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pg 109BOOK NINE

  • 1Then in answer Odysseus of many wiles addressed him:
  • 2'Lord Alcinous, distinguished among all peoples,
  • 3it is indeed a good thing to listen to a singer such as
  • 4this man here, who is like the gods in his singing.
  • 5To my mind, there is no more perfect enjoyment
  • 6than when good cheer prevails among a whole people,
  • 7and feasters in the palace, sitting in due order,
  • 8listen to a singer, and the tables beside them are laden
  • 9with bread and meat, and a steward draws off wine from
  • 10the mixing-bowl, brings it round, and pours it into cups.
  • 11This seems to my mind to be the finest of all things.
  • 12But your heart has moved you to ask about my woeful
  • 13troubles, so I shall have to lament and groan all the more.
  • 14Where shall I begin my tale to you, and where end it?
  • 15The gods of the high sky have sent me miseries in plenty.
  • 16Still, I shall first tell you my name, so that you all may
  • 17know, and so that if hereafter I escape the pitiless day
  • 18I may be your guest-friend, though my home is far away.
  • 19     'I am Odysseus, Laertes' son, known to all men for my
  • 20cleverness; and my fame reaches as far as the high sky.
  • 21My home is in Ithaca, an island that is clear to discern.
  • 22There is a mountain there, Neriton, easily seen, with shivering
  • 23leaves, and nearby lie many islands close to one another:
  • 24Dulichium and Same and Zacynthos, covered in woods.
  • 25Ithaca itself lies low in the sea, furthest out to the west,
  • 26away from the others, which face the east and the sun's rising.*
  • 27It is a rough land, but a good nurse of young men; I tell you,
  • 28I can think of no sight sweeter to a man than his own country.
  • 29Calypso, bright among goddesses, tried to keep me with her,
  • 30there in her hollow caverns, desiring me to be her husband;
  • 31and in the same way Circe, the cunning woman of Aeaea,
  • 32sought to imprison me in her halls, desiring me to be her
  • 33husband; but she never persuaded the heart in my breast,
  • 34for there is nothing sweeter to a man than his own land
  • 35and parents, even if he lives in a wealthy house far away
  • pg 11036in a foreign country, separated from his father and mother.
  • 37So listen, and I will tell you of my troubled homecoming,
  • 38inflicted on me by Zeus as I was returning from Troy.
  • 39     'From Troy a wind bore me to the region of the Cicones,*
  • 40to Ismarus; and there we sacked their city and killed its men.
  • 41From the city I took their wives and much treasure and
  • 42divided it, so that no one to my knowledge should go without
  • 43his share. Then I gave orders that we should make haste
  • 44and leave, but they, great fools, would not listen, and stayed
  • 45there on the shore, drinking great quantities of wine and
  • 46slaughtering many sheep and crook-horned shambling cattle.
  • 47Meanwhile some Cicones went off and raised the alarm to
  • 48their neighbours who lived inland, and were moreover more
  • 49numerous and braver, skilled both at fighting against men
  • 50from chariots and also when they had to do battle on foot.
  • 51They came at dawn, as many as leaves or flowers that appear
  • 52in season; and then an evil fate from Zeus stood close to us,
  • 53ill-fated as we were, and caused us to suffer many torments.
  • 54Both sides stood and fought a pitched battle by the swift ships,
  • 55hurling volleys of bronze-tipped spears at one another.
  • 56As long as it was morning and the sacred day was growing,
  • 57we stood firm and, though outnumbered, kept them at bay;
  • 58but when the sun sloped towards the time for unyoking oxen,
  • 59the Cicones overpowered the Achaeans and put them to flight.
  • 60Six of my well-greaved companions out of each ship
  • 61perished, but the rest of us fled, escaping death and fate.
  • 62     'From there we sailed on, grieving in our hearts, glad
  • 63to have escaped death but having lost our dear companions;
  • 64even so, I would not let our well-balanced ships sail until
  • 65we had made three ritual calls to each of our poor friends
  • 66who had died on the plain, cut down by the Cicones.
  • 67Zeus the cloud-gatherer now roused the North Wind against
  • 68our ships with an astonishing blast, and hid earth and sea
  • 69alike in clouds; and night swept down from the high sky.
  • 70The ships were now pitching wildly, their sails torn
  • 71into three or four pieces by the violence of the wind;
  • 72fearing destruction, we struck the sails down into the
  • 73ships, and taking to the oars rowed vigorously towards
  • 74land. There for two nights and two days on end we lay
  • pg 11175at rest, eating our hearts out with anguish and weariness.
  • 76When Dawn with her lovely hair brought the third day
  • 77we stepped the masts, hauled the white sails up, and sat
  • 78still; and the wind and the steersmen held us on our course.
