HOMER
ODYSSEY

 

Translated by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.
Revised Edition 2019

 

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BOOK NINE
ISMARUS, THE LOTUS EATERS, AND THE CYCLOPS

 [Odysseus identifies himself and his origins; he recounts his first adventures after leaving Troy: the attack on the Cicones, the storm sent from Zeus, the arrival in the land of the Lotus-eaters; the arrival in the land of the Cyclops; the slaughter of his men; he and his men burn out Polyphemus’s eye and escape from the cave; Odysseus taunts Polyphemus; Odysseus and his men sail on.]

Resourceful Odysseus then replied to Alcinous:

“Lord Alcinous, most renowned of men,
it is indeed a truly splendid thing
to listen to a singer such as this,
whose voice is like a god’s. For I say
there’s nothing that provides one more delight
than when joy grips entire groups of men
who sit in proper order in a hall
feasting and attending to a singer,
with fine tables standing there beside them                                      10
laden with bread and meat, as the steward
draws wine out of the mixing bowl, moves round,                                    [10]
and pours it in the cups. To me this seems
the finest thing there is. But now your heart
wants to ask about my grievous sorrows,
so I can weep and groan more than before.
What shall I tell you first? Where do I stop?
For the heavenly gods have given me
so much distress. Well, I will make a start
by telling you my name. Once you know that,                                   20
if I escape the painful day of death,
then later I can welcome you as guests,
though I live in a palace far away.
 
I am Odysseus, son of Laertes,
well known to all for my deceptive skills—
my fame stretches all the way to heaven.                                                   [20]
I live in Ithaca, a land of sunshine.
From far away one sees a mountain there,
thick with whispering trees, Mount Neriton,
and many islands lying around it                                                         30
close together—Dulichium, Same,
forested Zacynthus. Ithaca itself,
low in the sea, furthest from the mainland,
lies to the west—while those other islands
are a separate group, closer to the Dawn
and rising Sun. It’s a rugged island,
which nurtures fine young men. And in my view,
nothing one can see is ever sweeter
than a glimpse of one’s own native land.

When Calypso, that lovely goddess,  tried                                          40
to keep me with her in her hollow cave,
longing for me to become her husband,                                               [30]
or when, in the same way, the cunning witch
Aeaean Circe held me in her home
filled with a keen desire I’d marry her,
they never won the heart here in my chest.
That’s how true it is there’s nothing sweeter
than a man’s own country and his parents,
even if he’s living in a wealthy house,
but in a foreign land, away from those                                                50
who gave him life. But come, I will describe
the miserable journey back which Zeus
arranged for me when I returned from war.

From Troy my ships were carried by the wind
to Ismarus, land of the Cicones.(1)
I destroyed the city there, killed the men,                                            [40]
seized their wives, and captured lots of treasure,
which we divided up. I took great pains
to see that each man got an equal share.
Then I gave orders we should leave on foot—                                     60
and with all speed. But the men were foolish.
They did not listen. They drank too much wine
and on the shoreline slaughtered many sheep,
as well as shambling cows with twisted horns.
The Cicones set off and gathered up
their neighbours, tribes living further inland.
There are more of them, and they are braver men,
skilled at fighting enemies from chariots
and also, should the need arise, on foot.                                              [50]
They reached us in the morning, thick as leaves                               70
or flowers growing in season. Then Zeus
brought us disaster—he made that our fate,
so we would suffer many casualties.
They set their ranks and fought by our swift ships.
We threw our bronze-tipped spears at one another.
While morning lasted and that sacred day
gained strength, we held our ground and beat them back,
for all their greater numbers. But as the sun
moved to the hour when oxen are unyoked,
the Cicones broke through, overpowering                                          80
Achaeans. Of my well-armed companions,                                                [60]
six from every ship were killed. The rest
made our escape, avoiding Death and Fate.

