By David J. Schenker,PhD, college of Missouri–Columbia

Odysseus’s adventures through the Cyclops Polyphemus reveal much about the character of Odysseus and also the complexities dealing with a hero leaving the Trojan battle for home. What lessons have the right to we take far from his journeys?

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(Image:Jacob Jordaens/Public domain)

Coming ashore in ~ an island close to the floor of the Cyclopes, Odysseus notes that it would certainly be a good land for agriculture, a an excellent harbor because that ships, and a location with plenty for hunting; but the Cyclopes have no ships and can’t take benefit of every this. This is our very first suspicion the there’s miscellaneous uncivilized about these Cyclopes. Odysseus insists on cross over and visiting the inhabitants, whose fires he have the right to see. He desires to know who’s there in the soil of the Cyclopes.

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He and his men discover an unattended cave, filled v cheese, milk, lambs, milking implements, whatever in perfect order, a shepherd’s dwelling. They take the cheese, they fill up, and versus the advice that his men, Odysseus has actually them wait: wait because that the return that the inhabitant. Odysseus is hoping to receive from this inhabitant, everyone he might be, a guest gift, the appropriate token that hospitality.

What a mistake.

This is a transcript from the video series Masterpieces of ancient Greek Literature. Clock it now, on The an excellent Courses.

Cyclopean ideas of Hospitality


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Polyphemus is a Cyclops who has one ring eye in the center of his forehead. (Image: Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein/Public domain)

The inhabitant turns out to be a massive Cyclops; his surname is Polyphemus, a child of the sea god Poseidon. As a Cyclops, he has one ring eye in the middle of his forehead. The enters the cave with his flocks, close the door the enntrance gate of the cavern with a huge stone so large, the poet tells us, that 22 wagons couldn’t budge it. Polyphemus, as quickly as he notices Odysseus and also his men, asks who they are; negative manners.

Odysseus speak him lock on their method home native Troy—no names—and reminds Polyphemus about proper hospitality: We’re travelers; nothing you owe united state a gift? He then tells his very first useful lie, Odysseus telling the Cyclops that their delivery is i do not have anything to it is in found, it was ruined on the rocks.


Polyphemus scoffs at this idea that hospitality, snatches up several of Odysseus’s men, smashes their heads top top the rocks, rips them limb from limb, and eats them—not very hospitable.


Polyphemus scoffs in ~ this idea that hospitality, snatches up several of Odysseus’s men, smashes your heads on the rocks, rips them limb from limb, and also eats them—not really hospitable. This is a tight spot, and also only through substantial trickery does Odysseus obtain most that his men out. As the Cyclops sleeps, Odysseus think seriously about killing the monster, even feeling for the ar in his chest wherein he could stab him. But the problem is obvious: That would leave castle trapped in the cave. He and his males prepare a sharp stake, roll an olive log in in the fire to sharpen it. The next evening, together the Cyclops eats several much more men, Odysseus uses him some of the an effective wine he’s brought with him, a gift because that the Cyclops, in the true soul ofxenia. The is so powerful, the is meant to be mixed with water: 20 components water to one part wine. Yet Polyphemus, uncivilized as he is, drinks it under unmixed, easily gets drunk, questioning for more. Only now does Odysseus introduce himself through name, informing the Cyclops the his name is Nobody.

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Blinding the Cyclops


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The Blinding that Polyphemus (Image: Alessandro Allori/Public domain)

As the Cyclops is passing out drunk, he guarantees a guest gift in return because that the wine. Because Odysseus—Nobody—gave the the wine, he’ll eat nobody last together the guest gift. Spitting increase gobbets of human flesh in addition to the wine, the Cyclops drops asleep, and Odysseus and also his men go come work, driving the stake into Polyphemus’s eye. Below is how Odysseus tells the story to the Phaeacians:

Hoisting high the olive stake v its stabbing point,straight right into the monster’s eye castle rammed the hard—I journey my load on it from over and boring it homeas a shipwright bores his beam through a shipwright’s drillthat men below, whipping the strap earlier and forth, whirland the drill keeps drifting faster, never ever stopping—So us seized ours stake with its fiery tipand boring it, round and also round in the giant’s eyetill blood come boiling up approximately that smoking shaftand the warm blast singed his brow and also eyelids round the coreand the broiling eyeball burst—its crackling roots blazedand hissed—as a blacksmith plunges a glowing axe or adzein one ice-cold bath and also the steel screeches steamand its temper hardens—that’s the iron’s strength—so the eye the the Cyclops sizzled round the stake!

