Homer's Odyssey : From Book IX

Odysseus tells Alkinous about his encounter with the giant Polyphemus:

"But when the early rosy-fingered dawn appeared,
in wonder at the island we made a circuit round it,
and nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus,
started the mountain goats, to give my men a meal.
Forthwith we took our bending bows and our long hunting spears
from out the ships, and parted in three bands began to shoot;
and soon God granted ample game. Twelve ships were in my train;
to each there fell nine goats, while ten they set apart for me alone.
Then all throughout the day till setting sun we sat and feasted
on abundant meat and pleasant wine. For the ruddy wine
of our ships was not yet spent; some still was left,
because our crews took a large store in jars
the day we seized the sacred citadel of the Ciconians.
And now we looked across to the land of the neighboring Cyclops,
and marked the smoke, the sounds of men, the bleat of sheep and goats;
but when the sun went down and darkness came,
we laid us down to sleep upon the beach.
Then as the early rosy-fingered dawn appeared,
holding a council, I said to all my men:

                    "'The rest of you, my trusty crew, stay for the present here; but
                 I myself, with my own ship and my own crew, go to discover who
                 these men may be, , if they are fierce and savage, with no regard
                 for right, or kind to strangers and reverent toward the gods.'

                    "When I had spoken thus, I went on board my ship, and called
                 my crew to come on board and loose the cables. Quickly they
                 came, took places at the pins, and sitting in order smote the
                 foaming water with their oars. But as we reached the neighboring
                 shore, there at the outer point, close to the sea, we saw a cave,
                 high, overhung with laurel. Here many flocks of sheep and goats
                 were nightly housed. Around was built a yard with a high wall of
                 deep-embedded stone, tall pines, and crested oaks. Here a
                 man-monster slept, who shepherded his flock alone and far apart;
                 with others he did not mingle, but quite aloof followed his lawless
                 ways. Thus had he grown to be a marvelous monster; not like a
                 man who lives by bread, but rather like a woody peak of the high
                 hills, seen single, clear of others.

                    "Now to my other trusty men I gave command to stay there by
                 the ship and guard the ship; but I my. self chose the twelve best
                 among my men and sallied forth. I had a goat-skin bottle of the
                 dark sweet wine given me by Maron, son of Euanthes, priest of
                 Apollo, who watches over Ismarus. He gave me this because we
                 guarded him and his son and wife, through holy fear; for he dwelt
                 within the shady grove of Phoebus Apollo. He brought me splendid
                 gifts: of fine-wrought gold he gave me seven talents, gave me a
                 mixing-bowl of solid silver, and afterwards filled me twelve jars
                 with wine, sweet and unmixed, a drink for gods. None knew that
                 wine among the slaves and hand-maids of his house, none but
                 himself, his own dear wife, and one sole house-dame. Whenever
                 they drank the honeyed ruddy wine, he filled a cup and poured it
                 into twenty parts of water, and still from the bowl came a sweet
                 odor of a surprising strength; then to refrain had been no easy
                 matter. I filled a large skin full of this and took it with me, and also
                 took provision in a sack; for my stout heart suspected I soon
                 should meet a man arrayed in mighty power, a savage, ignorant of
                 rights and laws.

                    "Quickly we reached the cave, but did not find him there; for he
                 was tending his fat flock afield. Entering the cave, we looked
                 around. Here crates were standing, loaded down with cheese, and
                 here pens thronged with lambs and kids. In separate pens each sort
                 was folded: by themselves the older, by themselves the later born,
                 and by themselves the younglings. Swimming with whey were all
                 the vessels, the well-wrought pails and bowls in which he milked.
                 Here at the very first my men entreated me to take some cheeses
                 and depart; then quickly to drive the kids and lambs to our swift
                 ship out of the pens, and sail away over the briny water. But I
                 refused,, far better had I yielded,, hoping that I might see him and
                 he might offer gifts. But he was to prove, when seen, no pleasure
                 to my men.

                    "Kindling a fire here, we made burnt offering and we ourselves
                 took of the cheese and ate; and so we sat and waited in the cave
                 until he came from pasture. He brought a ponderous burden of dry
                 wood to use at supper time, and tossing it down inside the cave
                 raised a great din. We hurried off in terror to a corner of the cave.
                 But into the wide-mouthed cave he drove his sturdy flock, all that
                 he milked; the males, both rams and goats, he left outside in the
                 high yard. And now he set in place the huge door-stone, lifting it
                 high in air, a ponderous thing; no two and twenty carts, stanch and
                 four-wheeled, could start it from the ground; such was the rugged
                 rock he set against the door. Then sitting down, he milked the
                 ewes and bleating goats, all in due order, and underneath put each
                 one's young. Straightway he curdled half of the white milk, and
                 gathering it in wicker baskets, set it by; half he left standing in the
                 pails, ready for him to take and drink, and for his supper also. So
                 after he had busily performed his tasks, he kindled a fire, noticed
                 us, and asked:

                    "'Ha, strangers, who are you? Where do you come from, sailing
                 the watery ways ? Are you upon some business? Or do you rove
                 at random, as the pirates roam the seas, risking their lives and
                 bringing ill to strangers?'