We sailed away from there, hearts full of grief
at losing loyal comrades, though happy
we had eluded death ourselves. But still,
I would not let our curved ships leave the place
until we’d made the ritual call three times
for our poor shipmates slaughtered on that plain,
killed by the Cicones. Cloud-gatherer Zeus                                        90
then stirred North Wind to rage against our ships—
a violent storm concealing land and sea,
as darkness swept from heaven down on us.
The ships were driven far off course, our sails                                           [70]
were ripped to shreds by the power of that wind.
We lowered the masts into the ships’ holds,
and, fearing for our lives, quickly make our way
towards the land. For two whole days and nights
we rested there, hearts consumed with sorrow
We were exhausted. But when fair-haired Dawn                               100
gave birth to the third day, we raised the masts,
hoisted white sails, and took our place on board.
Wind and helmsman held us on our course,
and I’d have reached my native land unharmed,
but North Wind, sea currents, and restless waves
pushed me off course, as I was doubling back                                          [80]
around Malea, driving me past Cythera.(2)

Nine days fierce winds drove me away from there,
across the fish-filled seas, and on the tenth
we landed where the Lotus-eaters live,                                               110
people who feed upon its flowering fruit.(3)
We went ashore and carried water back.
Then my companions quickly had a meal
by our swift ships. We had our food and drink,
and then I sent some of my comrades out
to learn about the men who ate the food
the land grew there. I chose two of my men                                               [90]
and with them sent a third as messenger.
They left at once and met the Lotus-eaters,
who had no thought of killing my companions,                                  120
but gave them lotus plants to eat, whose fruit,
sweet as honey, made any man who tried it
lose his desire to ever journey home
or bring back word to us—they wished to stay,
to linger there among the Lotus-eaters,
feeding on the plant, eager to forget
about their homeward voyage. I forced them,
eyes full of tears, into our hollow ships,
dragged them underneath the rowing benches,
and tied them up. Then I issued orders                                              130     [100]
for my other trusty comrades to embark
and sail away with speed in our fast ships,
in case another man might eat a lotus
and lose all thoughts about his journey back.
They all raced on board, went to their places,
and, sitting in good order in their rows,
they churned the grey sea water with their oars.

We sailed away from there with heavy hearts
and reached the country of the Cyclopes,
a crude and lawless people.(4) They don’t grow                            140
any plants by hand or plough the earth,
but put their trust in the immortal gods,
and though they never sow or work the land,
still every kind of crop springs up for them—
wheat and barley and rich grape-bearing vines,                                       [110]
and Zeus provides the rain to make them grow.
They live without a council or assembly
or any rule of law, in hollow caves
among the mountain tops. Each one of them
sets down laws for his own wives and children,                                 150
and they shun all dealings with each other.

Now, near the country of the Cyclopes,
outside the harbour, there’s a fertile island,
covered in trees, some distance from the shore,
but not too far away. Wild goats live there
in countless numbers, without the slightest need
to stay away from any human trails.
Hunters never venture there, not even those                                            [120]
who endure great hardships in the forest,
as they make their way across the mountains.                                    160
That island has no flocks or ploughed-up land—
through all its days it’s never once been sown
or tilled or known the work of human beings.
The only life it feeds is bleating goats.
The Cyclopes don’t have boats with scarlet prows
or men with skills to build them well-decked ships,
which would enable them to carry out
all sorts of things—like travelling to towns
in other lands, the way men cross the sea
to visit one another in their ships—                                                     170
or those who might have turned their island home
into a well-constructed settlement.                                                            [130]
The island is not poor. All things grow there
in season. It has soft, well-watered fields
by the shore of the grey sea, where grapevines
could flourish all the time, and level farmland,
where they could reap a bounteous harvest
year after year—the sub-soil is so rich.
It has a harbour with good anchorage,
no need for any mooring cable there,                                                    180
or setting anchor stones, or using ropes
tied down at the stern. One can beach a ship
and wait until a fair wind starts to blow
and sailors’ hearts tell them to go on board.
At the harbour head there is a water spring—                                          [140]
a bright stream flows out underneath a cave.
Around it poplars grow. We sailed in there.
Some god guided us through the murky night—
we could not see a thing, and all our ships
were swallowed up in fog. Clouds hid the moon,                               190
and the sky above contained no hint of light.
Our eyes could not catch any glimpse of land
or of the long waves rolling in onshore,
until our well-decked ships had reached the beach.
We dragged up our ships, took down all the sails,
then went along the shore, and fell asleep,                                          [150]
remaining there until the light of Dawn.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
we moved across the island quite amazed.
Some nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus,                               200
flushed out mountain goats, food for us to eat.
We quickly brought our curved bows from the ships
and our long spears, as well. Then, splitting up,
we fanned out in three different groups to hunt.
The god soon gave us our heart’s fill of game.
I had twelve ships with me, and each of them
received nine goats. I was the only one                                                [160]
to be allotted ten. So all day long
until the sunset, we sat there and ate,
feasting on that rich supply of meat,                                                   210
with sweet wine, too—for we had not used up
the red wine in our ships and had some left.
We’d taken many jars for everyone
the day we’d seized the sacred citadel
of the Cicones. Then we looked across
towards the country of the Cyclopes,
which was not far away. We saw their smoke,
heard their voices and sounds of sheep and goats.
After the sun went down and darkness fell,
we lay down on the shore and went to sleep.                                     220