A lively passage: us feel we’re there v them. The Cyclops cries out in pain, and also his friends—fellow Cyclopes—ask those bothering him. “Nobody,” he says, “Nobody is death me!” His friends permit it walk at that. The last trick because that Odysseus is the escape from the cave. The blinded Polyphemus feels anywhere the cavern for this men, yet doesn’t uncover them; they’re still trapped inside. Odysseus come up v one more clever system to acquire them out. He and his guys cling come the undersides that the sheep and also rams; together Polyphemus sends out them the end to pasture, he feels over the top and misses them on the underside. Odysseus has presented tremendous resourcefulness, and also not a tiny restraint, in obtaining free. Another Homeric hero might have gone ahead and also killed the Cyclops, entombing them all within the cave; another might have failed to consider the other Cyclopes coming to his aid. Yet this demonstrated a lot of forethought and cleverness.

But the adventure doesn’t end here.

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Odysseus makes a devastating Mistake

Back top top his ship, make his method to safety, Odysseus can’t assist calling the end to the Cyclops. The yells once, taunting him, and also the Cyclops hurls a huge chunk the a mountain out in ~ the ship. He misses, cram it beyond the ship and driving it back to the shore. Odysseus is gaining ready to shout at the Cyclops again, and his males say, “Please, stop! No more.” But against his crew’s advice, Odysseus taunts the Cyclops again, currently telling that it to be that gained the better of him:

Polyphemus hurls a large chunk that a mountain out at Odysseus’ ship. (Image: Arnold Böcklin/Public domain)


“If anyone asks who got the much better of you,” claims Odysseus, “who shamed you, tell castle it was Odysseus, child of Laertes, from Ithaca.”


“If anyone asks who gained the better of you,” claims Odysseus, “who shamed you, tell castle it to be Odysseus, child of Laertes, from Ithaca.” The Cyclops choose up another chunk the stone, hurls it at them, this time absent short, control the delivery farther the end to sea and also safety. Yet Odysseus has provided the Cyclops enough information to speak to down top top him and also his males a curse; the is precisely what that does. He asks his dad Poseidon to destroy Odysseus and his ships, or at least make sure that Odysseus, if he makes it home, gets there every alone and finds trouble awaiting that there.

Thus, in this final taunting of the Cyclops, we check out that Odysseus is can not to street himself completely from the values dear to the Iliadic heroes; that feels the need to identify himself come the Cyclops, so others will recognize of his skill and cunning. He can’t let the act remain anonymous, and also in his hubris, he payment a price for it.

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Common Questions around Odysseus and also the Cyclops


Q: Why go Odysseus not kill the Cyclops?

In his wisdom, Odysseus realizes they’ll it is in forever locked in the cavern if he merely kills the Cyclops. Thus he blinds it, rendering it disabled however capable the letting them out. 


Q: how do we understand the Cyclopes are savages?

Many reasons suggest to the savagery that the Cyclopes: their unused land perfect for agriculture, the absence of an advent and demanding names of the men, the absence of ships perfect because that fishing the harbor, and also finally the Cyclopes’ refusal of a gift from their stash of plentiful cheese and also lambs.


Q: Why go Odysseus call the Cyclops his name is Nobody?

Odysseus tells the Cyclops his surname is Nobody together he knows that once he attacks, the Cyclops will cry out and be request by other Cyclopes if it needs help. Of course, the Cyclops replies the “nobody” is bothering or killing it.

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Q: Why to be it a mistake for Odysseus to tell the Cyclops his genuine name?

By informing the Cyclops his real name, Odysseus opened himself approximately the curse Polyphemus places upon him together Poseidon is his father and they space at sea.


This short article was updated on July 2, 2020

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