Homer’s Odyssey Book IX: 82-115, 228-566


They arrive in the land of the Lotus-Eaters and three of Odysseus’ men taste the lotus.
There for nine days I am borne by destructive winds
Upon the fish-filled sea; and on the tenth we set foot on
The land of the Lotus-Eaters, who eat a food of flowers.
There we trod upon the land and drew water,
Quickly my companions took a meal beside the swift ships,
So then I sent out companions, going forth, to learn
What men there were in the land who ate bread,
Having chosen two men, and making a third follow with as herald.
They, going quickly, mingled with men, the Lotus-Eaters;
And they, the Lotus-Eater, did not, certainly, devise a destruction for our
Companions, but they gave to them some of the lotus to partake of.
And of those, any who might eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus,
No longer wished to report back, nor to return,
But rather they wanted there, with those men, the Lotus-Eaters,
To remain, munching on the lotus, and to forget their homecoming.
These men, I brought onto the ships by force, though they wept,
And once I hauled them into the hollow ships, I bound them under the benches.

Odysseus orders his men to sea again and they approach the land of the Cyclopes who are uncivilised creatures.
And I ordered the rest of my trusty companions
To embark on the swift ships,
Lest somehow any, eating of the lotus, should forget his homecoming.
And they quickly got on and sat on their rowing benches,
And sitting in their rows they beat the grey sea with their oars.
Thence we sailed though our hearts grieved.
And to the land of the Cyclopes, lawless, arrogant,
We arrived, they who trusted in the undying gods,
They neither planted plants by hand, nor did they plough,
But rather everything grew, unsown and unploughed,
Wheat and barley and vine, which yielded
Wine of fine grapes, and the rain of Zeus makes them grow.
To these neither assemblies nor laws give counsel,
But rather they dwell on the peaks of high mountains
In hollow caves, and each lays the law
For his children and wife, and they do not care for anyone else.

I skip some text here. Odysseus and his men enter the cave of Polyphemus, the Cyclops. They find food there, but his men are afraid and they try to persuade him that they should leave.

Odysseus refuses and they wait for the monster to return with his sheep and goats. He closes the entrance with a mighty rock.
But I was not persuaded (though that would have been much better)
So that I might see him and whether he would give me guest-gifts.
But he was not destined, when he appeared, to be pleasant to my companions.
Thereupon, after we kindled a fire, we made offerings and, ourselves
Taking some cheeses, we ate and remained within the cave,
Seated until he came back from pasturing; he bore a heavy weight
Of dried wood, so that it would be there for his supper.
Throwing it within the cave, he put it down with a crash;
And we, fearing him, darted to the inner part of the cave.
And he drove his plump sheep into the wide cavern,
The whole lot, as many as he milked, and the males he left outside,
Both rams and goats, outside in the large open court.
And then, taking it up on high he set it in place a door-stone, great,
Mighty; this, at least, not two and twenty wagons,
Fine and four-wheeled, could heave up from the ground;
Such a towering stone did he put down in the doorway.
And sitting, he milked the ewes and bleating goats,
All of them in turn, and beneath each he placed her young.
Immediately, after he curdled half of the white milk,
Collecting it in a woven basket, he set it down,
And the other half he put in vessels so that it would be there for him
When he took it to drink and it would be there for his supper.

The monster catches sight of Odysseus and his men and in a frightful voice asks them who they are. Odysseus replies and they present themselves as suppliants under the protection of Zeus.
And then he hastened to toil at his works,
And when he lit a fire and saw, he asked us:
“Guests! Who are you? From what watery ways did you sail?
Do you wander for some trade or at random,
As pirates do, over the brine, who wander
Hazarding their lives, bringing harm to foreigners?”
Thus he spoke, and our very spirit was broken,
Since we feared his voice, deep, and him, monstrous.
But even so, replying with words, I addressed him:
“We are Achaeans, who have been driven off course from Troy
By winds of all kinds over the great deep of the sea,
Eager to be homeward, by another way, on other paths
We have come; thus, I suppose, as Zeus wished to devise.
We boast to be the warriors of Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
Whose fame, now at least, is the greatest under heaven;
For he laid waste to a city so great and destroyed many
Armies; we, however, having arrived do come
To your knees, in hope you might offer any hospitality, or even in some other way
You might give a gift, which is the due of guests.
Come, Sir, respect the gods; we are your suppliants.
And Zeus, the avenger of suppliants and guests,
The stranger’s god, who accompanies guests along, those worthy of respect.”