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,                                         [170]
I called a meeting of the men and spoke to them:

‘My loyal comrades, stay here where you are.
I’ll take my ship and my own company
and try to find out who those people are,
and learn if they are rough and violent,
with no sense of law, or kind to strangers,
with hearts that fear the gods.’

                                                  I said these words,
then went down to my ship and told my crew
to loose the cables lashed onto the stern                                            230
and climb onboard. The men embarked with speed,
and, seated on the benches in their rows,
they struck the grey sea surface with their oars.                                       [180]
As we made the short trip round the island,
from the shoreline, right at the water’s edge,
we saw a high cave, overhung with laurel.
There were many flocks, sheep as well as goats,
penned in there at night. All around the cave
there was a high front courtyard made of stones
set deep into the ground, with tall pine trees                                    240
and lofty oaks. At night a giant slept there,
a brute that grazed his flocks all by himself,
somewhere far off. He avoided others
and lived alone, away from all the rest,
a law unto himself, a monster, made                                                           [190]
to be a thing of wonder, not like man,
who survives by eating bread, no, more like
a soaring wooded mountain, standing there
to view in isolation from the rest.

I told the rest of my trustworthy crew                                                 250
to stay there beside the ship and guard it,
while I selected twelve of my best men
and went off to explore. I took with me
a goatskin full of dark sweet wine. Maron,
Euanthes’ son, one of Apollo’s priests,
the god who kept guard over Ismarus,
gave it to me because, to show respect,
we had protected him, his wife, and child.
He lived in a grove of trees, a patch of ground                                          [200]
sacred to Apollo. He gave me gifts—                                                   270
seven finely crafted golden talents,
a pure silver mixing bowl, and wine as well,
a total of twelve jars poured out unmixed,
a drink fit for the gods. None of his slaves,
the men or women in his household, knew
about this wine. He was the only one,
other than his wife and one house steward.
Each time they drank that honey-sweet red wine,
he’d fill one cup with it and pour that out
in twenty cups of water, and the smell                                               280
arising from the mixing bowl was sweet,                                                    [210]
astonishingly so—to tell the truth,
no one’s heart could then refuse to drink it.
I took a goatskin filled with this fine wine,
and a pouch of food. My warrior’s heart
was warning me a man might soon attack,
someone invested with enormous power,
a savage with no sense of law and justice.

