2.IV CYCLOPS

                                     IV

 

When Odysseus spoke to the people saying, ‘Alcinous, famous King, it is good to listen to a minstrel such as Demodocus is. As for me, I know of no greater delight than when men feast together with open hearts, when tables are laden with food, when good wine is poured into cups, and when a minstrel sings noble songs. This seems to me to be happiness indeed. But you have asked me to speak of my wanderings and my suffering. Ah, where can I begin that tale? The gods have given me more troubles than a man can speak of!’

‘But first of all I will tell you my name and my country. I am Odysseus of Laertes and my land is Ithaka, an island around which many islands lie. Ithaka is a rugged isle and I have found that there is no place fairer than a man’s own land. But now I will tell you, King, and tell the Princes and Captains and Councillors of the Phæacians, the tale of my wanderings.’

‘The wind carried my ships from the coast of Troy, and with our white sails hoisted we came to the cape that is called Malea. Now if we had been able to go round this cape we should soon have come to our own country, safe and sound. But the north wind came and swept us from our course and drove us past Cythera.’

‘Then for nine days we were carried onward by terrible winds, and away from all known lands. On the tenth day we came to a strange country. Many of my men landed there. The people of that land were harmless and friendly, but the land itself was most dangerous. The honey-sweet fruit of the lotus that makes all men forgetful of their past and neglectful of their future grew there. Those of my men who ate the lotus that the people of that land offered them became forgetful of their country and of the way home. They wanted to live forever in the land of the lotus. They wept when they thought of all the suffering to come and of all they had endured. I led them back to the ships, and I had to place them beneath the benches and tie them up. I commanded those who had eaten the lotus to go at once aboard the ships. Then, when I had got all my men on the ships, we hurried to sail away.’

‘Later we came to the land of the Cyclôpes, where a giant people live. There is a deserted island near their land, and on it there is a well of clear water that has poplars growing round it. We reached that empty island, and we anchored our ships and took down our sails.’

‘As soon as dawn came we went through the empty island, surprising the wild goats that were there in flocks, and shooting them with our arrows. We killed so many wild goats there that we had nine for each ship. Afterwards we looked across to the land of the Cyclôpes, and we heard the sound of voices and saw the smoke of fires and heard the bleating of flocks of sheep and goats.’

‘I called my companions together and I said, “It would be a good idea for some of us to go to that other island. I shall go there with my own ship and with the company that is on it. The rest of you stay here. I will find out what kind of men live there, and whether they will treat us kindly and give us provisions for our voyage.”‘

We set of and soon reached the land. There was a cave near the sea, and round the cave there were great flocks of sheep and goats. I took twelve men with me and I left the rest to guard the ship. We went into the cave and found no one there. There were baskets filled with cheeses, and containers of yoghurt, and pails and bowls of milk. My men wanted me to take some of the cheeses and some of the lambs and kids and leave. But I didn’t want to do this, because I would rather that whoever owned the stores give us of his own free will.’

‘While we were in the cave, the owner returned to it. He carried on his shoulder a great pile of wood for his fire. Never in our lives had we seen a creature as frightful as this Cyclops was. He was a giant and, what made him terrible to look at was that he, had only one eye, and that single eye was in his forehead. He dropped down on the ground the pile of wood that he carried, making such a din that we fled in terror into the corners of the cave. Next he drove his flocks into the cave and began to milk his ewes and goats. When he had the flocks inside, he picked up a stone that we could not move and set it as a door to the mouth of the cave.’

‘The Cyclops started his fire, and when it blazed up he saw us in the corners. He spoke to us. We did not know what he said, but our hearts were shaken with terror at the sound of his deep voice.’

‘I spoke to him saying that we were Agamemnon’s men on our way home from the taking of Priam’s City, and I begged him to deal with us kindly, for the sake of Zeus who is always in the company of strangers. But he answered me saying, “We Cyclôpes pay no attention to Zeus, nor to any of your gods. In our strength and our power we believe that we are mightier than they are. I will not spare you, or give you anything for the sake of Zeus, but only as my own spirit tells me. And first I want you to tell me how you reached our land.”‘

‘I knew it would be better not to let the Cyclops know that my ship and my companions were at the harbour of the island. Therefore I told him that my ship had been smashed on the rocks, and that I and the men with me were the only ones who had escaped death.’

‘I begged again that he would deal with us as just men deal with guests, but he, without saying a word, seized two of my men, and swinging them by the legs, smashed their brains out on the ground. He cut them to pieces and ate them before our very eyes. We wept and prayed to Zeus as we witnessed an act so terrible.’

‘Next the Cyclops stretched himself amongst his sheep and went to sleep beside the fire. Then I debated whether I should take my sharp sword in my hand, and feeling where his heart was, stab him there. But second thoughts held me back from doing this. I might be able to kill him as he slept, but not even with my companions could I roll away the great stone that closed the mouth of the cave.’