The Cyclops is contemptuous and asks them where their ship lies. Odysseus is evasive.
Thus did I speak, and he replied immediately, with a pitiless heart:
“You are foolish, stranger,1 surely, although you have come from afar,
Who has commanded me to fear and to flee the gods;
For the Cyclopes pay no heed to aegis-bearing Zeus,
Nor to the blessed gods, since we are surely much stronger.
And not even to escape the wrath of Zeus would I spare
You or your companions, unless my heart bade me so.
But tell me: where did you keep your well-wrought ship when you came?
Is it somewhere on the far end, or nearby? I wish to know.”

Thus he spoke, testing me, and since I know much, it did not escape my notice,
But I addressed him in return with cunning words:
“Poseidon earth-shaker has shattered my ship,
Throwing it against the rocks at the far end of your land,
Driving us against the headland; and a wind from the sea bore us;
But I, with these men, escaped sheer destruction.”

1. It’s worth pointing out, as I have elsewhere on the blog, that the word I translated here as stranger is the Greek, ξένος, which is a pretty loaded word in ancient Greek, meaning also guest, host, and sometimes friend. In Hellenistic Greek it later came to mean foreigner. It conveys the expectation of hospitality that was due to guests, and there were many customs and taboos surrounding the treatment of guests in one’s home. I translated it as guest above (referring to Zeus, the avenger of guests, and to the hospitality due to guests), but here, since the Cyclops has been and will continue to be contemptuous of the hospitality due to guests, I felt stranger was the better translation, but that translation does lose the irony implicit in the original.

The Cyclops callously slaughters two of Odysseus’ men and eats them; Odysseus wonders what to do.
Thus I spoke, and he made no reply to me in his pitiless heart,
But leaping up, to my companions he stretched his hands out,
And snatching two up, like puppies, against the ground
He dashed them; their brains flowed out on the ground, they soaked the earth.
And cutting limb up from limb, he prepared them for dinner.
And he ate them like a mountain-bred lion, and he left out nothing,
Not entrails nor flesh nor marrow-filled bones.
And we, weeping, stretched our hands out to Zeus,
To look upon the wretched deeds; helpless desperation clutched our hearts.
And after the Cyclops filled his great belly,
Eating human flesh and then drinking fresh milk,
He laid down, stretching out in the cave amidst his flock.
And I, reflecting in accordance with my great-hearted spirit,
Going nearer, drawing my sharp sword from my side,
To wound at the chest, where the midriff holds the liver,
Feeling about with my hand; but another thought stayed me.
For by this we too would be destroyed a sheer destruction;
For we would not be able to push away the mighty stone
From the lofty doorway with our hands, which he put there.
Thus we lamented there until dawn.

Next day the Cyclops kills and eats two more men. Odysseus makes a plan; he prepares a great stake, hides it and chooses four men to help him.
When the child of morn appeared, rosy-fingered dawn,
He lit a fire and milked his notable flock,
All of them in turn, and he placed the young under each.
And then he hastened to toil at his tasks,
And snatching two more men up, he made a meal.
And once he ate, he drove out his plump sheep from the cave,
Easily removing the mighty door-stop; and then
He put it back, as if putting the lid on a quiver.
With many whistles, the Cyclops turned his plump sheep toward
The mountain; and I was left brooding over my misfortunes,
If I might somehow take vengeance, should Athene grant my prayer.
And then, in accordance with my desire, the most excellent plan became clear.
For the Cyclops had a mighty club at the sheep pen,
Of green olive-wood; this he had cut down so that it might be carried
Once it was seasoned. Seeing it we reckoned it
As large as the mast of a twenty-oared black ship,
A wide merchant-ship, which crosses the great deep;
Thus was its length, thus its thickness to behold.
And I, standing beside it, cut off as much as an arm-span,
And I put it beside my companions, and bid them to harden it in fire;
And they made it smooth, while I, standing beside them, sharpened it
At the other end, and taking it at once they hardened it in the blazing fire.
And I put it well away, hiding it under dung.
Which, indeed, much was abundantly spread out throughout the cave;
And I ordered the others to shake the lots for a lottery,
Any who might be so bold as to lift the stake with me
To grind into his eye when sweet sleep came
And they chose by lot those I would have wished myself to choose,
Four, and with them I was reckoned a fifth.

