if Alkinoos was wrong; what if we’d been fooled by Odysseus—all of us, from Homer on.
As he rounded Cape Maleia, Odysseus didn’t get blown off the map and into a world of Laistrygones and Lotus-Eaters. He just ended up on Crete, as had most of Menelaos’ fleet, after they were also blown off course at Maleia. Perhaps it was a perfectly un-supernatural storm that destroyed his twelve ships with their red-painted bows, killing all of his companions. Perhaps Odysseus was the only survivor. He swam to shore near Kydonia in western Crete in the same way he described swimming to the shore of Scheria, the Phaiakians’ strange, magical island.
I can see Odysseus sitting for ten years in a taverna at the port, drinking kafes ellinikos in the mornings and wine in the evenings, thinking up what he’ll tell Penelope and the men in the assembly when he gets home.