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

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To induce Galatea to leave the salt sea waves and linger by his side on the white sandy beach, Polyphemus constantly made the most extravagant promises; but the dainty nymph merely laughed at all his professions, and strolled on the shore only when he was sound asleep. Although she made fun of his love, she was not so obdurate to the suit of Acis, a very fascinating young shepherd, who had no need to call her repeatedly; for she always yielded to his first appeal, joyfully joined him, and sat beside him under the shade of some great rock, listening to his tender wooing.

Refer to caption

ACIS AND GALATEA (Evening).—Claude Lorraine. (St. Petersburg.)

Polyphemus once accidentally came upon them thus, ere they were aware of his proximity. For a moment he glared down upon them; then, seizing a huge rock, he vowed his rival Acis should not live to enjoy the love which was denied him, and hurled it down upon the unsuspecting lovers. Galatea, the goddess, being immortal, escaped unhurt; but poor Acis, her beloved, was crushed to death. The stream of blood from his mangled [343] remains was changed by the gods into an exhaustless stream of limpid water, which ever hastened down to the sea to join Galatea.

Polyphemus’ cave.

Ulysses and his companions, waiting in the cave, soon felt the ground shake beneath their feet, and saw the sheep throng into the cave and take their usual places; then behind them came the horrible apparition of Polyphemus, who picked up a huge rock and placed it before the opening of the cave, preventing all egress. Ulysses’ companions had shrunk with fear into the darkest corners of the cave, whence they watched the giant milk his ewes, dispose of his cheeses, and make his evening meal. But the firelight soon revealed the intruders; and Polyphemus immediately demanded who they were, whence they came, and what they were seeking.

Ulysses, ever wily, replied that his name was No man, that he and his companions were shipwrecked mariners, and that they would fain receive his hospitality. In answer to this statement, the Cyclops stretched forth his huge hand and grasped two of the sailors, whom he proceeded to devour for dessert. Then, his frightful repast being ended, he lay down on the rushes and fell asleep, his loud snores reverberating like thunder through the great cave.

Ulysses silently crept to his side, sword in hand, and was about to kill him, when he suddenly recollected that neither he nor his men could move the rock at the cave’s mouth, and that they would never be able to escape. He therefore resolved to have recourse to a stratagem.

When morning came, the giant rose, milked his flock, made his cheese, arranged the vessels, and then, without the least warning, again seized and devoured two of the Greeks. His brawny arm next pushed aside the rock, and he stood beside it with watchful eye, until all his herd had passed out; then, replacing the stone to prevent the escape of his prisoners, he went off to the distant pasture ground.