Odyssey Funmaries #7: Cyclops (Book IX.LXXI-DCXXX)


Here we have the worst house guests in all antiquity vs. the worst host, in a competition for last.

Odysseus continues his tale of sorrow to the nagging Phaeacians (who aren’t letting the poor guy go). After fleeing the Lotus Dopers, and still way off course, his fleet of twelve ships runs aground in the land of the one-eyed Cyclops.

He describes them as a lawless people, “each a law to himself” [9.127] and that they don’t plow their land, relying instead on whatever grows … failing to account that farming may be tough without depth perception.

He also describes how their land is rich with wild bounty, overrun with fat goats and sheep, and teeming with fruit and wheat. You can hear the expansionist’s greed in Odysseus as he rhapsodizes on the natural resources the Cyclops haven’t plundered and ruined like “advanced” two-eyed civilizations.

He decides to take a closer look with his own ship’s crew to “probe the natives” [9.194] to find out whether they were violent and lawless, or stranger-loving and god-fearing. Quite a risk here, Odysseus … wagering you and your men’s lives to see if these people like strangers? I don’t think Odysseus is being completely forthcoming with his intentions.

So Odysseus says he and his crew go ashore and immediately come across a huge cavern, which is obviously a giant’s liar, and a giant who clearly does not mix with the other giants, given its isolation and fortification. It’s also clear from the cave that he is a “grim loner” … which is saying a lot given the lawlessness of your garden-variety Cyclops. Do we have here a Cyclops Unabomber?

So they enter the Unabomber’s cave. And given the cave’s organization, he’s also like the obsessive compulsive of the Cyclops, with all his cheeses and goats are well organized and racked according to type. Odysseus decides to hunker down and start eating “the bulk” of this guy’s cheese while waiting for him to return. I wonder how an OCD Unabomber Cyclops is going to take this?

The Cyclops known as Polyphemus comes back to the cave, shuts it up with a massive boulder, and sits down to do his chores … organizing his cheeses and goats. Finishing up his chores, he sees the hiding freeloaders. Odysseus announces they’re Agamemnon’s men (the Sinatra of the Achaeans) and that they were hoping they would get a warm welcome and gifts … he even threatens Polyphemus for hospitality, announcing, “strangers are sacred — Zeus will avenge their rights” [9.305].

Polyphemus grabs two of the freeloaders, “knocked them dead like pups,*” [9.325] and eats them.

Odysseus: 0
Polyphemus: 1

Thus goes the first night in Chez Cyclops. At dawn, the Polyphemus, grabs another two sailors for breakfast, and leaves for work, this time closing up the cave behind him with the giant boulder.

Odysseus: 0
Polyphemus: 2

And this is just like one of those lame A*Team scenarios. The villainous construction company imprisons the A*Team in a garage with welding equipment, a car, and a nail-gun. Here, they’re locked up in a cave with fire, a huge club, and knives. This team builds antiquity’s nail-spewing-tank equivalent: A giant stake. I wonder where that’s going?

Polyphemus comes home again, does all his chores (impromptu hostage-taking won’t distract him from his schedule), and eats two more men.

Odysseus: 0
Polyphemus: 3

Odysseus then offers up some wine to complement the taste of his men’s bodies: “Try this wine to top off / the banquet of human flesh you bolted down” [9. 387-388] … Odysseus, the wine steward? And again he brings up Polyphemus’ rudeness to his uninvited guests by imprisoning and eating them two at a time.

Cyclops drinks the wine down, wants some more, and demands Odysseus’ name.

“Nobody,” Odysseus says he said, “that’s my name. Nobody / so my Mother and father call me, all my friends.”

Polyphemus essentially responds, “I like you. I’ll eat you last.”

A drunk Polyphemus throws up and goes to bed. Just like every night during Ben’s teenage years. Odysseus gouges his eye out. Odysseus indulges in a gross descriptive passage of the scene, which results in a “red geyser of blood” [9.442]

Odysseus: 1
Polyphemus: 3

Polyphemus calls out to all the other Cyclops, who run to this cave and ask what’s going on. And Polyphemus responds, “Nobody’s friends…Nobodys killing me!” [9.454]. Yuck, yuck. Get it?

Odysseus: 2
Polyphemus: 3

Now completely blind, Polyphemus devises a strategy … a kind of game of Red Rover to the death. He opens up the cave and sits at the entrance, arms outstreched feeling up all that pass through. Odysseus straps each of his men to the underbelly of the goats to escape.

Odysseus: 3
Polyphemus: 3

Odysseus and crew flee to their ship and escape to their fleet. As they’re sailing away, Odysseus can’t help but gloat, but while still within Cyclops boulder-hurling range. Odysseus calls out the that the blinding is Zeus’ payback for not treating his unwelcomed visitors well. Polyphemus throws a rock almost hitting their boat. Odysseus’ crew tell him to shut up.

But the trash talk continues, and Odysseus can’t help but give his actual name. And why not? His address, too. At which point, Polyphemus reveals that he is son of Poseidon, the god of the sea (whoops!). Polyphemus plays the daddy card and prays that Odysseus gets hell.

Odysseus: 3
Polyphemus: 4

Polyphemus wins! The crew reunites with the rest of the fleet. But good times are not ahead. Although Odysseus is fated to return to Ithaca, it will be not without a bumps in the sea.

Way for a plan to come together, Odysseus!

Countdown to Bloomsday…

We read page 1 of Ulysses in 12 days!

Be highly awesome and get involved!

* = What the hell kind of simile is this? Who’s translating this thing, Michael Vick?


2 Responses

  1. This has forever illuminated my understanding of The Cyclops episode in both a powerful and disturbing way.

    Given all the “red geysers of blood” in Fagles translation, I was anticipating some Kill Bill analogies. (Or maybe we’re saving that for Odysseus’s return.)

  2. […] About Wandering Rocks ← Odyssey Funmaries #7: Cyclops (Book IX) […]

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