  • 79And indeed I would have come unharmed to my own land,
  • 80had not the swell, the current, and the North Wind driven me
  • 81off course as I rounded Malea, and sent me drifting past Cythera.*
  • 82     'For nine days after this I was borne along by deadly winds
  • 83over the fish-rich deep; and on the tenth day we reached
  • 84the land of the Lotus-eaters, who feed on a flowery food.
  • 85There we went ashore and drew water, and my companions
  • 86lost no time in making their supper beside the swift ships.
  • 87When we had had our fill of eating and drinking I sent
  • 88some of my companions to go and find out what kind
  • 89of men, what eaters of bread, lived in this land, choosing
  • 90two and sending a third to accompany them as herald.
  • 91Without more ado they set off, and found themselves among
  • 92the Lotus-eaters. So far from plotting destruction for our
  • 93companions, these people gave them some lotus to taste;
  • 94and whoever of them ate the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus,
  • 95no longer wished to come back and to bring us a report,
  • 96but preferred to remain there with the Lotus-eaters,
  • 97browsing on the fruit and forgetting their journey home.*
  • 98These I forcibly brought back, weeping, to the hollow ships,
  • 99dragged them aboard, and tied them up under the benches.
  • 100Then I gave orders to the rest of my trusty companions
  • 101to make haste and go on board the swift ships, in case
  • 102anyone else should eat the lotus and forget his homecoming.
  • 103They quickly embarked and took their seats at their oarlocks,
  • 104and sitting in rows they struck the grey sea with their oars.
  • 105     'From there we sailed on, grieving in our hearts, and came
  • 106to the land of the Cyclopes,* arrogant and lawless beings,
  • 107who, leaving all responsibility to the immortal gods,
  • 108do not set their hands to planting crops or to ploughing.
  • 109Everything grows unsown, from fields that are untilled:
  • 110wheat and barley and vines that give wine in rich grape-
  • 111clusters, and the rain from Zeus swells the fruit for them.
  • 112The Cyclopes have no counsel-forming assemblies, nor
  • 113any established laws, but live in hollow caverns on high
  • pg 112114mountain peaks, and each man makes laws for his women
  • 115and children; and they have no interest at all in one another.
  • 116     'Now, there is a low island lying off the harbour of
  • 117the Cyclopes' land, neither near nor far away from it,
  • 118and wooded. It is the home of countless goats, wild
  • 119ones, for the footsteps of men do not trouble them,
  • 120nor do hunters visit it—hunters who live a hard life,
  • 121pursuing their quarry over woods and mountain peaks.
  • 122The island is not given over to flocks or to arable land,
  • 123and for all time remains unsown and unploughed, free
  • 124from men's presence and feeding only its bleating goats.
  • 125The Cyclopes, you see, have no crimson-cheeked ships,
  • 126nor are there shipwrights among them, men who could
  • 127build strong-benched vessels so as to reach other men's
  • 128cities and answer all the needs for which people often
  • 129cross the sea in ships, to meet one another. Men such as
  • 130these could have made this island a good place to settle,
  • 131for it is by no means a poor land, and could bear everything
  • 132in season. There are meadows along the shore of the grey
  • 133sea, soft and well-watered, where grapes would never fail.
  • 134There is level land for ploughing; one could reap a good crop
  • 135every year in season, for there is a rich tilth below the surface.
  • 136There is a good harbour, with no need for mooring-cables,
  • 137nor to drop anchor-stones or make fast with stern-ropes,
  • 138for a man has simply to beach his ship and wait until
  • 139the sailors' spirit moves them and favourable breezes blow.
  • 140At the head of the harbour a stream of bright water flows,
  • 141running from a spring deep in a cave; and around it grow
  • 142poplars. It was there that we stood in, and some god guided us
  • 143through the murky night, for there was no light to see;
  • 144a thick mist surrounded the ship, and there was no moon
  • 145shining from the high sky, for it was enveloped in clouds.
  • 146There was no one whose eyes could make out the island,
  • 147nor were we able to see the long breakers rolling on to
  • 148the beach, until we ran our strongly benched ships ashore.
  • 149When we had beached them we lowered all the sails,
  • 150and disembarked at the place where the breakers reached.
  • 151There we fell asleep and waited for the bright Dawn.
  • 152     'When early-born Dawn with her rosy fingers appeared
  • pg 113153we ranged all over the island, amazed at what we saw.
  • 154Nymphs, daughters of Zeus who wields the aegis, started
  • 155some mountain goats so that my companions might eat;
  • 156at once we fetched our curved bows and long-socketed hunting-
  • 157spears from the ships, and dividing ourselves into three parties,
  • 158we began to shoot; and a god soon sent us an abundant bag.
  • 159Twelve ships had accompanied me, and to each one nine goats
  • 160fell as their portion; but for me alone they picked out ten.