The Cyclops returns in the evening and kills two more men. Odysseus offers him some wine.
In the evening he came herding his fine-wooled sheep;
He drove his fat sheep straight into the deep cave,
The whole lot, and he did not leave any outside in the high-walled courtyard,
Either suspecting something, or indeed a god ordered thus.
And then he lifted high the mighty door-stop and put it down,
And sitting, he milked the ewes and bleating goats,
All of them in turn, and he put the young under each.
And then indeed he hastened to toil at his tasks,
And snatching two more men up, he prepared his dinner.
And then I, standing near, addressed the Cyclops,
Holding in my hands a wooden bowl of black wine.
“Cyclops, take this, drink the wine, after you eat human meat,
So that you may know what sort of drink our ship
Contained; and for you I bring a drink-offering besides, in hope that pitying me,
You might send us homeward; and you are maddened, no longer bearably.
Cruel man, how might any other visit you in the future,
Of the many men, since you did not act with propriety?”

The Cyclops likes the wine, drinks more and asks Odysseus his name. Odysseus says his name is Noman.
Thus I spoke, and he took and drank up; and he was terribly pleased
Drinking the sweet drink, and he asked me again a second time:
“Give me more and be generous, and tell me your name
Right now, so that I may give you a hospitality gift, for which you will be thankful.
For to the Cyclopes fruitful ploughland yields
Wine of fine grapes, and the rain of Zeus makes them grow;
But this is kin to the ambrosia and nectar of the gods.

Thus he spoke; and in return I gave him fiery wine;
Thrice bringing it I gave, thrice he drank up in his foolishness.
And when the wine had gone to the Cyclops’ head,
Then I addressed him with soothing words:
“Cyclops, do you ask my renowned name? Well, I shall
Tell you; and you, give me a guest-gift, just as you promised.
My name is nobody; they call me nobody,
My mother and father and others, all my companions,”

Thus I spoke, and he immediately replied with a pitiless heart:
“I shall eat nobody last among his companions,
And the others before; this will be my guest-gift for you.”

The Cyclops falls into a sordid, drunken sleep. Odysseus and his men prepare the stake.
And he sank down and fell on his back, and then
He laid with his thick neck twisted round. Sleep took him
Down, tamer of all; wine was surged forth out of his throat,
And human scraps; and he belched, heavy with wine.
And then I drove the stake under a bunch of coals
Until it grew hot; and with words I encouraged
All the companions, lest fearing a little, someone draw back.
But then the stake of olive wood in the fire was just on the point
Of catching flame, although it was green, and it glowed bright,
And then I brought it nearer out of the fire, and companions on both sides
Stood; and a divinity breathed great courage into us.

They drive it into the Cyclops’ eye. He is mad with pain and calls to the neighbouring Cyclopes.
And they, taking the stake of olive-wood, sharp at the point,
Into his eye they pushed it; and I, pressing down from above,
Twisted it, like when a man drills a hole into a ship timber
With a drill, and they get it going at the lower end with a leather strap,
Clasping it on both sides, and it runs non-stop in place;
Thus holding the stake, pointed in the fire, into his eye
We twisted it, and his hot blood flowed around it there.
The heat singed all around the eye-lid and eye-brow
Of his burning eyeball; the roots crackled with fire.
Like when a bronze-smith baptizes a mighty axe or adze
In cold water, it makes a huge noise,
To temper it; for this, contrarily, is the strength of the iron;
Thus his eye sizzled around the olive-wood stake.
He groaned great and terribly, and all around the stone cried out,
And becoming frightened we ran away; he pulled out
The stake from his eye splattered with much of his blood.
And then he hurled it from him with his hands, distraught,
And he called out to the mighty Cyclopes, who all around him
Dwelled in caves throughout the windswept peaks.

The Cyclopes ask Polyphemus what is wrong but Odysseus’ trick name ensures they do not come to help.
And those who heard his cry were going to and fro, from one place and another,
Standing around the cave they asked what troubled him;
“Why ever, Polyphemus, do you cry out so distressed
During the ambrosial night, and thus make us sleepless?
Surely some mortal is not driving away your flock against your will?
Surely no one is killing you by trickery or violence?”
And mighty Polyphemus addressed in reply them from the cave:
“My friends, nobody is killing me with trickery and violence.”
And replying, they spoke winged words:
“If indeed nobody is assaulting you, since you are alone,
It is in no way possible to avoid a disease from mighty Zeus,
But pray, at least, to our father, lord Poseidon.”
Thus speaking they departed, and my dear heart laughed,
Thus my name and excellent cunning deceived him.

