Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 159

Ulysses blinds Polyphemus.

When this part of the evening meal was over, Ulysses drew near and offered him a leather flask full of heady wine, which the giant took down at a gulp, little suspecting its effect. Very soon he sank into a deep drunken sleep; and then the men, at a sign from Ulysses, heated the point of the huge club and put out his sole eye, in spite of his frightful cries and execrations, which soon attracted the attention of the other Cyclopes.

They thronged without the cave, clamoring to know who was hurting him. “No man!” replied the Cyclops, howling with pain, “No man!” which answer convinced his would-be helpers that he needed no assistance, and made them disperse.

“‘If no man does thee violence, and thou
Art quite alone, reflect that none escape
Diseases; they are sent by Jove.’”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Ulysses’ escape.

Deserted by his companions, Polyphemus spent the night in agony; and, when the anxious lowing of his herd roused him at break of day, he fumblingly milked them, and prepared to let them go forth, as usual, in search of their morning meal. To avoid the Greeks escaping, he rolled the stone only partly aside, and allowed the sheep to pass out a few at a time, carefully running his hand over each broad back to make sure that none of the prisoners were mounted upon them.

Ulysses, in the mean while, having observed this maneuver, [345] fastened his companions under the rams, reserving one for his own use, and watched them pass out one after the other undetected. Then, clinging to the wool of the largest ram, he too was slowly dragged out; while Polyphemus petted the ram, and inquired how he came to pass out last of all.

“‘My favorite ram, how art thou now the last
To leave the cave? It hath not been thy wont
To let the sheep go first, but thou didst come
Earliest to feed among the flowery grass,
Walking with stately strides, and thou wert first
At the fresh stream, and first at eve to seek
The stable; now thou art the last of all.
Grievest thou for thy master, who has lost
His eye, put out by a deceitful wretch
And his vile crew?’”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

Ulysses, having thus escaped, sprang to his feet, set his companions free, rushed with them down to the seashore, taking the choice animals on board, and then, when his men had rowed some distance, raised his voice and taunted Polyphemus, revealing at the same time his identity.

“‘Ha! Cyclops! those whom in thy rocky cave
Thou, in thy brutal fury, hast devoured,
Were friends of one not unexpert in war;
Amply have thy own guilty deeds returned
Upon thee. Cruel one! who didst not fear
To eat the strangers sheltered by thy roof,
Jove and the other gods avenge them thus!
* * *
Cyclops, if any man of mortal birth
Note thine unseemly blindness, and inquire
The occasion, tell him that Laertes’ son,
Ulysses, the destroyer of walled towns,
Whose home is Ithaca, put out thine eye.’”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

With a cry of rage, Polyphemus then ran down to the shore, tore up some huge rocks, which he hurled in the direction whence [346] the taunting voice came, and in his rage almost destroyed the Greeks; for one piece of rock fell very near their vessel, and they were forced to redouble their efforts to row out of reach and prevent disaster.

Gift of Æolus.

The Greeks now sailed on until they reached the Æolian Islands, where dwelt Æolus, king and father of the winds. He had heard of Ulysses’ prowess, received him kindly, and at parting gave him a leather bag containing all the contrary winds, which Ulysses was thus at liberty to retain imprisoned until he had safely reached home (p. 214).

Day and night Ulysses’ barks now bounded over the blue waves. On the ninth evening the shores of Ithaca were discerned by the eager eyes on board, and all made their preparations for landing early the next morning. For the first time since he had left the Æolian shores, Ulysses now indulged in sleep; and while he was lost in oblivion his sailors opened the leather bag, intending to rob their master of a portion of his treasure, for they imagined that Æolus had given him much gold.

The bag was no sooner opened, than the contrary winds, weary and cramped with their uncomfortable position, sprang out with a rush and a roar, and in a few moments stirred up a terrible storm, which tore the ships from their anchors, and soon drove them far out to sea.

After untold suffering, the Greeks landed again upon the Æolian Isle, and Ulysses sought the king, to beseech his aid once more; but this time the god received him coldly, and bade him depart, as his cruelty to Polyphemus had awakened the gods’ wrath.

“‘Hence with thee! Leave our island instantly,
Vilest of living men! It may not be
That I receive or aid as he departs
One who is hated by the blessed gods,—
And thou art hated by the gods. Away!’”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
The Læstrygonians.

[347] Sorrowfully now the Greeks embarked; but, instead of being hurried along by favorable winds, they were obliged to row against wind and waves, and only after many days came to the land of the Læstrygonians, where fresh losses awaited them. These people were cannibals, who were in the habit of slaying all the strangers who visited their shores, to satisfy their horrible appetites. When they saw the vessels enter their harbor, they sunk some of them by casting huge rocks at them from their tall cliffs, and speared and devoured the unfortunate crews.