Gateway to the Classics: The Odyssey by Jeanie Lang
The Odyssey by  Jeanie Lang

How Odysseus Came To The Land Of The Cyclopes, And His Adventures There

On and on across the waves sailed the dark-prowed ships of Odysseus, until again they came to land.

It was the Land of the Cyclopes, a savage and lawless people, who never planted, nor ploughed, nor sowed, and whose fields yet gave them rich harvests of wheat and of barley, and vines with heavy clusters of grapes. In deep caves, high up on the hills, these people dwelt, and each man ruled his own wife and children, but himself knew no ruler.

Outside the harbour of the Land of the Cyclopes lay a thickly wooded island. No hunters went there, for the Cyclopes owned neither ships nor boats, so that many goats roamed unharmed through the woods and cropped the fresh green grass.

It was a green and pleasant land. Rich meadows stretched down to the sea, the vines grew strong and fruitful, and there was a fair harbour where ships might be run right on to the beach. At the head of the harbour was a well of clear water flowing out of a cave, and with poplars growing around it. Thither Odysseus directed his ships. It was dark night, with no moon to guide, and mist lay deep on either side, yet they passed the breakers and rolling surf without knowing it, and anchored safely on the beach.

All night they slept, and when rosy dawn came they explored the island and slew with their bows and long spears many of the wild goats of the woods.

All the livelong day Odysseus and his men sat and feasted. As they ate and drank, they looked across the water at the Land of the Cyclopes, where the smoke of wood fires curled up to the sky, and from whence they could hear the sound of men's voices and the bleating of sheep and goats. When darkness fell, they lay down to sleep on the sea-beach, and when morning dawned Odysseus called his men together and said to them: 'Stay here, all the rest of you, my dear companions, but I will go with my own ship and my ship's company and see what kind of men are those who dwell in this land across the harbour.'

So saying, he climbed into his ship, and his men rowed him across to the Land of the Cyclopes. When they were near the shore they saw a great cave by the sea. It was roofed in with green laurel boughs and seemed to be meant for a fold to shelter sheep and goats. Round about it a high outer wall was firmly built with stones, and with tall and leafy pines and oak trees.

In this cave, all alone with his flocks and herds, dwelt a huge and hideous one-eyed giant.

Polyphemus was his name, and his father was Poseidon, god of the sea.

Taking twelve of his best men with him, Odysseus left the others to guard the ship and sallied forth to the giant's cave. With him he carried a goatskin full of precious wine, dark red, and sweet and strong, and a large sack of corn.

Soon they came to the cave, but Polyphemus was not there. He had taken of his flocks to graze in the green meadows, leaving behind him in the cave folds full of lambs and kids. The walls of the cave were lined with cheeses, and there were great pans full of whey, and giant bowls full of milk.

'Let us first of all take the cheeses,' said the men of Odysseus to their king, 'and carry them, to the ships. Then let us return and drive all the kids and lambs from their folds down. to the shore, and sail with them in our swift ships homeward over the sea.'

But Odysseus would not listen to what they said. He was too great-hearted to steal into the cave like a thief and take away the giant's goods without first seeing whether Polyphemus might not treat him as a friend, receiving from him the corn and wine he had brought, and giving him gifts in return.

So they kindled a fire, and dined on some of the cheeses, and sat waiting for the giant to return.

Towards evening he came, driving his flocks before him, and carrying on his back a huge load of firewood, which he cast down on the floor with such a thunderous noise that Odysseus and his men fled in fear and hid themselves in the darkest corners of the cave. When he had driven his sheep inside, Polyphemus lifted from the ground a rock so huge that two—and—twenty four—wheeled wagons could not have borne it, and with it blocked the doorway. Then, sitting down, he milked the ewes and bleating goats, and placed the lambs and kids each beside its own mother.

Half of the milk he curdled and placed in wicker baskets to make into cheeses, and the other half he left in great pails to drink when he should have supper. When all this was done, he kindled a fire, and when the flames had lit up the dark-walled cave he spied Odysseus and his men.

'Strangers, who are ye?' he asked, in his great, rumbling voice. 'Whence sail ye over the watery ways? Are ye merchants? or are ye sea-robbers who rove over the sea, risking your own lives and bringing evil to other men?'

The sound of the giant's voice, and his hideous face filled the hearts of the men with terror, but Odysseus made answer 'From Troy we come, seeking our home, but driven hither by winds and waves. Men of Agamemnon, the renowned and most mightily victorious Greek general, are we, yet to thee we come and humbly beg for friendship.'

At this the giant, who had nothing but cruelty in his heart, mocked at Odysseus. 'Thou art a fool,' said he, 'and I shall not spare either thee or thy company. But tell me where thou didst leave thy good ship? Was it near here, or at the far end of the island?'