  • 161And so, all day long until the setting of the sun, we sat there,
  • 162feasting on boundless quantities of meat and sweet wine;
  • 163the red wine in our ships had not yet given out, and there
  • 164was still some remaining, for each ship had drawn off
  • 165plenty in jars when we sacked the sacred city of the Cicones.
  • 166We looked out at the land of the Cyclopes lying nearby,
  • 167and saw smoke and heard the bleating of sheep and goats.
  • 168When the sun went down and darkness came over us we
  • 169settled ourselves for sleep where the sea's breakers reach.
  • 170     'When early-born Dawn with her rosy fingers appeared,
  • 171then I called an assembly and addressed everyone:
  • 172"My trusty companions; the rest of you now stay here,
  • 173while I go in my ship, together with my companions,
  • 174and find out about these men, to see who they are,
  • 175if they are violent and uncivilized, and given to wrongdoing,
  • 176or are hospitable, and there is in them a god-fearing disposition."
  • 177     'So I spoke, and boarded my ship, and gave orders to my
  • 178companions to embark as well and cast off the stern-ropes.
  • 179Without more ado they went on board and sat at their oarlocks,
  • 180and sitting in rows they struck the grey sea with their oars.
  • 181When we reached the agreed place, which lay close by,
  • 182there on a promontory we saw a cave next to the sea,
  • 183high up and overhung with bay-trees; here great flocks of
  • 184sheep and goats would spend the night, and around the cave
  • 185a high-walled yard was constructed with deep-bedded
  • 186stones, the trunks of tall pine-trees, and high-leaved oaks.
  • 187Here a monstrous man spent his nights, one who pastured
  • 188his flocks on his own, away from everyone else; he had no
  • 189dealings with others, but lived apart with his lawless thoughts.
  • 190And indeed he was a monstrous, amazing sight, not at all
  • 191like men who eat bread, but more like a wooded peak that
  • pg 114192stands out alone on lofty mountains, distant from the rest.
  • 193     'At this point I ordered the rest of my trusty companions
  • 194to wait there beside the ship and mount guard over it,
  • 195while I chose the twelve who were the best of them, and
  • 196set off. I had with me a goatskin filled with dark, sweet
  • 197wine which Maron, the son of Euanthes, priest of
  • 198Apollo who stands guard over Ismarus,* had given me
  • 199because we had protected him with his son and wife,
  • 200out of respect, for he lived in a grove of trees sacred to
  • 201Phoebus Apollo. He presented me with splendid gifts:
  • 202seven talents of skilfully worked gold he gave me,
  • 203and a mixing-bowl that was made of solid silver,
  • 204and then he drew off sweet, unmixed wine into jars,
  • 205twelve in all; it was a divine drink. Not a single servant
  • 206in his house, man or woman, knew of this wine, but
  • 207only he himself knew, his wife, and one housekeeper.
  • 208When he drank this red, honey-sweet wine, he would
  • 209fill one cup and add twenty measures of water;* and when
  • 210he poured it an amazingly sweet fragrance rose from
  • 211the mixing-bowl; and then no one wanted to hold back.
  • 212I filled a great wineskin with this drink, and also put
  • 213provisions in a bag, for my proud spirit had a foreboding
  • 214that we were going to meet a man clothed in huge strength,
  • 215a savage with no understanding of either justice or laws.
  • 216     'Quickly we reached the cave, but did not find him at home,
  • 217because he was tending his fat flocks out in his pastures.
  • 218We went into the cave, and looked wonderingly at everything.
  • 219There were baskets heavy with cheeses, and folds crowded
  • 220with lambs and kids; each kind was penned separately, the
  • 221firstlings on their own, the later-born on their own, and the
  • 222newly weaned on their own; and all his well-made vessels,
  • 223the pails and bowls he used for milking into, were brimming
  • 224with whey. At first, my companions begged me to take
  • 225some of the cheeses and then go back and waste no
  • 226time in driving some lambs and kids from their pens down
  • 227to the swift ship, and after that to set sail over the salt sea.
  • 228I was not persuaded—though it would have been much better—
  • 229as I wanted to see him, hoping he might give me presents; but
  • 230when he did appear my crew found him anything but pleasant.
  • pg 115231     'We lit a fire and made an offering, helped ourselves to some
  • 232cheeses and ate; then we sat down in the cave and waited.
  • 233When he came back, driving his flocks, he was carrying a
  • 234huge load of dry wood to serve him at supper time, and
  • 235after entering the cave he threw this down with a crash.
  • 236We were terrified, and scuttled away into the cave's recesses.
  • 237After this he drove all those of his fat flocks he was milking
  • 238into the wide cave, while he left the males—the rams and
  • 239billy-goats—beyond the door, outside in the high-walled yard.