We reached the cyclops’s cave but didn’t find him.
He was pasturing his rich flocks in the fields.                                   290
We went inside the cave and looked around.
It was incredible—crates full cheese,
pens crammed with livestock—lambs and kids
sorted into separate groups, with yearlings,                                             [220]
older lambs, newborns, each in their own pens.
The sturdy buckets, pails, and milking bowls
were awash with whey. At first, my comrades
urged me to grab some cheeses and return,
then drive the lambs and kids out of their pens
back to our swift ship and cross the water.                                         300
But I did not agree, though if I had,
things would have turned out better. I was keen
to see the man in person and find out
if he would show me hospitality.
When he did show up, as it so happened,
he proved to be no joy to my companions.                                                  [230]

We lit a fire and offered sacrifice.
Then we helped ourselves to cheese and ate it.
staying inside the cave and waiting there,
until he led his flocks back home. He came,                                      310
with an enormous pile of dried-out wood
to prepare his dinner. He hurled his load
inside the cave with a huge crash. In our fear,
we moved to the remote end of the cave,
into the deepest corner. He then drove
his fat flock inside the spacious cavern,
just the ones he milked. Rams and billy goats
he left outside, in the open courtyard.
Then he raised up high a massive boulder                                                 [240]
and fixed it in position as a door.                                                         320
It was huge—twenty-two four-wheeled wagons,
even good ones, could not have shifted it
along the ground—that’s how immense it was,
the rock he set in place to seal his cave.
He sat down with his bleating goats and ewes
and milked them all, each one in turn, setting
the young beside their mothers. He curdled
half the white milk and set aside the whey
in wicker baskets, then put the other half
in bowls for him to drink up with his meal.                                        330
When he had finished working at these tasks,                                         [250]
he lit a fire. Then he noticed us and said:

                                                                          ‘Strangers,
who are you men? What sea route brought you here?
Are you traders, or wandering the sea
at random, like pirates sailing anywhere,
risking their lives to injure other men.’

As he spoke, our hearts collapsed, terrified
by his deep voice and monstrous size. But still,
I answered him and said:

                                                     ‘We are Achaeans
returning home from Troy and blown off course                      340
by different winds across vast tracts of sea.                                     [260]
Attempting to get home, we had to take
an alternate route, chart another course,
an event, I think, which gave Zeus pleasure.
We boast that we are Agamemnon’s men,
son of Atreus, now the best-known man
beneath wide heaven—the city he wiped out
was such a great one, and he killed so many.
As for us, we’re visitors here and come
as suppliants to your knee, in the hope                                     350
that you will welcome us or give some gift,
the usual things one does for strangers.
And so, good sir, respect the gods. We’re here
as suppliants to you, and Zeus protects                                           [270]
all suppliants and strangers—as god of guests,
he cares for all respected visitors.’

I finished speaking. He answered me at once—
his heart was pitiless:

                         ‘What fools you strangers are,
or else you come from some land far away—
telling me to fear the gods, to shun their rage.                        360
The Cyclopes care nothing about Zeus,
who bears the aegis, or the blessed gods.
We are much more powerful than they are.
I would not spare you or your companions
to escape the wrath of Zeus, not unless
my own heart encouraged me to do it.
But now, tell me this—when you landed here,
where did you moor your ship, a spot close by
or further off? I’d like to find that out.’                                             [280]

He said this to throw me off, but his deceit                                        370
could never fool me. I was too clever.
And so I gave him a misleading answer:

‘Earthshaker Poseidon broke my ship apart,
driving it against the border of your land,
on the rocks there. He brought us close to shore,
hard by the headland, then strong winds pushed
our ship towards the beach. But we escaped—
me and these men here. We were not destroyed.’

