from the burning city with a hand of
fugitives, his countrymen; and after years
of peril and wandering he came to found a
famous race in Italy. On the way, he found
one hospitable resting-place in Carthage,
where Queen Dido received him with great
kindliness; and when he left her she took
her own life, out of very grief.
But there were no other hardships such as
beset Odysseus, between the burning of Troy
and his return to Ithaca, west of the land
of Greece. Ten years did he fight against
Troy, but it was ten years more before he
came to his home and his wife Penelope and
his son Telemachus.
Now all these latter years of wandering fell
to his lot because of Poseidon's anger
against him. For
Poseidon had favored the
Grecian cause, and might well have sped home
this man who had done so much to win the
Grecian victory. But as evil destiny would
have it, Odysseus mortally angered the god
of the sea by blinding his son, the Cyclops
Polyphemus. And this is how it came to pass.
Odysseus set out from Troy with twelve good
ships. He touched first at Ismarus, where
his first misfortune took place, and in a
skirmish with the natives he lost a number
of men from each ship's crew. A storm then
drove them to the land of the Lotus-Eaters,
a wondrous people, kindly and content, who
spend their lives in a day-dream and care
for nothing else under the sun. No sooner
had the sailors eaten of this magical lotus
than they lost all their wish to go home, or
to see their wives and children again. By
main force, Odysseus drove them back to the
ships and saved them from the spell.
Thence they came one day to a beautiful
strange island, a verdant place to see, deep
with soft grass and well watered with
springs. Here they ran the ships ashore, and
took their rest and feasted for a day. But
Odysseus looked across to the mainland,
where he saw flocks and herds, and smoke
going up softly from the homes of men; and
he resolved to go across and find out what
manner of people lived there. Accordingly,
next morning, he took his own ship's company
and they rowed across to the mainland.
Now, fair as the place was, there dwelt in
it a race of giants, the Cyclopes, great
rude creatures, having each but one eye, and
that in the middle of his forehead. One of
them was Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. He
lived by himself as a shepherd, and it was
to his cave that Odysseus came, by some evil
chance. It was an enormous grotto, big
enough to house the giant and all his
flocks, and it had a great courtyard
without. But Odysseus, knowing naught of all
this, chose out twelve men, and with a
wallet of corn and a goatskin full of wine
they left the ship and made a way to the
cave, which they had seen from the water.
Much they wondered who might be the master
of this strange house. Polyphemus was away
with his sheep, but many lambs and kids were
penned there, and the cavern was well stored
with goodly cheeses and cream and whey.
Without delay, the wearied men kindled a
fire and sat down to eat such things as they
found, till a great shadow came dark against
the doorway, and they saw the Cyclops near
at hand, returning with his flocks. In an
instant they fled into the darkest corner of
Polyphemus drove his flocks into the place
and cast off from his shoulders a load of
young trees for firewood. Then he lifted and
set in the entrance of the cave a gigantic
boulder of a door-stone. Not until he had
milked the goats and ewes and stirred up the
fire did his terrible one eye light upon the
"What are ye?" he roared then, "robbers or
rovers?" And Odysseus alone had heart to
"We are Achaeans of the army of Agamemnon,"
said he. "And by the will of Zeus we have
lost our course, and are come to you as
strangers. Forget not that Zeus has a care
for such as we, strangers and suppliants."
Loud laughed the Cyclops at this. "You are a
witless churl to bid me heed the gods!" said
he. "I spare or kill to please myself and
none other. But where is your cockle-shell
that brought you hither?"
Then Odysseus answered craftily: "Alas, my
ship is gone! Only I and my men escaped
alive from the sea."
But Polyphemus, who had been looking them
over with his one eye, seized two of the
mariners and dashed them against the wall
and made his evening meal of them, while
their comrades stood by helpless. This done,
he stretched himself through the cavern and
slept all night long, taking no more heed of
them than if they had been flies. No sleep
came to the wretched seamen, for, even had
they been able to slay him, they were
powerless to move away the boulder from the
door. So all night long Odysseus took
thought how they might possibly escape.
At dawn the Cyclops woke, and his awakening
was like a thunderstorm. Again he kindled
the fire, again he milked the goats and
ewes, and again he seized two of the king's
comrades and served them up for his terrible
repast. Then the savage shepherd drove his
flocks out of the cave, only turning back to
set the boulder in the doorway, and pen up
Odysseus and his men in their dismal
But the wise king had pondered well. In the
sheepfold he had seen a mighty club of
olive-wood, in size like the mast of a ship.