  • 240Then he heaved up a huge rock and used it to block the door:
  • 241a massy thing, one that not even twenty-two good four-
  • 242wheeled carts could have shifted it from the ground, so
  • 243massive was the steepling rock he set over the doorway.
  • 244Then he sat and began to milk his ewes and bleating goats,
  • 245all in due order, and under each mother he put her young.
  • 246Half of the white milk he curdled straightaway, and then
  • 247collected the whey and set it aside in woven baskets;
  • 248and half he left to stand where it was in the pails, so that
  • 249it might be there for him to drink when he ate his supper.
  • 250When he had finished busying himself with his tasks
  • 251he lit the fire and caught sight of us, and demanded:
  • 252"Strangers, who are you? Where have you sailed from, over
  • 253the watery ways? Are you after some business, or do you
  • 254roam on chance, like pirates who range over the sea, risking
  • 255their lives and bringing ruin to people in foreign lands?"
  • 256     'So he spoke, and the hearts in us were shattered, terrified
  • 257as we were by the huge size of the man and his rumbling voice.
  • 258Even so, I answered him, addressing him in these words:
  • 259     ' "We are Achaeans, on our way from Troy, driven off course
  • 260by all the winds there are over the great gulf of the deep.
  • 261We are making for home, but have taken the wrong way
  • 262and the wrong course; this I suppose was Zeus' favoured plan.
  • 263We claim to be the war-band of Agamemnon, Atreus' son,
  • 264whose fame is now the greatest there is under the high sky,
  • 265because he sacked that great city and killed many people.
  • 266And now in turn we chance to come as suppliants at your
  • 267knees, hoping you will offer us hospitality, or else give us
  • 268the kind of present that is customary between host and guest.
  • 269So, master, show the gods respect; we are your suppliants,
  • pg 116270and Zeus is the protector of suppliants and strangers, the
  • 271guest-champion who attends strangers; they deserve respect."
  • 272     'So I spoke, and he at once answered me from his ruthless heart:
  • 273"You are a fool, stranger, or you have come from very far away,
  • 274if you tell me to fear the gods or seek to avoid their anger.
  • 275We Cyclopes care not one jot for Zeus who wields the aegis,
  • 276nor for the blessed gods, since we are much stronger than them;
  • 277for my part, I would spare neither you nor your companions
  • 278just to escape Zeus' enmity, unless I was so inclined. But
  • 279tell me where you moored your well-made ship when you came;
  • 280was it somewhere far away, or nearby? I should like to know."
  • 281     'So he spoke, testing me, but I am a wise fellow and he did not
  • 282fool me, and I returned an answer to him in cunning words:
  • 283"As for my ship, Poseidon shaker of the earth has shattered it;
  • 284the wind drove us from the sea, and forced it against a headland,
  • 285hurling it onto rocks at the far limit of your country.
  • 286But I and these men here managed to escape sheer destruction."
  • 287     'So I spoke, and he in his pitiless heart made no reply, but
  • 288started up and, stretching out his hands towards my companions,
  • 289seized two of them as if they were puppies and beat their heads
  • 290on the ground; and their brains ran out and drenched the earth.
  • 291He then tore them limb from limb, and so prepared his supper;
  • 292he ate like a lion bred in the mountains, leaving nothing
  • 293behind, neither flesh nor entrails nor marrow-filled bones.
  • 294Meanwhile we, weeping, held up our hands to Zeus at the
  • 295sight of such cruel deeds; but helplessness gripped our hearts.
  • 296When the Cyclops had filled his vast belly with this meal
  • 297of human flesh, washing it down with unwatered milk,
  • 298he lay down in his cave, sprawled out among his flocks.
  • 299Then I pondered in my great-spirited heart whether I should
  • 300draw the sharp sword from beside my thigh and approach him,
  • 301feeling with my hand for where the midriff lies next to the liver,
  • 302and stab him in the chest. But a second thought restrained me;
  • 303we too would then have died a dreadful death in the cave,
  • 304since we would have been unable to use our hands to shift
  • 305the huge stone with which he had blocked the high doorway.
  • 306So, groaning, we resolved to wait for the bright Dawn to come.
  • 307     'When early-born Dawn with her rosy fingers appeared, the
  • 308Cyclops stirred up the fire and set about milking his famed
  • pg 117309flocks, all in due order, and under each mother he put her
  • 310young. When he had finished busying himself with his tasks
  • 311he once again seized two of my men and prepared his meal;
  • 312and when he had eaten he drove his fat flocks out of the cave,
  • 313easily pushing aside the huge door-stone; but then he set it
  • 314back in place, just like a man putting the lid on to a quiver.
  • 315Whistling loudly, he drove his fat flocks towards the mountain,
  • 316and I was left behind, plotting evil deeds deep in my mind,
  • 317how I might pay him back, if Athena answered my prayer.
  • 318And this seemed to my mind to be the best plan: beside
  • 319the Cyclops' fold there lay a massive club of green
  • 320olive-wood, which he had cut down to carry when it was
  • 321seasoned. As we looked at it, we guessed it to be as tall
  • 322as the mast of a twenty-oared black ship, a broad-bottomed
  • 323merchantman, of the kind that crosses the sea's great deep;
  • 324so prodigious was its length and thickness as we gazed at it.
  • 325I went and stood beside this and cut off about a fathom's
  • 326length and gave it to my companions, with orders to trim it.
  • 327They made it smooth, and I stood by them and sharpened
  • 328it to a point, which I then hardened in the fire's embers.
  • 329This done, I hid it with great care, concealing it under the
  • 330dung that was spread in vast quantities throughout the cave.
  • 331Next, I ordered the others to cast lots to see which of them
  • 332would have the courage to lift the stake up with me and grind
  • 333it in the Cyclops' eye when sweet sleep had come upon him.
  • 334And the lots fell to the very men I myself would have
  • 335chosen; four of them, and I with them made up the fifth.
  • 336     'Evening came and the Cyclops with it, herding his fleecy
  • 337flocks; he quickly drove the fat beasts into the wide cave,
  • 338all of them, leaving not one outside in the high-walled yard—
  • 339either suspecting something, or a god might have warned him.
  • 340Then he picked up the huge door-stone and put it back, and
  • 341sitting down set about milking his ewes and bleating she-goats,
  • 342all in due order, and under each mother he put her young.
  • 343When he had finished busying himself with his tasks,
  • 344he once again seized two of my men and prepared his meal.
  • 345This time I stood next to the Cyclops and addressed him,
  • 346holding in my hands an ivy-patterned bowl full of dark wine:
  • 347"Here, Cyclops, you have eaten human meat; now drink some
  • pg 118348wine, and learn what kind of drink we have stored in our ship.
  • 349I brought it for you as an offering, hoping you would have
  • 350pity and send me home; but your cruel madness is intolerable.
  • 351Hard man! How can you expect anyone else to visit you
  • 352after this? What you have done is against all that is right."
  • 353     'So I spoke, and he took the wine and drank it down, greatly
  • 354pleased with the sweet wine, and asked for a second bowlful:
  • 355"Be good enough to give me some more, and tell me your
  • 356name, now, so that I may give you a gift that will please you.
  • 357I must tell you, the grain-giving soil bears full-bodied wine
  • 358for the Cyclopes, and the rain from Zeus swells the grapes;
  • 359but this drink is an outpouring of nectar and ambrosia."
  • 360     'So he spoke, and I gave him a second cup of gleaming wine.
  • 361Three times I fetched and gave it, and three times in his folly
  • 362he drained the bowl. Only when the wine had stolen round
  • 363his wits did I address him, speaking in beguiling words:
  • 364"Do you ask me my name, Cyclops? Well, I shall tell you,
  • 365and then you must give me the present that you promised.
  • 366No-man is my name, and No-man is what my mother
  • 367and father call me, and all my companions as well."
  • 368     'So I spoke, and at once he answered from his ruthless heart:
  • 369"Then I shall eat No-man last of all his comrades, and
  • 370the others first. That shall be my guest-present for you."
  • 371     'So he spoke, and falling backwards lay there on his back,
  • 372his thick neck twisted to one side; and sleep, tamer of all,
  • 373overpowered him. Heavy with wine, he vomited, and from his
  • 374throat poured a stream of wine and gobbets of human flesh.
  • 375     'Then it was that I drove the stake under a great heap of ash
  • 376to make it hot, and spoke encouragingly to all my men,
  • 377to make sure that no one would hold back through fear.
  • 378When the olive-wood stake was on the point of catching fire
  • 379in the embers, green though it was, and was glowing fiercely,
  • 380I went up and pulled it from the fire, while my companions
  • 381stood round me. Some god breathed great daring into them:
  • 382they lifted up the olive-stake, sharpened to a point, and
  • 383thrust it into his eye, while I, leaning my weight from above,
  • 384kept twisting it. As when a man bores ship-timber with a
  • 385drill, and those below him keep it turning with a leather
  • 386strap, held at both ends, and it runs without ceasing;
  • pg 119387so we set our hands to the fire-hardened stake, twisting it
  • 388to and fro in his eye, and the hot blood flowed round it.
  • 389The fierce heat scorched the eyelids and brows around
  • 390his burning eyeball, and its roots crackled in the fire.
  • 391As when a blacksmith plunges a great axe or an adze
  • 392into cold water to temper it, causing it to hiss loudly—
  • 393for this is the treatment that gives the iron its strength—
  • 394so the Cyclops' eye sizzled around the olive-wood stake.