That’s what I told him. But his ruthless heart
gave me no reply. Instead, he jumped up,                                          380
seized two of my companions in his fist,
and smashed them on the ground like puppy dogs.
Their brains oozed out and soaked the ground below.                            [290]
He tore their limbs apart to make a meal,
and chewed them up just like a mountain lion—
innards, flesh, and marrow—leaving nothing.
We raised our hands to Zeus and cried aloud,
to witness the horrific things he did,
our hearts unable to do anything.
Once Cyclops had stuffed his massive stomach                                 390
with human flesh and washed it down with milk,
he lay down in the cave and stretched out there
among his flocks. In my courageous heart
I formed a plan to move up close beside him,
draw the sharp sword I carried on my thigh,                                             [300]
and run my hand along his chest, to find
exactly where his midriff held his liver,
then stick him there. But I had second thoughts.
We, too, would have been utterly destroyed,
there in the cave—we didn’t have the strength                                 400
with our own hands to roll from the high door
the massive rock he’d set there. So we groaned,
and stayed there, waiting for a bright new Dawn.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
he made a fire and milked his flock, one by one,
with a new-born placed beside each mother.
When this work was over, he once again                                                    [310]
snatched two of my men and gorged himself.
After his meal, he easily rolled back
the huge rock door, drove his rich flock outside,                               410
and set the stone in place, as one might put
a cap back on a quiver. Then Cyclops,
whistling loudly, drove his fat flocks away
towards the mountain. He left me in the cave,
plotting a nasty scheme deep in my heart,
some way of gaining my revenge on him,
if Athena would grant that glory to me.
My heart came up with what appeared to me
the best thing I could do. An immense club
belonging to the cyclops was lying there                                             420
beside a stall, made of green olive wood                                              [320]
he’d cut to carry with him once it dried.
To human eyes it seemed just like the mast
on a black merchant ship with twenty oars,
a broad-beamed vessel which can move across
the mighty ocean—that’s how long and wide
that huge club looked. Moving over to it,
I chopped off a piece, about six feet in length,
gave it to my companions, telling them
to smooth the wood. They straightened it, while I,                            430
standing at one end, chipped and tapered it
to a sharp point. Then I picked up the stake
and set it in the smoldering fire to harden.
That done, I placed it carefully to one side,
concealing it beneath some of the dung
which lay throughout the cave in massive piles.                                       [330]
And then I told my comrades to draw lots
to see which men would risk their lives with me—
when sweet sleep came to settle on the cyclops,
we’d lift that stake and twist it in his eye.                                          440
The crew drew lots and picked the very men
I would have chosen for myself, four of them,
and I would be the fifth man in the group.

In the evening he came back, leading on
his fine-skinned animals and bringing them
inside the spacious cave, every sheep and goat
in his rich flock—not leaving even one
out in the open courtyard. Perhaps he had
a sense of something wrong, or else a god
had given him an order. He picked up                                                 450   [340]
and put his huge rock door in place, then sat
to milk each ewe and bleating goat, one by one,
taking care to set beside each mother
one of her young. When this task was finished,
he quickly seized two men and wolfed them down.
I moved up and stood beside the cyclops
and offered him a bowl of ivy wood
full of my dark red wine. I said:

                                                                          ‘Cyclops,
take this wine and drink it, now you’ve had
your meal of human flesh, so you may know                             460
the kind of wine we had on board our ship,
a gift of drink that I was bringing you,
in hope you’d pity me and send me off
on my journey home. But your savagery                                           [350]
is something I can’t bear. You cruel man,
how will any of the countless other men
want to visit you in future? How you act
is so against all human law.’

                                                                                                 I spoke.
He grabbed the cup and gulped down the sweet wine.
Once he swallowed, he felt such great delight,                                 470
he asked me for some more, a second taste.

‘Be kind and give me some of that again.
And now, without delay tell me your name,
so, as my guest, I can offer you a gift,
something you’ll like. Among the Cyclopes,
grain-bearing earth grows clusters of rich grapes,
which Zeus’s rain increases, but this drink—
it’s a stream of nectar and ambrosia.’

He spoke. I handed him more fiery wine.                                                    [360]
Three times I poured some out and gave it to him,                           480
and, like a fool, he swilled it down. So then,
once that strong wine had addled Cyclops’ wits,
I spoke these reassuring words to him:

‘Cyclops, you asked about my famous name.
I’ll tell you. Then you can offer me a gift,
as your guest here. My name is Nobody.
My father and mother, all my friends—
they call me Nobody.’