                    "As he thus spoke, our very souls were crushed within us,
                 dismayed by the heavy voice and by the monster's self;
                 nevertheless I answered thus and said:

                    "'We are from Troy, Achaeans, driven by shifting winds out of
                 our course across the great gulf of the sea; homeward we fared,
                 but through strange ways and wanderings are come hither; so Zeus
                 was pleased to purpose. Subjects of Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
                 we boast ourselves to be, whose fame is now the widest under
                 heaven; so great a town he sacked, so many men he slew. But
                 chancing here, we come before your knees to ask that you will
                 offer hospitality, and in other ways as well will give the gift which
                 is the stranger's due. O mighty one, respect the gods. We are your
                 suppliants, and Zeus is the avenger of the suppliant and the
                 stranger; he is the stranger's friend and waits on worthy strangers.'

                    "So I spoke, and from a ruthless heart he straightway answered:
                 'You are simple, stranger, or come from far away, to bid me dread
                 the gods or shrink before them. The Cyclops pay no heed to
                 aegis-bearing Zeus, nor to the blessed gods; because we are much
                 stronger than themselves. To shun the wrath of Zeus, I would not
                 spare you or your comrades, did my heart not bid. But tell me
                 where you left your stanch ship at your coming. At the far shore,
                 or near? Let me but know.'

                    "He thought to tempt me, but he could not cheat a knowing man
                 like me; and I again replied with words of guile: 'The Earth-shaker,
                 Poseidon, wrecked my ship and cast her on the rocks at the land's
                 end, drifting her on a headland; the wind blew from the sea; and I
                 with these men here escaped impending ruin.'

                    "So I spoke, and from a ruthless heart he answered nothing, but
                 starting up laid hands on my companions. He seized on two an(l
                 dashed them to the ground as if they had been dogs. Their brains
                 ran out upon the floor, and wet the earth. Tearing them limb from
                 limb, he made his supper, and ate as does a mountain lion, leaving
                 nothing, entrails, or flesh, or marrow bones. We in our tears held
                 up our hands to Zeus, at sight of his reckless deeds; helplessness
                 held our hearts. But when the Cyclops had filled his monstrous
                 maw by eating human flesh and pouring down pure milk, he laid
                 himself in the cave full length among his flock. And I then formed
                 the plan within my daring heart of closing on him, drawing my
                 sharp sword from my thigh, and stabbing him in the breast where
                 the midriff holds the liver, feeling the place out with my hand. Yet
                 second thoughts restrained me, for there we too had met with utter
                 ruin; for we could never with our hands have pushed from the
                 lofty door the enormous stone which he had set against it. Thus
                 then with sighs we awaited sacred dawn.

                    "But when the early rosy-fingered dawn appeared, he kindled a
                 fire, milked his goodly flock, all in due order, and underneath put
                 each one's young. Then after he had busily performed his tasks,
                 seizing once more two men, he made his morning meal. And when
                 the meal was ended, he drove from the cave his sturdy flock, and
                 easily moved the huge door-stone; but afterwards he put it back as
                 one might put the lid upon a quiver. Then to the hills, with many a
                 call, he turned his sturdy flock, while I was left behind brooding on
                 evil and thinking how I might obtain revenge, would but Athene
                 grant my prayer. And to my mind this seemed the wisest way.
                 There lay beside the pen a great club of the Cyclops, an olive stick
                 still green, which he had cut to be his staff when dried. Inspecting
                 it, we guessed its size, and thought it like the mast of a black ship
                 of twenty oars, some broad-built merchantman which sails the
                 great gulf of the sea; so huge it looked in length and thickness. I
                 went and cut away a fathom's length of this, laid it before my men,
                 and bade them shape it down; they made it smooth; I then stood
                 by to point the tip and, laying hold, I charred it briskly in the
                 blazing fire. The piece I now put carefully away, hiding it in the
                 dung which lay about the cave in great abundance; and then I bade
                 my comrades fix by lot who the bold men should be to help me
                 raise the stake and grind it in his eye, when pleasant sleep should
                 come. Those drew the lot whom I myself would rather have
                 chosen; four were they, for a fifth I counted in myself. He came
                 toward evening, shepherding the fleecy flock, and forthwith drove
                 his sturdy flock into the widemouthed cave, all with much care; he
                 did not leave a sheep in the high yard outside, either through some
                 suspicion, or God bade him so to do. Again he set in place the
                 huge door-stone, lifting it high in air, and, sitting down, he milked
                 the ewes and bleating goats, all in due order, and underneath put
                 each one's young. