Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop # 3 - The Cyclops

Stop #3

Our next stop is the most famous of stops for Odysseus - Polyphemus the cyclops.

Below is a recap of the story of Polyphemus. If you're familiar with it, skip the green writing. If not, read the green writing. If you're color blind, tough.

Odysseus and his men are pretty hungry. How many of his men he has right now, I don't know. I read in one place that he had 3 boats and in another he had 12 boats. Whatever. In a few stops it won't matter anyway, so suffice to say, he had a small enough number to take with him, but a large enough number to feel confident that they could over power whatever enemies they might find.

You all know this story - in a nutshell, Odysseus must prove here how clever he is by finding a way out of the cyclops cave. The rock used to block the door is too heavy for his men to move. They need the cyclops to move the rock, so they can't kill him. They can't wait it out because the cyclops keeps eating the men. So he gets the cyclops drunk, stabs him in the eye with a hot pointy log, and hides under Polyphemus's sheep when they are let out to graze.

This story is also important because it shows Odysseus' hubris - his pride. You see, he told Polyphemus his name was Nobody. When the other cyclops came to see why he was crying, he said Nobody hurt me, so they just left him alone. However, Odysseus couldn't bear to let this opportunity pass so he calls out to the cyclops and gives him his name, his father's name, and where he lives. Being the son of Poseidon, Polyphemus just calls daddy and whines. Poseidon heard. Poseidon delivered. O.K., that doesn't do it justice. Here is his prayer to Poseidon:

"Hear me, Poseidon … If truly I am your son, and you acknowledge yourself as my father, grant that Odysseus, who styles himself Sacker of Cities and son of Laertes, may never reach his home in Ithaca. But if he is destined to reach his native land, to come once more to his own house and see his friends again, let him come late, in evil plight, with all his comrades dead, in someone else's ship, and find troubles in his household." (Polyphemus 2. Homer, Odyssey 9.528).

Alright - recap over. Let's look a little more deeply at the cyclops. One of the problems is that according to Hesiod, there are three cyclops, all sons of Uranus and Gaia. There names are Argos (dang, how many things are named Argos in Greek mythology?), Steropes, and Brontes. They helped Cronus overthrow Uranus because Uranus kept them locked up. In return, Cronus locked them up in Tartarus. When Zeus took over, he set them free. Being pretty good at metal working, the returned the favor by making Zeus' thunderbolts, Poseidon's trident, and Hades' helmet of invisibility. Supposedly Apollo killed them when they hit his son.

The problem comes in with Homer. He writes that they are Poseidon's sons and they are not nearly as intelligent as mentioned above. So, to make things work, let's assume that both Poseidon and Uranus sired cyclops, but Uranus must be better at it than Poseidon.

Another issue is the pronunciation of the cyclops's name.  Is it POLY-FEM-US or PUH-LEE-FEMUS?  I asked the Latin teacher on my hallway and he said that since it is coming from Greek, it really should be PUH-LU-FEMUS.  In a last ditch effort to figure out the correct pronunciation, I did a final Google search and found this study guide that has pronunciations for all the names in The Odyssey.

Cy the cyclopic kitten was born in the last few days of 2005 and sadly enough died in the last few days of 2005. When this first came out there was, quite reasonably, a lot of doubts about this picture. I mean, come on! In this day of Photo Shop, who wouldn't think that a possibility? Live Science and the AP regional photo editor Tom Stathis and has confirmed that this in indeed a true incident.

So truth remains stranger than fiction and now we have Cy.

This kind of thing happens so much that science has a name for it: Holoprosencephaly. This condition is a birth defect in which the brain doesn't properly develop. There are different levels of severity and obviously the above case is a severe one. There have been reports of people with this condition being born with a nose on the forehead, one eye, single-nostril noses, one middle tooth instead of two front teeth, and others.

Traci Allen, the owner of Cy, spent the night and the next day feeding and caring for it, but the deformities were just too much for the kitten to survive.

So what do you do with a dead one-eyed cat? Well, her owner put it in the freezer to save for science. Imagine that nightmare ice cream run in the middle of the night.

Since this condition does exist, might it have some relation to the belief of cyclops in the past? Perhaps.  However, there are better possibilities, such as mammoth skulls (seen to the right) that fit both giant and one-eyed beings, but it might have something to do with it.

Here is a handout I've used in the past that has a prose version of the story with reading questions.

Here's a silent movie from 1911 called Homer's Odyssey (well, really L'Odissea):

You can watch it (or show this section to your class) here (start at 2:50 if you just want to skip to the cyclops scene):

There is a Simpsons version of The Odyssey, but it does not have the cyclops scene.  They drew it, but took it out.  Why?  Because it featured someone more uncouth and more of a glutton than Homer (who was playing Odysseus).

Want a crazy really bad voice over of a cartoon version of this stop?  Look no further!

O.K. - next stop - the Isle of Aeolus!

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

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