Odysseus and his men blinding the cyclops Polyphemus, courtesy of wikipedia.
The Goat Rope series on the Odyssey of Homer continues. You'll also find links and comments about current events.
Things aren't looking good for Odysseus and his men at this stage of the game. By day, they are locked in the cave of the cyclops Polyphemus while he grazes his goats and sheep. By night, the one-eyed wonder chomps down on Odysseus' men. The good news is that Polyphemus is feeling generous and gave Odysseus a gift: he'll be the last one to get eaten.
I prefer gift certificates...
The classical scholar Peter Meineck has argued that the story of Odysseus in the cave can be seen as an initiation story. He is separated from the ordinary world and put in a situation where he has to undergo an ordeal and learn something to make it out. His eventual emergence from the cave can be seen as a kind of rebirth. That may be true, but Odysseus doesn't seem to gain a whole lot of insight.
At any rate, he's in a situation where mere force and violence won't help much. If he and his men kill the cyclops, they're doomed to die in the cave, which is sealed by a huge stone.
You probably remember this part of the story. Odysseus gets the Big Boy drunk one night with some super-powered wine he just happened to bring. They have a conversation in which he identifies himself as Nobody. After the cyclops passes out from the wine, he and his remaining crew blind the cyclops with a sharpened pole that has been heated in the fire.
I will spare the Gentle Reader the details. Suffice it to say that Odysseus and his men don't just put it part way in for a second. They plunge it in deep and grind it over and over. The physiological details are excruciating.
When Polyphemus screams, other cyclops gather around and ask what is the problem. Polyphemus screams "Nobody hurt me!"--so they go home.
The rest of the story is also well known. Odysseus and his men sneak out the next morning hanging beneath the Cyclops's sheep and hightail it for the ship to make their escape. Everything might have gone OK had not the hero of this story opened his big mouth. Instead of just getting out of Dodge, when he's at a safe distance, Odysseus announces his real name:
if any man on the face of the earth should ask you
who blinded you, shamed you so--say Odysseus,
raider of cities, he gouged out your eye,
Laertes' son who makes his home in Ithaca!'
Bad move! You might as well give him your home address, phone number, Social Security number and credit cards.
The cyclops, son of the god Poseidon, prays thus:
Poseidon, god of the sea-blue mane who rocks the earth!
If I really am your son and you claim to be my father--
come, grant that Odysseus, raider of cities,
Laertes' son who makes his home in Ithaca,
never reaches home. Or if he's fated to see
his people once again and reach his well-built house
and his own native country, let him come home late
and come a broken man--all shipmates lost,
alone in a stranger's ship--
and let him find a world of pain at home!'
That prayer is granted. By his own lack of self control, Odysseus condemns himself to years of further suffering and his men to certain death.
He has issues...
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