The drowned Phoenician Sailor.
Eliot himself has said the following, regarding his use of Tarot cards and following an explanation on the Hanged Man:
(…) The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the “crowds of people,” and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. (…)
Since there is no tarot card by this name, this might refer to the King of Cups. (See next line.) This might give us a clue to the meaning of the poem.
Phoenicia was an ancient trading and seafaring nation on the coast of present day Israel, Lebanon and Syria. In North Africa Phoenicians founded Carthage as a colony.
Phoenicia was also the location of the annual ceremonies to commemorate the death and resurrection of the God Thammuz). In regard to the theme of death and resurrection, it is an interesting (and subtle) device.
It may also be a harkening back to the line about Mylae. Mylae was an engagement in the 1st Punic War C. 260 BC where the Phoenicians aided Rome’s implementation of an idea designed to overcome their naval inexperience. Based on their seafaring expertise the Phoenicians trained the Romans in the necessary protocols for initiating boarding actions.
In effect, they turned naval warfare into hand-to-hand combat at close quarters using the corvus.
The [corvus] “crow” in Latin
was a raised gangplank in the bow of the ship.
The plank was dropped onto one of the more maneuverable Carthaginian ships, then the Romans could board and take the ship. See Pliny for the full account of the defeat of Carthage in that battle.
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot and leave a comment on the lyrics box