  • 395He let out a terrible howl, and the rock echoed around,
  • 396and we scuttled back in terror. The Cyclops seized
  • 397the stake, befouled with copious gouts of blood, and tore
  • 398it out of his eye, and in a frenzy flung it away from him.
  • 399He gave a great roar, calling out to the other Cyclopes
  • 400who lived round about in caves along the windy heights,
  • 401and they heard his shouts and arrived from all directions.
  • 402Standing round his cave they asked what troubled him:
  • 403"What on earth afflicts you, Polyphemus, to make you bawl
  • 404like this through the immortal night, interrupting our sleep?
  • 405Surely no mortal* is driving off your flocks against your will?
  • 406Surely no one is trying to kill you, by trickery or by force?"
  • 407Then the mighty Polyphemus answered them from his cave:
  • 408"My friends, No-man is killing me—by trickery, not by force."
  • 409     'Then in turn they answered him, speaking in winged words:
  • 410"Well, if no man is using force on you, and you are alone,
  • 411the sickness that comes from great Zeus cannot be avoided.
  • 412Your best course now is to pray to your father, lord Poseidon."
  • 413     'So they spoke and departed, and I laughed in my heart, because
  • 414the excellent ruse of my "No-man" name had deceived him.
  • 415     'Now the Cyclops was groaning in agonized torment; feeling
  • 416for the rock with his hands, he pushed it from the doorway
  • 417and then sat down in the opening and stretched out both arms,
  • 418to see if he could catch anyone getting out with his sheep;
  • 419I suppose he thought in his heart that I would be so foolish.
  • 420Meanwhile I was weighing up how to find the best course,
  • 421to see if I could discover some escape from death, for myself
  • 422and for my companions. I kept weaving all kinds of trickery
  • 423and scheming, for great danger loomed and our lives were
  • 424at stake. This seemed to me in my heart to be the best plan:
  • 425there were some well-fed rams with thick fleeces, splendid
  • pg 120426large creatures, whose wool was violet-dark; these I tied
  • 427together in silence with the well-twisted withies on which
  • 428the monstrous, lawless-minded Cyclops used to sleep.
  • 429I chose them in threes: the one in the middle carried a man,
  • 430and the other two sheltered my companions on either side.
  • 431So each man was carried by three rams. When it came
  • 432to my turn, there was a ram which was by far the best in
  • 433all his flocks. I grasped its back, and curling up beneath
  • 434its shaggy belly I lay there; turned face up, without letting
  • 435go, I held on with persevering spirit to its amazing fleece.
  • 436And so, groaning, we all waited for the bright Dawn.
  • 437     'When early-born Dawn with her rosy fingers appeared, the
  • 438male beasts began to push out towards the pasture, while
  • 439the ewes and nannies bleated, unmilked, about the pens,
  • 440their udders ready to burst. Their master, worn out by his
  • 441bitter pangs, kept feeling along the backs of all the sheep
  • 442when they stopped—not realizing, the fool, that men were
  • 443lashed under the bellies of his thick-fleeced sheep. The last
  • 444of his flock to pass through the door was my ram, cumbered
  • 445by its woolly fleece and me with my cunning stratagem.
  • 446Mighty Polyphemus felt along its back and spoke to it:
  • 447"My favourite ram! Why are you the last of my flocks to
  • 448leave the cave? Never in the past have you lagged behind
  • 449the others, but were easily the first to stride boldly off to feed
  • 450on tender shoots of grass, first to reach the river's streams,
  • 451and first to make your way back eagerly to the fold of an
  • 452evening; but now you are the last. Can you be grieving for
  • 453your master's eye, that a cowardly man and his vile friends
  • 454have robbed of its sight, after fuddling my wits with wine?
  • 455I mean No-man, who I declare has not yet escaped ruin.
  • 456If only you could think as I do, and had the power of speech,
  • 457to tell me where that man is now skulking from my anger!
  • 458I would give him such a beating! His brains would splash all
  • 459over my cave's floor, and my heart would find some relief
  • 460from the travails which that worthless No-man has brought me!"
  • 461So he spoke, and sent the ram on its way through the door.
  • 462     'When we had gone a little way from the cave and the yard,
  • 463I first freed myself from the ram, and then untied my friends.
  • 464Then, with many a backward glance, we quickly drove on the
  • pg 121465long-striding flocks, rich with fat, until we reached our ship.
  • 466We who had escaped death were a welcome sight to our dear
  • 467companions, though they began to weep and wail for the rest; but
  • 468I stopped their lamenting, with a gesture of my head and brows
  • 469to each man. Instead, I told them to be quick to load the flock
  • 470of fine-fleeced beasts into the ship and set sail on the salt sea.