The Cyclops hopes to catch Odysseus and his men as they leave the cave. Odysseus has a plan for escaping.
The Cyclops, lamenting and in agonizing pain,
Groping with his hands, lifted the stone away from the doorway,
He was lying in the doorway, both hands spread out,
In case he might somehow catch anyone making for the door with his sheep;
For somehow in his mind he expected me to be so simplistic.
But I made a plan so that things would turn out for the very best,
In hope that for my companions a release from death, and for myself
I might discover; I devised every trick and scheme,
Being a matter of life and death; for great misfortune hung near.
And in accordance with my desire, a most excellent plan became clear.
The best sheep were well-fed, thick fleeced,
Big and handsome, with cloudy-violet1 wool;
Silently, I tied them together with well-twisted willow twigs,
Upon which slept the monstrous Cyclops, versed in lawlessness,
I took hold of three together; and it carried a man in the middle,
And the two others went on each side, keeping my companions safe.
Three sheep each carried a man; and I too,
For there was a ram, by far the best of all the flock,
Taking hold of it along the back, curled up beneath its shaggy belly
I lay; and with my hands the wondrous fleece,
Having turned my back, I held fast without cease, my heart steadfast.
Thus lamenting we remained until dawn.

1. The word for cloudy-violet is ἰοδνεφής (iodnephes), from ἴον, violet and νέφος, cloud. Colour is an interesting subject in Homer, and ancient Greek in general. Just Google “colour in homer” and see! Homer seems to have a very limited range of colours. It is worth pointing out, of course, that colour very often has metaphorical meanings unrelated to appearance. Green, for example, often stands in for new or fresh in Greek just as it does in English. Thus in Euripides’ Hecuba, young Polyxena’s blood is called green when she is sacrificed. Consider that you might call someone blue if they’re sad, or yellow if they’re cowardly. The same is almost certainly true in this case. Violet may impart a sense of softness or scent, or have connotations that have since been lost.

The sheep go out to graze with Odysseus’ men tied under them. He himself is beneath a large ram of which Polyphemus is very fond.
When the child of morn appeared, rosy-fingered Dawn,
And then when the male sheep ran out pasture-ward,
The females bleated, un-milked, around the pen;
For their udders were bursting. Their master, though weakened
By terrible agony, patted the backs of every ewe,
That stood upright; but the simpleton did not notice,
How they were bound to the breast, beneath the thick-fleeced sheep.
The last ram of the flock made its way to the door,
Loaded with wool and shrewd-thinking me.
And reaching for it, mighty Polyphemus spoke:

“Dear ram tell me, why do you run through the cave last
Of the flock? You did not previously go after the ewes left you behind,
But you were first by far to graze on the tender petals of the pasture,
With your long strides, you were first to arrive to the stream of the rivers,
You were first to desire to return to the homestead
In the evening; but now, contrariwise, last of all. Surely you, at least, feel pity
For your master’s eye, whom a wicked man blinded
With his baneful companions after he overwhelmed my senses with wine,
This Nobody, whom I do not yet say to have escaped destruction.
Would that you could think as I do and were capable of speech
To tell me in what way that man flees from my might;
Whose brain would then be throughout the cave, all over the place,
Splattered from being struck against the ground, and my heart would be eased
Of the troubles which that good-for-nothing Nobody gave to me.”

The escape is successful and they return to the ships. When they are at sea, Odysseus taunts Polyphemus.
Having thus spoken to the ram, he sent it away from him to the door.
And when they had gone a little way from the cave and the courtyard
I untied myself from beneath the ram, and I untied my companions.
And nimbly the long-striding sheep, plump with fat,
Rounding up many, we drove them, until we arrived
At the ship. We were a welcome sight to my beloved companions,
Those of us who escaped death; but weeping, we lamented the others.
But I did not permit it, I shook my head to each brow
That would cry; but rather I ordered them that the fine-wooled sheep
Once they had thrown many on the ship, to sail upon the briny water.
And they quickly embarked and sat in their rowing benches;
Sitting in their rows they beat the grey sea with their oars,
But once we were away as far as one could call out by shouting,
Only then did I address the Cyclops with mockery
“Cyclops, you were not about to eat the companions of
Some feeble man in your hollow cave by force and violence.
And your wicked deeds were very soon to catch up with you,
You brute, since you were not ashamed to eat guests
In your home; for this, Zeus and the other gods shall take vengeance on you.”

