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Odysseus and his men blinding the cyclop Polyphemus (detail of a proto-attic amphora, c. 650 BC, museum of Eleusis)

Blinding of Polyphemus, Aristonothos Krater c. 680/70 BC

But Earthshaker Poseidon is a stubborn god,
constantly enraged about the Cyclops,
the one whose eye Odysseus destroyed,
godlike Polyphemus, the mightiest  

of all the Cyclopes.  Thoosa bore him,
a nymph, a daughter of that Phorcys
who commands the restless sea.

Odyssey Book 1

Polyphemus (Πολύφημος)(transliterated as Polyphemos in Robert Fitzgerald's translation), a character in Greek Mythology, is a Cyclops, a son of Poseidon and Thoosa.

Polyphemus in Homer's Odyssey

In the story of Homer's Odyssey a scouting party led by the Trojan War hero Odysseus, lands on the Island of the Cyclopes and ventures upon a large cave. They enter into the cave and proceed to feast on some food they find there. Unknown to them, this cave is the home of Polyphemus who soon comes upon the trespassers and traps them in his cave.

He proceeds to eat several crew members, but Odysseus devised a cunning plan for escape.

I was at first inclined to seize my sword, draw it, and drive it into his vitals, but I reflected that if I did we should all certainly be lost, for we should never be able to shift the stone which the monster had put in front of the door”

To make Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gave him a barrel of very strong, unwatered wine. When Polyphemus asked for Odysseus' name, he told him that it was "Noman" or "Nohbdy". Once the giant fell asleep, Odysseus and his men took a hardened spear and destroyed Polyphemus' only eye. In the morning, Odysseus tied his men and himself to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the Cyclops let the sheep out to graze, the men were carried out. Since Polyphemus was blind, he didn't see the men, but felt the tops of his sheep to make sure the men weren't riding them.

Escape of Odysseus

Escape of Odysseus, Villa Albani, Rome

Once the sheep (and men) were safely out, Polyphemus realized that the men weren't in his cave. He yelled out to his fellow Cyclopes that "Noman" ("Nohbdy" in Robert Fitzgerald's translation) hurt him, so they ignored him. As Odysseus and his men were sailing away, he told Polyphemus that "Noman didn't hurt you, Odysseus did!" Odysseus didn't realize that Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon, and that telling him his name would have severe repercussions.

The Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus wrote two poems circa 275 BC concerning Polyphemus' love for Galatea, a sea nymph. When Galatea instead loved Acis, a Sicilian mortal, a jealous Polyphemus killed him with a boulder. Galatea turned Acis' blood into a river of the same name in Sicily.

Odysseus derides Polyphemus, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

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Polyphemus, Jean-Léon Gérôme

Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus. Joseph Mallord William Turner, c. 1829

Ulysses defying the Cyclops, Louis Frédéric Schützenberger (1825-1903)

Ulysses pouring out Wine into the Giant's Bowl

The earliest legend which remains to us of Hellenic gastronomy is associated with cannibalism. It is the story of Pelops--an episode almost pre-Homeric, where a certain rudimentary knowledge of dressing flesh, and even of disguising its real nature, is implied in the tale, as it descends to us; and the next in order of times is perhaps the familiar passage in the Odyssey, recounting the adventures of Odysseus and his companions in the cave of Polyphemus. Here, again, we are introduced to a rude society of cave-dwellers, who eat human flesh, if not as an habitual diet, yet not only without reluctance, but with relish and enjoyment. William Carew Hazlitt, Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine

Polyphemus, Theofilos,

The Odyssey, Homer , Robert Fagles (Translator), Bernard MacGregor Walke Knox (Introduction)


Greek Mythology


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