                                        That’s what I said.
His ruthless heart replied:

                                      ‘Well, Nobody,
I’ll eat all your companions before you                                     490
and have you at the end—my gift to you,                                        [370]
since you’re my guest.’

                          After saying these words,
he collapsed, toppling over on his back,
lying with his neck twisted to one side.
All-conquering Sleep overpowered him.
In his drunken state he kept on vomiting,
his gullet drooling wine and human flesh.
So then I pushed the stake deep in the ashes,
to make it hot, and spoke to all my men,
urging them on, so no one, in his fear,                                                500
would hesitate. Once that stake of olive wood,
though green, was glowing hot, its sharp point
ready to catch fire, I walked up to it                                                            [380]
and with all my comrades standing round me
removed it from the fire. And then some god
breathed powerful courage into all of us.
They lifted up that stake of olive wood
and jammed its sharpened end down in his eye,
while I, placing my weight at the upper end,
twisted it around—just as a shipwright                                              510
bores a timber with a drill, while those below
make it rotate by pulling on a strap
at either end, so the drill keeps moving—
that’s how we held the red-hot pointed stake
twisting it inside the socket of his eye.
Blood poured out through the heat—around his eye,
lids and brows were singed, as his eyeball burned—                           [390]
roots crackling in the fire. When a blacksmith
thrusts an axe or adze in frigid water
with a loud hissing sound, to temper it                                               520
and make the iron strong—that’s how his eye
sizzled around the stake of olive wood.
His horrific cries echoed through the rock.
We drew back, terrified. He yanked the stake
out of his eye—it was all smeared with blood—
hurled it away from him, and waved his arms.
He screamed out to the cyclopes nearby,
who lived in caves up on the windy heights,                                             [400]
his neighbours. When they heard him shouting out,
they came crowding round from all directions.                                  530
Standing at the cave mouth, they questioned him,
asking what was wrong:

                                                                       ‘Polyphemus,
what’s so bad with you that you keep howling
through the immortal night and wake us up?
Is some mortal human stealing your flocks
or killing you by treachery or force?’

From the cave mighty Polyphemus roared:

‘Nobody is killing me, my friends,
by treachery, not using any force.’

They answered him—their words had wings:

                                                     ‘Well, then,                           540
if nobody is hurting you and you’re alone,                                      [410]
it must be sickness given by great Zeus,
one you can’t escape. So say your prayers
to our father, lord Poseidon.’

                                                With these words,
they went away, and my heart was laughing—
my cunning name had pulled off such a trick.
But Cyclops groaned, writhing in agony.
Groping with his hands he picked up the stone,
removed it from the door, and sat down there,
in the opening. He stretched out his arms,                                        550
attempting to catch anyone who tried
to escape there with the sheep. In his heart,
he took me for a fool. But I was thinking
the best thing I could do would be to find
if somehow my companions and myself                                                      [420]
could avoid being killed. I wove many schemes,
all sorts of tricks, the way a man will do
when his own life’s at stake—and we were faced
with a murderous peril right beside us.
To my heart the best plan was as follows.                                           560
In Cyclops’ flocks the rams were really fat—
fine, large animals, with thick fleecy coats
of deep black wool. I picked three at a time
and, keeping quiet, tied them together
with twisted willow shoots, part of the mat
on which the monster Polyphemus slept.
The middle ram carried a single man.
The two on either side were for protection.                                               [430]
So for each one of us there were three sheep. 
I, too, had my own ram, the finest one                                                 570
in the whole flock by far. I grabbed its back
then swung myself below its fleecy gut,
and lay there, face upwards, with my fingers
clutching its amazing fleece. My heart was firm.
We waited there like that until bright Dawn.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
males in the flock trotted off to pasture,
while the females, who had not yet been milked
and thus whose udders were about to burst,
bleated in their pens. Their master, in great pain,                            580   [440]
ran his hands across the backs of all his sheep
as they moved past him, but was such a fool,
he failed to notice how my men were tied
below their fleecy bellies. Of that flock,
my ram was the last to move out through the door,
weighed down by its thick wool and my sly thoughts.
Huge Polyphemus, as he stroked its back,
spoke to the animal:

                                              ‘My lovely ram,
how come you are the last one in the flock
to move out of the cave? Not once before                                  590
have you ever lagged behind the others.
No. You have always been well out in front,
striding off to graze on fresh shoots of grass
and be the first to reach the river’s stream.                                     [450]
And you’re the one who longs to get back home,
once evening comes, before the others do.
But now you’re last of all. You must be sad,
grieving for your master’s eye, now blinded,
thanks to that evil fellow and his crew.
That Nobody destroyed my wits with wine.                             600
But, I tell you, I can still destroy him.
If only you could feel and speak like me—
you’d tell me where he’s hiding from my rage.
I’d smash his brains out on the ground in here,
sprinkle them in each corner of this cave,
and then my heart would ease the agonies
this worthless Nobody has brought on me.’                              [460]

Saying these words, he pushed the ram aside,
out through the door. After the ram had moved
a short distance from the cave and courtyard,                                   610
first I got out from underneath its gut
and then untied my men. We rushed away,
driving off those rich, fat, long-legged sheep,
often turning round to look behind us,
until we reached our ship—a welcome sight
to fellow shipmates—we’d escaped being killed,
although they groaned and wept for those who’d died.
But I would not allow them to lament—
with a scowl I ordered everyone to stop
and told them they should quickly lead on board                        620
the many fine-fleeced sheep and the n set sail                                        [470]
across the salty sea. They climbed aboard
each man taking his place beside an oar,
and, sitting in good order in the boat,
they struck the grey sea surface with their blades.
When we had rowed as far as man’s voice
can carry when he yells, I shouted out
and mocked the mighty cyclops:

                                                               ‘Cyclops,
it seems he was no weakling, after all,
the man whose comrades you so wished to eat,                       630 
using brute force in that hollow cave of yours.
Your evil acts were bound to catch you out,
you wretch—you didn’t even hesitate
to gorge yourself on guests in your own home.
Now Zeus and other gods have paid you back.’

That’s what I said. My words increased his rage.                                      [4 80]
He snapped off a huge chunk of mountain rock
and hurled it. The stone landed up ahead,
by our ship’s dark prow. As the boulder sank,
the sea surged under it, waves pushed us back                                 640
towards the land, and, like a tidal flood,
drove us on shore.(5) I grabbed a long boat hook
and pushed us off, encouraging the crew,
and, with a nod of my head, ordered them
to ply their oars and save us from disaster.
They put their backs into it then and rowed.                                           [490]
But when we’d got some distance out to sea,
about twice as far, I started shouting,
taunting the cyclops, although around me
my comrades cautioned me from every side,                                      650
trying to calm me down:

                                   ‘That’s too reckless.
Why attempt to irritate that savage?
Just now he threw a huge rock in the sea
and pushed us back on shore. We really thought
he’d killed us there. If he had heard us speak
or uttering a sound, he’d have hurled down
another jagged stone and crushed our skulls
and the timbers on this ship. His huge arms
are strong enough to throw this far.’

                              That’s what they said.                                                           [500]
But my warrior spirit did not listen.                                                    660
So, anger in my heart, I yelled again:

‘Cyclops, if any mortal human being
asks about the injury that blinded you,
say your eye was burned out by Odysseus,
sacker of cities, son of Laertes,
a man from Ithaca.’

                                                  After I’d said this,
he groaned and spoke out in reply:

                                                                 ‘Alas!
Now an ancient prophecy about me
has truly been fulfilled! For Telemus,
fine, tall son of Eurymus, a seer                                                  670
who surpassed all other men in prophecy,
reached old age among the Cyclopes                                                [510]
as a soothsayer. He said all these things
would come to pass someday—I’d lose my sight
at the hand of someone called Odysseus.
But I always expected he’d be large,
a noble man, with enormous power.
But now a puny, good-for-nothing weakling,
after overpowering me with wine,
has destroyed my eye. Come here, Odysseus,                     680
so I can give you your gift as my guest,
and urge the famous Shaker of the Earth
to escort you homeward—I am his son,
and he boasts he’s my father. If he wishes,                                      [520]
he will cure me. No other blessed god,
can do that, nor can any mortal man.’