As soon as the Cyclops was gone, Odysseus
bade his men cut off a length of this club
and sharpen it down to a point. This done,
they hid it away under the earth that heaped
the floor; and they waited in fear and
torment for their chance of escape.
At sundown, home came the Cyclops. Just as
he had done before, he drove in his flocks,
barred the entrance, milked the goats and
ewes, and made his meal of two more hapless
men, while their fellows looked on with
burning eyes. Then Odysseus stood forth,
holding a bowl of the wine that he had
brought with him; and, curbing his horror of
Polyphemus, he spoke in friendly fashion:
"Drink, Cyclops, and prove our wine, such as
it is, for all was lost with our ship save
this. And no other man will ever bring you
more, since you are such an ungentle host."
The Cyclops tasted the wine and laughed with
delight so that the cave shook. "Ho, this is
a rare drink!" said he. "I never tasted milk
so good, nor whey, nor grape-juice either.
Give me the rest, and tell me your name,
that I may thank you for it."
Twice and thrice Odysseus poured the wine
and the Cyclops drank it off; then he
answered: "Since you ask it, Cyclops, my
name is Noman."
"And I will give you this for your wine,
Noman," said the Cyclops; "you shall be
eaten last of all!"
As he spoke his head drooped, for his wits
were clouded with drink, and he sank heavily
out of his seat and lay prone, stretched
along the floor of the cavern. His great eye
shut and he fell asleep.
Odysseus thrust the stake under the ashes
till it was glowing hot; and his fellows
stood by him, ready to venture all. Then
together they lifted the club and drove it
straight into the eye of Polyphemus and
turned it around and about.
The Cyclops gave a horrible cry, and,
thrusting away the brand, he called on all
his fellow-giants near and far. Odysseus and
his men hid in the uttermost corners of the
cave, but they heard the resounding steps of
the Cyclopes who were roused, and their
shouts as they called, "What ails thee,
Polyphemus? Art thou slain? Who has done
thee any hurt?"
"Noman!" roared the blinded Cyclops; "Noman
is here to slay me by treachery."
"Then if no man hath hurt thee," they called
again, "let us sleep." And away they went to
their homes once more.
But Polyphemus lifted away the boulder from
the door and sat there in the entrance,
groaning with pain and stretching forth his
hands to feel if anyone were near. Then,
while he sat in double darkness, with the
light of his eye gone out, Odysseus bound
together the rams of the flock, three by
three, in such wise that every three should
save one of his comrades. For underneath the
mid ram of each group a man clung, grasping
his shaggy fleece; and the rams on each side
guarded him from discovery. Odysseus himself
chose out the greatest ram and laid hold of
his fleece and clung beneath his shaggy
body, face upward.
Now, when dawn came, the rams hastened out
to pasture, and Polyphemus felt of their
backs as they huddled along together; but he
knew not that every three held a man bound
securely. Last of all came the kingly ram
that was dearest to his rude heart, and he
bore the King of lthaca. Once free of the
cave, Odysseus and his fellows loosed their
hold and took flight, driving the rams in
haste to the ship, where, without delay,
they greeted their comrades and went aboard.
But as they pushed from shore, Odysseus
could not refrain from hailing the Cyclops
with taunts, and at the sound of that voice
Polyphemus came forth from his cave and
hurled a great rock after the ship. It
missed its mark and upheaved the water like
an earthquake. Again Odysseus called,
saying: "Cyclops, if any shall ask who
blinded thine eye, say that it was Odysseus,
son of Laertes of Ithaca."
Then Polyphemus groaned and cried: "An
Oracle foretold it, but I waited for some
man of might who should overcome me by his
valor, not a weakling! And now" he lifted
his hands and prayed, "Father Poseidon, my
father, look upon Odysseus, the son of
Laertes of Ithaca, and grant me this
revenge, let him never see Ithaca again!
Yet, if he must, may he come late, without a
friend, after long wandering, to find evil
abiding by his hearth!"
So he spoke and hurled another rock after
them, but the ship outstripped it, and sped
by to the island where the other good ships
waited for Odysseus. Together they put out
from land and hastened on their homeward
But Poseidon, who is lord of the sea, had
heard the prayer of his son, and that
homeward voyage was to wear through ten
years more, with storm and irksome calms and
The Legend and Myth of Odysseus and the Cyclops
The Myth of Odysseus and the Cyclops
The story of Odysseus and the Cyclops is featured in the book
entitled Old Greek Folk Stories by Josephine
Preston Peabody, published in 1907 by
Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.