A Summary and Analysis of the Myth of Odysseus and the Cyclops

A Summary and Analysis of the Myth of Odysseus and the Cyclops

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) When is it a good idea to be nobody? There are some situations where it certainly pays to be Nobody, or rather, to claim to be ‘No One'. And one of the most famous episodes involving wily Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known to the Romans) bears this out. But what exactly happened when Odysseus, the hero of the Trojan War, met Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclops? Let's take a closer look at this myth, and what Homer tells us it in his great epic poem, the Odyssey . The Cyclopes: background Let's start with a question: what's wrong with the following sentence? ‘The Cyclops were a race of mythical one-eyed giants.' The main thing is that ‘Cyclops' is the singular: ‘Cyclopes' is the plural. Cyclopes (literally meaning ‘round-eyes' or ‘circle-eyes') were divided into three ‘families': the Uranian Cyclopes, descended from Uranus and Gaia, the Sicilian Cyclopes, and the ‘master-mason' Cyclopes. The Uranian Cyclopes served Zeus, creating his infamous lightning-bolt which the god used to administer divine punishment and retribution. These Cyclopes were three brothers, named in Hesiod's Theogony as Brontes (literally, ‘thunder'), Steropes (‘lightning'), and Arges (‘bright'). The Sicilian Cyclopes were smiths and craftsmen, as The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology (Penguin Dictionary) notes, and they fashioned the bows and arrows used by the gods Apollo and Artemis. And the Cyclopes associated with Lycia get the credit for building the giant prehistoric stone monuments found around Greece and on Sicily. The Cyclops – singular – who is most famous is Polyphemus, whose name fittingly means ‘abounding in many songs or legends'. This Cyclops is the one who features in Homer's epic poem The Odyssey . Odysseus and the Cyclops: plot summary Odysseus and his crew arrive on the island of the Cyclopes during their long journey home from the Trojan War. These Cyclopes are more like shepherds than master-builders or masons. Finding the cave of Polyphemus, a Cyclops who is the son of the sea god Poseidon, they go inside to find it unoccupied and stocked with all manner of provisions. […]

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