But Odysseus of the many counsels knew that the giant asked the question only to bring evil on the men who stayed by the ship, and so he answered: 'My ship was broken in pieces by the storm and cast up on the rocks on the shore, but I, with these my men, escaped from death.'

Not one word said Polyphemus in reply, but sprang up, clutched hold of two of the men, and dashed their brains out on the stone floor. Then he cut them up, and made ready his supper, eating the two men, bones and all, as if he had been a starving lion, and taking great draughts of the milk from the giant pails. When his meal was done, he stretched himself on the ground beside his sheep and goats, and slept.

In helpless horror Odysseus and his men had watched the dreadful sight, but when the monster slept they began to make plans for their escape. At first Odysseus thought it might be best to take his sharp sword and stab Polyphemus in the breast. But then he knew that even were he thus to slay the giant, he and his men must die. For strength was not left them to roll away the rock from the cave's mouth, and so they must perish like rats in a trap.

All night they thought what they should do, but could think of nought that would avail, and so they could only moan in their bitterness of heart and wait for the dawn. When dawn's rosy fingers touched the sky, Polyphemus awoke. He kindled a fire, and milked his flocks, and gave each ewe her lamb. When this work was done he snatched yet other two men, dashed their brains out, and made of them his morning meal. After the meal, he lifted the stone from the door, drove the flocks out, and set the stone back again. Then, with a loud shout, he turned his sheep and goats towards the hills and left Odysseus and his remaining eight men imprisoned in the cave, plotting and planning how to get away, and how to avenge the death of their comrades.

At last Odysseus thought of a plan. By the sheepfold there lay a huge club of green olive wood that Polyphemus had cut and was keeping until it should be dry enough to use as a staff. So huge was it that Odysseus and his men likened it to the mast of a great merchant vessel. From this club Odysseus cut a large piece and gave it to his men to fine down and make even. While they did this, Odysseus himself sharpened it to a point and hardened the point in the fire. When it was ready, they hid it amongst the rubbish on the floor of the cave. Then Odysseus made his men draw lots who should help him to lift this bar and drive it into the eye of the giant as he slept, and the lot fell upon the four men that Odysseus would himself have chosen.

In the evening Polyphemus came down from the hills with his flocks and drove them all inside the cave. Then he lifted the great doorstone and blocked the doorway, milked the ewes and goats, and gave each lamb and kid to its mother. This done, he seized other two of the men, dashed out their brains, and made ready his supper.

From the shadows of the cave Odysseus now stepped forward, bearing in his hands an ivy bowl, full of the dark red wine.

'Drink wine after thy feast of men's flesh,' said Odysseus, 'and see what manner of drink this was that our ship held.'

Polyphemus grasped the bowl, gulped down the strong wine, and smacked his great lips over its sweetness.

'Give me more,' he cried, 'and tell me thy name straightway, that I may give thee a gift. Mighty clusters of grapes do the vines of our land bear for us, but this is a rill of very nectar and ambrosia.'

Again Odysseus gave him the bowl full of wine, and yet again, until the strong wine went to the giant's head and made him stupid.

Then said Odysseus: 'Thou didst ask me my name, and didst say that thou wouldst give me a gift. Noman is my name, and Noman they call me, my father and mother and all my fellows.

Then answered the giant out of his pitiless heart: 'I will eat thy fellows first, Noman, and thee the last of all. That shall be thy gift.'

Soon the wine made him so sleepy that he sank backwards with his great face upturned and fell fast asleep.

As soon as the giant slept, Odysseus thrust into the fire the stake he had prepared, and made it red hot, all the while speaking cheeringly and comfortingly to his men. When it was so hot that the wood, green though it was, began to blaze, they drew it out and thrust it into the giant's eye. Round and round they whirled the fiery pike, as a man bores a hole in a plank, until the blood gushed out, and the eye frizzled and hissed, and the flames singed and burned the eyelids, and the eye was burned out. With a great and terrible cry the giant sprang to his feet, and Odysseus and the others fled from before him. From his eye he dragged the blazing pike, all dripping with his blood, and dashed it to the ground. Then, maddened with pain, he called with a great and terrible cry on the other Cyclopes, who dwelt in their caves on the hill-tops round which the wind swept. The giants, hearing his horrid yells, rushed to help him.

'What ails thee, Polyphemus?' they asked. 'Why dost thou cry aloud in the night and awake us from our sleep? Surely no one stealeth thy flocks? None slayeth thee by force or by craft.'

From the other side of the great stone moaned Polyphemus: 'Noman is slaying me by craft.' Then the Cyclopes said: 'If no man is hurting thee, then indeed it must be a sickness that makes thee cry so loud, and this thou must bear, for we cannot help.'

With that they strode away from the cave and left the blind giant groaning and raging with pain. Groping with his hands, he found the great stone that blocked the door, lifted it away, and sat himself down in the mouth of the cave, with his arms stretched out, hoping to catch Odysseus and his men if they should try to escape. Sitting there, he fell asleep, and, as soon as he slept, Odysseus planned and plotted how best to win freedom.