Polyphemus hurls a great rock which nearly drives them ashore again. Odysseus’ men beg him not to provoke Polyphemus.
Thus I spoke, and he was then much angered in his heart;
He went and broke off the peak of a mighty mountain,
And he hurled it in front of the dark-prowed ship,
Just a little, and it missed reaching the tip of the rudder.
The sea was churned by the descending rock;
And a wave carried the ship, rushing back landward,
A swell from the ocean, it forced us to approach dry land.
And I, taking a very long pole in my hands,
Pushed us outward; riled up, I ordered my companions
To throw themselves on the oars, so that we might escape away from disaster,
I gave a nod of my head; falling forward, they rowed.
But once we had gone away, traversing twice as much of the sea,
I once again addressed the Cyclops; my companions around me
Tried to Restrain me from all sides with soothing words:

“Rash man, why ever did you wish to provoke the savage man?
Who even now, by throwing a missile, brought the seaward ship
Back toward land, and we really thought we were dead.
If he had heard someone crying out or giving voice,
He would have dashed our heads and the ship timers,
Striking them with a jagged rock; so great does he throw.”

Odysseus takes no notice and shouts back his true identity. Polyphemus recalls a prophecy and prays to Poseidon.
Thus they spoke, but they did not persuade my great-hearted spirit,
But I addressed him in return with a spiteful heart:
“Cyclops, if anyone of mortal men
Ever inquires after the disfiguring blinding of your eye,
Tell them, Odysseus blinded me, city-sacker,
Son of Laertes, who has his house in Ithaca.”

Thus I spoke, and groaning he replied to me with this speech:
“Oh woe, indeed! A divine decree spoken long ago comes back to me now.
There was a certain prophet here, a man good and great,
Telemos son of Eurymos, who excelled in prophecy
And he grow old, prophesying among the Cyclopes;
He told me everything I would accomplish hereafter,
That I would lose my sight at the hands of Odysseus.
But I always expected some noble and mighty man
To come here, arrayed in wondrous might;
But as it is one who is small, and good-for-nothing, and feeble
Blinded me of my eye, after he overcame me with wine.
But come here, Odysseus, so that I might place a guest gift beside you,
I will urge the renowned earth-shaker to give you safe passage;
For I am his son and he boasts to be my father.
And he, if he wishes it, will heal me, and not anyone else,
Neither of the blessed gods nor of mortal men.”

Thus he spoke and replying I said to him:
“Would that I had the power, after I’ve deprived you
Of your life and spirit, to send you into the house of Hades,
As surely as not even the earth-shaker will heal your eye.”

Thus I spoke, and he then to lord Poseidon
Did pray, reaching out his hands to the starry sky:
“Hear me, dark-haired Poseidon, earth-embracer:
At least if I am really your son, and you boast to be my father,
Grant me that Odysseus, city-sacker, not arrive homeward,
That son of Laertes, who has his house on Ithaca.
But if the fates are favourable for him to look upon and reach
His well-established house and to his ancestral soil,
May he come terribly late, after all his companions have perished,
On a foreign ship, and may he find his house amidst troubles.”

Polyphemus hurls another rock but Odysseus reaches the island and has a joyful reunion with the rest of his companions.
Thus he spoke, praying, and the dark-haired one heard him.
And lifting up a much greater rock
And swinging ‘round, he applied an immeasurable strength,
And hurled it behind the dark-prowed ship,
Just a little, and it missed reaching the tip of the rudder.
The sea was churned by the descending rock;
A wave carried us forward, it forced us to approach dry land.
But when we reached the island, right there the other
Well-benched ships waited all assembled, companions all around
Sat, weeping, ever waiting for us,
And going to that place we beached our ship on the sand,
And from there we ourselves went to the breakers of the sea.
Bringing the sheep of the Cyclops from the hollow ship,
We divvied them up, so that no one might depart cheated of his equal share.
And the well-greaved companions gave the best ram to me
Separately from the distributed sheep; that one upon the sandy shore
To Zeus, son of Cronus, dweller in the dark clouds, who rules over all,
Making sacrifice, I burned the thigh portions; but he did not take heed of the sacrifices,
But rather surely he pondered how all the well-benched ships
Might be destroyed, and my faithful companions, too.
As when all day long to the setting sun
We were seated feasting on meat in boundless quantity and sweet wine;
And when the sun sank and darkness came,
Only then did we fall asleep on the breakers of the sea.
And when child of morn appeared, rosy-fingered Dawn,
Only then after rousing my companions, did I order
Them to embark and to unloose the cables from the stern.
And quickly they went in and sat upon the rowing benches,
Sitting in their rows they beat the grey sea with their oars.

Thence we sailed onwards, grieving in our hearts,
Though glad to escape death, but for our beloved companions who perished.

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