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The Odyssey

Homer
Summary

Key Questions and Answers

Summary Key Questions and Answers

2) How does Odysseus escape Polyphemus?

The cyclops Polyphemus traps Odysseus and his men in a cave, behind an enormous rock. Only the cyclops is strong enough to move the rock, so Odysseus can’t escape. Instead, Odysseus hatches a plan. While the cyclops is out with his sheep, Odysseus sharpens a piece of wood into a stake and hardens it in the fire. Next, he gives the cyclops wine to get him drunk, and he tells the cyclops his name is “Nobody.” When the cyclops falls asleep, Odysseus blinds him with the hardened stake. Polyphemus’ screams summon the other cyclops, but when he shouts “Nobody’s killing me!” they go away again. In the morning, the cyclops must let his sheep out to graze. He feels the sheep as they leave, to make sure his prisoners aren’t escaping too, but Odysseus and his men are clinging to the sheep’s bellies. Odysseus’s escape from Polyphemus demonstrates his main character trait: a gift for tactics and trickery. It’s significant that Odysseus’s stratagem requires him to conceal his reputation and identify himself as “Nobody.” The Odyssey explores the nature of identity and the tension between a person’s reputation in the world and who he is in his inner life.