Reluctantly, Odysseus tells the Phaeacians the sorry tale of his wanderings. From Troy, the winds sweep him and his men to Ismarus, city of the Cicones. The men plunder the land and, carried away by greed, stay until the reinforced ranks of the Cicones turn on them and attack. Odysseus and his crew finally escape, having lost six men per ship. A storm sent by Zeus sweeps them along for nine days before bringing them to the land of the Lotus-eaters, where the natives give some of Odysseus’s men the intoxicating fruit of the lotus. As soon as they eat this fruit, they lose all thoughts of home and long for nothing more than to stay there eating more fruit. Only by dragging his men back to the ship and locking them up can Odysseus get them off the island.
Odysseus and his men then sail through the murky night to the land of the Cyclops, a rough and uncivilized race of one-eyed giants. After making a meal of wild goats captured on an island offshore, they cross to the mainland. There they immediately come upon a cave full of sheep and crates of milk and cheese. The men advise Odysseus to snatch some of the food and hurry off, but, to his and his crew’s detriment, he decides to linger. The cave’s inhabitant soon returns—it is the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Polyphemus makes a show of hospitality at first, but he soon turns hostile. He devours two of Odysseus’s men on the spot and imprisons Odysseus and the rest in his cave for future meals.
Odysseus wants to take his sword to Polyphemus right then, but he knows that only Polyphemus is strong enough to move the rock that he has placed across the door of his cave. Odysseus thus devises and executes a plan. The next day, while Polyphemus is outside pasturing his sheep, Odysseus finds a wooden staff in the cave and hardens it in the fire. When Polyphemus returns, Odysseus gets him drunk on wine that he brought along from the ship. Feeling jovial, Polyphemus asks Odysseus his name. Odysseus replies that his name is “Nobody” (
Odysseus’s eventual revelation of his identity to Polyphemus ultimately proves foolish, and, because it embodies a lack of foresight, stands in stark contrast to the cunning prudence that Odysseus displays in his plan to escape from the cave. Though his anger at Polyphemus for devouring his shipmates is certainly understandable, and though Polyphemus’s blind rock-throwing fury eggs him on, Odysseus’s taunts are unnecessary. By telling Polyphemus his name, Odysseus pits his mortal indignation against Poseidon’s divine vengeance. This act of hubris, or excessive pride, ensures almost automatically that Odysseus will suffer grave consequences. Indeed, his eventual punishment costs him dearly: Poseidon’s anger wipes away the very thing that he gains by cleverly obscuring his name—the safety of his men.
The form that Odysseus’s revelation of his identity takes is interesting, as it represents the cultural values of ancient Greece. Odysseus doesn’t simply utter his name; rather, he attaches to it an epithet, or short, descriptive title (“raider of cities”), his immediate paternal ancestry (“Laertes’s son”), and a reference to his homeland (“who makes his home in Ithaca”) (
For all of his stupidity and brutishness, Polyphemus strikes some commentators as vaguely sympathetic at the end of Book
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