The rams of the giant's flocks were great strong beasts, with fleeces thick and woolly, and as dark as the violet. With twisted slips of willow Odysseus lashed every three of them together, and under the middle ram of each three he bound one of his men. For himself he kept the best ram of the flock, young and strong, and with a fleece wonder fully thick and shaggy. Underneath this ram Odysseus curled himself, and clung, face upwards, firmly grasping the wool with his hands. In this wise did he and his men wait patiently for the dawn.

When rosy dawn came, the ewes in the pens bleated to be milked, and the rams hastened out to the hills and green meadows. As each sheep passed him, Polyphemus felt along its back, but never guessed that the six remaining men of Odysseus were bound beneath the thick—fleeced rams. Last of all came the young ram to which Odysseus clung, moving slowly, for his fleece was heavy, and Odysseus whom he bore was heavier still. On the ram's back Polyphemus laid his great hands. Dear ram,' said he, 'once went thou the very first to lead the flocks from the cave, the first to nibble the tender buds of the pasture, the first to find out the running streams, and the first to come home when evening fell. But to-day thou art the very last to go. Surely thou art sorrowful because the wicked Noman hath destroyed my eye. I would thou couldst speak and tell me where Noman is hidden. Then should I seize him and gladly dash out his brains on the floor of the cave.'

Very, very still lay Odysseus while the giant spoke, but the ram slowly walked on past the savage giant, towards the meadows near the sea. Soon it was far enough from the cave for Odysseus to let go his hold and to stand up. Quickly he loosened the bonds of the others, and swiftly then they drove the rams down to the shore where their ship lay. Often they looked round, expecting to see Polyphemus following them, but they safely reached the ship and got a glad welcome from their friends, who rejoiced over them, but would have wept over the men that the cannibal giant had slain.

'There is no time to weep,' said Odysseus, and he made his men hasten on board the ship, driving the sheep before them.

Soon they were all on board, and the grey sea-water was rushing off their oars, as they sailed away from the land of the Cyclopes.

But before they were out of sight of land, the bold Odysseus lifted up his voice and shouted across the water—

'Hear me, Polyphemus, thou cruel monster! Thine evil deeds were very sure to find thee out. Thou hast been punished because thou hadst no shame to eat the strangers who came to thee as thy guests!'

The voice of Odysseus rang across the waves, and reached Polyphemus as he sat in pain at the mouth of his cave.

In a fury the giant sprang up, broke off the peak of a great hill and cast it into the sea, where it fell just in front of the ship of Odysseus.

So huge a splash did the vast rock give, that the sea heaved up and the backwash of the water drove the ship right to the shore.

Odysseus snatched up a long pole and pushed the ship off once more. Silently he motioned to the men to row hard, and save themselves and their ship from the angry giant.

When they were once more out at sea, Odysseus wished again to mock Polyphemus. In vain his men begged him not to provoke a monster so mighty that he could crush their heads and the timbers of their ship with one cast of a stone.

Once more Odysseus shouted across the water—

'Polyphemus, if any one shall ask thee who blinded thee, tell them it was Odysseus of Ithaca.'

Then moaned the giant—

'Once, long ago, a soothsayer told me that Odysseus should make me blind. But ever I looked for the coming of a great and gallant hero, and now there hath come a poor, feeble, little dwarf, who made me weak with wine before he dared to touch me.'

Then he begged Odysseus to come back, and said he would treat him kindly, and told him that he knew that his own father, the god of the sea, would give him his sight again.

'Never more wilt thou have thy sight,' mocked Odysseus; 'thy father will never heal thee.'

Then Polyphemus, stretching out his hands, and looking up with his sightless eye to the starry sky, called aloud to Poseidon, god of the sea, to punish Odysseus.

'If he ever reaches his own country,' he cried, 'let him come late and in an evil case, with all his own company lost, and in the ship of strangers, and let him find sorrows in his own house.'

No answer came from Poseidon, but the god of the sea heard his son's prayer.

With all his mighty force Polyphemus then cast at the ship a rock far greater than the first. It all but struck the end of the rudder, but the huge waves that surged up from it bore on the ship, and carried it to the further shore.

There they found the men with the other ships waiting in sorrow and dread, for they feared that the giants had killed Odysseus and his company. Gladly they drove the rams of Polyphemus on to the land, and there feasted together until the sun went down.

All night they slept on the sea-beach, and at rosy dawn Odysseus called to his men to get into their ships and loose the hawsers.

Soon they had pushed off, and were thrusting their oars into the grey sea-water.

Their hearts were sore, because they had lost six gallant men of their company, yet they were glad as men saved from death.

For as yet not even wise Odysseus knew of the vengeance of Poseidon, the sea-god, that was to follow him and to make him a sad man for ten long, weary years.

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