‘Dawn came, and the Cyclops awakened, started his fire and milked his flocks. Then he seized two others of my men and made ready for his midday meal. After that he rolled away the great stone and drove his flocks out of the cave.’

‘I had pondered on a way of escape, and I had thought of something that might be done to baffle the Cyclops. I had with me a great container of sweet wine, and I thought that if I could make him drunk with wine my companions and I might be able to escape from him. But there were other preparations to be made first. On the floor of the cave there was a great piece of wood which the Cyclops had cut to make a club when the wood was ready. It was still green. My companions and I went and cut off a length of the wood, and sharpened it to a point and took it to the fire and hardened it in the glow. Then I hid the wood in a corner of the cave.’

‘The Cyclops came back in the evening, and opening up the cave drove in his flocks. Then he closed the cave again with the stone and went and milked his ewes and his goats. Again he seized two of my companions. I went to the terrible creature with a bowl of wine in my hands. He took it and drank it and cried out, “Give me another bowl of this, and tell me your name so that I can give you gifts for bringing me this honey tasting drink.”‘

‘Again I spoke to him cunningly saying, “Noman is my name. My father and my mother call me Noman.”‘

‘”Give me more of the drink, Noman,” he shouted. “The gift that I shall give you is that I shall make you the last of your fellows to be eaten.”‘

‘I gave him wine again, and when he had taken the third bowl he sank backwards with his face upturned, and fell asleep. Then I, with four companions, took that wood, now made into a hard and pointed stake, and thrust it into the ashes of the fire. When the pointed end began to glow we drew it out of the flame. Then my companions and I took hold of the great stake and, rushing at the Cyclops, thrust it into his eye. He raised a terrible cry that made the rocks ring and we ran away into the corners of the cave.’

His cries brought other Cyclôpes to the mouth of the cave, and they, calling him Polyphemus, asked him what made him cry out. “Noman,” he shrieked out, “Noman is killing me by cunning.” They answered him saying, “If no man is killing you, there is nothing we can do for you, Polyphemus. What troubles you has been sent to you by the gods.” Saying this, they went away from the mouth of the cave without attempting to move away the stone.’

‘Polyphemus then, groaning with pain, rolled away the stone and sat in front of the mouth of the cave with his hands outstretched, thinking that he would catch us as we rushed out. I showed my companions how we could get past him. I grabbed certain rams of the flock and tied three of them together. Then on the middle ram I put a man of my company. Thus every three rams carried a man. As soon as  dawn had come the rams hurried out to the pasture, and, as they passed, Polyphemus put his hands on the first and the third of each three that went by. They passed out and Polyphemus did not guess that a ram that he did not touch carried out a man.’

‘For myself, I took a ram that was the strongest and fleeciest of the whole flock and I placed myself under him, clinging to the wool of his belly. As this ram, the best of all his flock, went by, Polyphemus, held him saying, “If only you could speak so that you could tell me where Noman, who has blinded me, has hidden himself.” The ram went by him, and when he had gone a little way from the cave I freed myself from him and went and set my companions free.’

‘We gathered together many of Polyphemus’ sheep and we drove them down to our ship. The men we had left behind would have wept when they heard what had happened to six of their companions. I told them take on board the sheep we had brought and pull the ship away from that land. Then when we had drawn a certain distance from the shore I shouted my taunts into the cave of Polyphemus. “Cyclops,” I cried, “you thought that you had the company of a fool and a weakling to eat. But you have been defeated by me, and your evil deeds have been punished.”‘

‘ Polyphemus came to the mouth of the cave with great anger in his heart. He took up rocks and hurled them at the ship and they fell around the ship. The men started to row and pulled the ship away or it would have been broken by the rocks he threw. When we were further away I shouted to him,'”Cyclops, if anyone should ask who it was who did this to you, say that he was Odysseus, the son of Laertes.”‘

‘Then I heard Polyphemus cry out, “I call upon Poseidon, the god of the sea, whose son I am, to avenge me upon you, Odysseus. I call upon Poseidon to grant that you, Odysseus, may never reach your home, or if the gods have ordered your return, that you come to it after much suffering, and in a stranger’s ship, to find sorrow in your home.”‘

‘So Polyphemus prayed, and, unfortunately, Poseidon heard his prayer. But we went on in our ship rejoicing at our escape. We came to the deserted island where my other ships were. All the company rejoiced to see us, although they had to mourn for their six companions who were killed by Polyphemus. We divided amongst the ships the sheep we had taken from Polyphemus’ flock and we sacrificed to the gods. At the dawn of the next day we raised the sails on each ship and we sailed away,’