  • 471Without more ado they went on board and sat at their oarlocks,
  • 472and sitting in rows they struck the grey sea with their oars.
  • 473When we were as far away as a man's voice can carry when
  • 474he shouts, I addressed the Cyclops with jeering words:
  • 475"Cyclops, he was not after all a spiritless man whose friends
  • 476you meant to beat down and eat in your hollow cave!
  • 477Hard man, your wicked deeds were all too likely to catch up
  • 478with you, because you did not scruple to dine on guests in your
  • 479own house. And so Zeus and the other gods have punished you."
  • 480     'So I spoke, and his heart now became even more enraged.
  • 481He broke off the peak of a huge mountain and hurled it at us,
  • 482so that it fell in front of our dark-prowed ship, missing by just
  • 483a little distance, and nearly reaching the tip of the steering-oar;
  • 484and as the rock plunged in, the sea was churned up around it.
  • 485The backwash from this wave, rolling in from the open sea,
  • 486carried the ship towards land and drove us close to the shore;
  • 487but I seized a long pole in my hands and shoved us off, and
  • 488urging on my companions with nods of my head, I ordered them
  • 489to bend to their oars and so make sure that we would escape
  • 490destruction; and they leaned into their task and began to row.
  • 491When we had covered twice the distance over the sea that we
  • 492had gone before, I was going to hail the Cyclops, but from all
  • 493over the ship my crew tried to restrain me with calming words:
  • 494"Hard man, why would you want to provoke this savage?
  • 495He has only just thrown a rock into the sea and forced our
  • 496ship back to land, and we really thought it was all up with us.
  • 497If he had heard any of us crying out or speaking he would have
  • 498flung another jagged boulder, and smashed our heads and
  • 499our ship's timbers to smithereens; he has a very long throw."
  • 500     'So they spoke, but they did not persuade my great-hearted spirit.
  • 501Once again I addressed him, with a heart full of bitter rage:
  • 502"Cyclops, if anyone among men who are doomed to die
  • 503questions you about the shameful blinding of your eye, tell
  • pg 122504him it was Odysseus, sacker of cities, who took your sight—
  • 505Odysseus, son of Laertes, who has his home in Ithaca."
  • 506     'So I spoke, and he groaned and answered in these words:
  • 507"Ah, so that ancient prophecy has now come true for me!
  • 508There was once a prophet in our land, a valiant and mighty man,
  • 509Telemus, the son of Eurymus, a man supreme in seercraft,
  • 510who grew old among the Cyclopes in the exercise of prophecy.
  • 511This man told me that all this would one day be fulfilled,
  • 512that I would be robbed of my sight at the hands of Odysseus.
  • 513I had always expected it would be some big, handsome man
  • 514who would come here, someone clothed in great courage;
  • 515but it turned out to be a puny, insignificant weakling who
  • 516deprived me of my sight, after overpowering me with wine.
  • 517So come here, Odysseus, so that I can give you your presents,
  • 518and also urge the famed earthshaker to send you safely home.
  • 519I am his son, you know, and he is proud to be called my father.
  • 520He alone, and no one else, will heal me, if he so wishes;
  • 521it will not be another of the blessed gods, nor any mortal man."
  • 522     'So he spoke, and I addressed him in answer: "I wish
  • 523I had the power to deprive you of your life and breath
  • 524and send you down to Hades, as surely as there is no one
  • 525who will heal your eye, no, not even the shaker of the earth."
  • 526     'So I spoke, and straightaway he prayed to lord Poseidon,
  • 527stretching out both his hands to the starry high sky:
  • 528"Hear me, Poseidon, earth-encircler, dark-haired god!
  • 529If I really am your son, and you are proud to be my father,
  • 530grant that Odysseus, son of Laertes, sacker of cities,
  • 531whose home is in Ithaca, may never reach his homeland.
  • 532But if it is his fate to come to his well-founded house in his
  • 533own land, and see his loved ones again, may he arrive there
  • 534late, and in a wretched state, after losing all his companions,
  • 535in a foreigner's ship; and may he find disorder in his house."
  • 536     'So he spoke in prayer, and the dark-haired god heard him.
  • 537Once again the Cyclops hefted a rock, an even bigger one;
  • 538whirling round he flung it, forcing enormous strength into
  • 539the throw, so that it fell short of our dark-prowed ship
  • 540by just a little, nearly reaching the tip of the steering-oar.
  • 541As the rock fell the sea was churned up around it, and the
  • 542swell carried the ship onward, driving it on to the shore ahead.
