Monday, November 22, 2021

Odysseus and the Cyclops

"When the giant returned, and again dined on two men, Odysseus
offered him some stronger-than-usual wine..."

Click to see Vol. I, Issue 4 of the newsletter in which this article first appeared.

Listen to the audio of this article!

"Clever Odysseus," as he was known, was one of the Greek leaders in the Trojan War. Indeed, he it was who devised the Wooden Horse that brought about the fall of Troy.

But on his way home, through offending the gods, Odysseus and his men were blown off course and forced to wander for ten years, having many harrowing adventures along the way. One of the most famous adventures of this "odyssey" was his meeting with a one-eyed giant--a Cyclops--named Polyphemus, meaning "[having] many songs and legends." In other words, he was famous.

Oblivious to any danger, Odysseus and his men landed on a remote island and entered a cave where, after helping themselves to some food and drink, they fell asleep. But while they slept, Polyphemus returned to that very same cave, leading his flock of giant sheep. As usual, he rolled a huge stone across the cave's entrance to keep the sheep in. Finding the men--and ignoring customs of hospitality, for the Cyclopes were a lawless folk--the Cyclops immediately dined on two of them. The Cyclopes were also man-eaters!

[Note: Cyclops--SY klopps--is singular; Cyclopes--sy KLOH peez--is plural]

Just as the men had, the sated Cyclops fell asleep, but still it was impossible for the men to escape: the stone covering the doorway was too large for them to move. What to do?

The next morning, after gobbling down two more men, Polyphemus again took his flocks out--being careful this time to "close the door" behind him. While he was out, clever Odysseus devised a cunning plan.

When the giant returned, and again dined on two men, Odysseus offered him some stronger-than-usual wine, which got him very drunk (so uncivilized were the Cyclopes that they had never developed alcoholic beverages, so he got drunk easily). Grateful, the drunken Cyclops asked Odysseus his name, and again showing his cleverness Odysseus answered Outis (in Latin, Nemo), meaning "no man." The drunken Polyphemus, promising as a favor to eat his new friend last of all, fell asleep again.

But while the Cyclops was out, Odysseus and his men had sharpened a large stake. Once Polyphemus was snoring, they heated the stake in the fire and plunged it into the giant's single eye, blinding him. When Polyphemus bellowed for help, his friends came running. But when they called out asking who had attacked him and he said, "Nobody!" they returned home snorting derisively.

When the blind Cyclops was taking his flocks out again in the morning, he touched the back of each sheep to make sure none of the Greeks escaped, but Odysseus had tied his men under the sheep! He himself then clung to the underside of the ram, the largest of them. Once they had ridden out of the cave this way and were sailing away free, Odysseus shouted back his real name. Lobbing huge boulders at the ship, the giant called on his father Poseidon for help. This would bring the Greeks further trouble later in their journey.

"Lobbing huge boulders at the ship..."


Vocabulary: Match the words to their meaning. Correct answers are in the first comment below.

  1. boulders
  2. derisively
  3. gobbling
  4. lobbing
  5. oblivious (to)
  6. odyssey
  7. plunged
  8. remote
  9. sated
  10. stake

  1. far from anything
  2. throwing in a high arc
  3. unaware (of)
  4. a long wandering adventure
  5. eating quickly; gulping
  6. strong, pointed stick
  7. satisfied; full
  8. mockingly
  9. huge stones
  10. pushed with force

Questions to Answer: Answer the following questions in your own words. Suggested answers are in the first comment below.

  1. What was Odysseus's nickname?
  2. What is the meaning of the name "Polyphemus"? Why?
  3. What kinds of beings were the Cyclopes?
  4. What was Odysseus's plan to escape the Cyclops?
  5. Who was Polyphemus's father?

Questions to Think About: These questions do not have "right" or "wrong" answers. They only ask your opinion.

  1. If you think about it, Odysseus and his men caused the first offence by entering the Cyclops's "home" and eating his food and drink without permission. Do think this was right?
  2. Why do you think Odysseus called himself Outis (Nemo), since he couldn't have known about Polyphemus saying "No man has hurt me!" later?
  3. Why do you think Odysseus taunted Polyphemus by telling him his real name?

1 comment:

  1. Answers:
    Vocabulary: 1. I; 2. H; 3. E; 4. B; 5. C; 6. D; 7. J; 8. A; 9. G; 10. F

    Questions to Answer (suggested answers; yours may be written slightly differently)
    1. Odysseus was nicknamed "Clever Odysseus."
    2. "Polyphemus" meant "[having] many songs and legends" because he was famous.
    3. The Cyclopes were savage, one-eyed giants.
    4. Odysseus's escape plan was to get Polyphemus drunk, blind him with a stake, and sneak out riding under the Cyclops's sheep when he let them out in the morning.
    5. Poseidon, God of the Sea, was Polyphemus's father.

    Questions to Think About do not have any single correct answer. However, any answers you give should be supported by what you read or by things you know ("I think... because...").