He finished speaking. I answered him and said:

‘I wish I were as sure that I could kill you,
rob you of your living spirit, and send you
down to Hades, as I am confident                                              690
not even the great Shaker of the Earth
will fix your eye.’

                                                        After I’d said this,
he stretched out his hands to starry heaven
and offered up this prayer to lord Poseidon:

‘Hear me, Poseidon, Enfolder of the Earth,
dark-haired god, if I truly am your son
and if you are my father, as you claim,
grant that Odysseus, sacker of cities,                                               [530]
a man from Ithaca, Laertes’ son,
never gets back home. If it’s his destiny                                    700
to see his friends and reach his native land
and well-built house, may he arrive there late
and in distress, after all his comrades
have been killed, and in someone else’s ship,
and may he find misfortune in his home.’

That’s what he prayed. The dark-haired god heard him.
Then Cyclops once again picked up a rock,
a much larger stone, swung it round, and threw,
using all his unimaginable force.
It landed right behind the dark-prowed ship                                     710
and almost hit the steering oar. Its impact                                               [540]
convulsed the sea, and waves then pushed us on,
carrying our ship up to the further shore.

We reached the island where our well-decked ships
were gathered. Our comrades sat beside them,
in great sorrow, always watching for us.
We rowed in, drove our ship up on the sand,
then climbed out through the surf. From the ship’s hold
we unloaded Cyclops’ flock and shared it.
I took great care to see that all men there                                          720
received an equal part. But when the flock
was given out, my well-armed companions                                               [550]
awarded me the ram, my special gift,
one just for me. I sacrificed that ram,
there on the shore, to Zeus, son of Cronos,
lord of the dark cloud, ruler of all,
offering him burnt pieces of the thigh.
But he cared nothing for my sacrifice.
Instead he started planning to destroy
all my well-decked ships and loyal comrades.                                   730

So then, all day long until the sunset,
we sat feasting on huge supplies of meat
and sweet red wine. After the sun had set
and darkness came, we lay down to rest
and slept there on the shore beside the sea.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,                                        [560]
I roused my crew and ordered them aboard,
to untie cables fastened to the sterns.
They got in at once, each man in his place,
and sitting in good order in their rows,                                               740
they churned the grey sea surface with their oars.
So we moved away from there, sad at heart,
happy to have avoided a dark fate,
although some dear companions had been killed.”

 

ENDNOTES

(1) Odysseus’s first adventure, at Ismarus with the Cicones, seems to have been on the mainland north of Troy. [Back to Text]

(2) Malea is a cape on the coast of the Peloponnese, one of the most southerly points in main-land Greece. Cythera is an island off the south coast of the Peloponnese. [Back to Text]

(3) The land of the Lotus Eaters is commonly placed in North Africa. [Back to Text]

(4) The Cyclopes (singular cyclops) are hairy monsters, rather than people, with only one eye in the middle of their foreheads. They originated from the primal gods, Ouranus and Gaia, and had been imprisoned in Tartarus. But they helped Zeus in his fight against his father, Cronos, and Zeus freed them. Odysseus, one assumes, either doesn’t know about the Cyclopes before this adventure or is not aware he is about to meet one, since he assumes he is moving into a place where the laws of hospitality apply. We learn later that the cyclops Odysseus meets has a name (Polyphemus) and is a son of Poseidon. Most geographical interpretations place the incident with the cyclops in Sicily. [Back to Text]

(5) As in many other translations, line 483 in the Greek (which mentions how the rock just missed the steering oar) has been omitted, on the ground that if the projectile falls in front of the ship, it is nowhere close to the steering oar in the stern. The omitted line occurs a few lines later with the description of the second rock thrown. [Back to Text]


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