  • pg 123543When we reached the island, where our other well-benched
  • 544ships were waiting gathered together, and round them our
  • 545companions were sitting desolate, watching constantly for us,
  • 546we guided our ship in and beached it on the sands; then we
  • 547disembarked at the place where the sea's breakers reach, and
  • 548drove the Cyclops' sheep ashore from the hollow ship, and
  • 549apportioned them; and I made sure that no one lacked his share.
  • 550As for the ram, when the sheep were being shared out my well-
  • 551greaved crew presented it to me as a special gift. I sacrificed
  • 552it on the seashore to Cronus' son, Zeus of the dark clouds,
  • 553ruler of all men, and burnt the thigh-bones; but he did not
  • 554receive the offering, musing instead how to wreck my well-
  • 555benched ships, every one, and my trusty companions with them.
  • 556And so, all day long until the setting of the sun, we sat there,
  • 557feasting on boundless quantities of meat and sweet wine.
  • 558When the sun went down and darkness came over us we
  • 559settled ourselves for sleep where the sea's breakers reach;
  • 560and when early-born Dawn with her rosy fingers appeared,
  • 561then I roused my companions and gave them orders
  • 562to embark in the ships and cast off their stern-cables.
  • 563Without more ado they went on board and sat at their oarlocks,
  • 564and sitting in rows struck the grey salt sea with their oars.
  • 565     'From there we sailed on, grieving in our hearts, glad
  • 566to have escaped death but having lost our dear companions.

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
Odysseus reveals his identity and begins his story (1–38). Starting from Troy with twelve ships, he and his companions raid the Cicones in Thrace, but Odysseus' crew ignore his orders to leave, leading to the loss of many men (39–61). A storm brings them to the land of the Lotus-eaters, where some eat the fruit of forgetfulness and have to be forced back on board (62–104). Reaching the land of the Cyclopes, they disembark on a nearby island, where they hunt and feast (105–69). Odysseus organizes a scouting party of twelve men and they enter the cave of Polyphemus, who is not at home. Odysseus' men urge him to leave immediately, but he foolishly ignores them, hoping for guest-gifts from the Cyclops (170–230). Polyphemus returns, blocking the cave entrance with a huge rock, and when Odysseus supplicates him to remember the respect due to guests, the Cyclops kills and eats two of Odysseus' crew for supper (231–306). With more men eaten for breakfast and dinner the next day, Odysseus hatches a plan: he gets Polyphemus drunk and tells him his name is 'No-man'; the Cyclops falls into a drunken stupor, and Odysseus and his men blind him with a heated wooden stake; when the other Cyclopes ask what the problem is, Polyphemus replies 'No-man is killing me' and the Cyclopes simply go away (307–414). To escape from the cave Odysseus clings to the belly of Polyphemus' favourite ram, having tied his men beneath some others, and they wait for the animals to be sent out to graze (416–61). As they sail off, Odysseus taunts Polyphemus repeatedly, ignoring his men's attempts to restrain him, and rashly reveals his name, which enables Polyphemus to pray to his father Poseidon for vengeance (462–535). Returning to the nearby island where his ships are stationed, Odysseus prays in vain to Zeus for a safe voyage, and they sail away, lamenting their lost comrades (536–66).
Editor’s Note
26 the sun's rising: the poet's knowledge of the Ionian islands is vague, since Ithaca is neither low (it has high peaks) nor the most westerly. Scholars ancient and modern have tried to map these names onto the islands in the region, but there is no reason to expect geographical precision in a poem of this kind. Homer's description is fictional, even if inspired by the island we know as Ithaca.
Editor’s Note
39 Cicones: allies of the Trojans from Ismarus in Thrace.
Editor’s Note
81 Cythera: see note to 8.288. This is the last real place to be mentioned, as Odysseus is now blown off the historical map into the realm of fantasy.
Editor’s Note
97 forgetting their journey home: the story-pattern (if one eats a certain food, one cannot return to normal life) is found in many cultures. Here the lotus plant threatens Odysseus' entire mission, namely his return to family and kingdom.
Editor’s Note
106 the Cyclopes: savage one-eyed giants, with (at least in Polyphemus' case) a penchant for cheese.
Editor’s Note
198 Ismarus: Maron was evidently spared by Odysseus during the raid on the Cicones (see 9.39–40).
Editor’s Note
209 twenty measures of water: ancient Greeks drank their wine diluted, usually one or two parts wine to three parts water, so Maron's wine is exceptionally strong, making it well suited to its eventual purpose (intoxicating the Cyclops).
Editor’s Note
405 no mortal: there is an ingenious pun in the Greek here, since the expression used by the Cyclopes for 'no mortal' and 'no one' is 'mē tis', which evokes 'mē tis', i.e. guile or cunning, one of the core characteristics of 'Odysseus, man of many wiles' (polymētis Odysseus). Odysseus has called himself Outis (No-man/Nobody), and Polyphemus lacks the verbal wit to evade his trap.
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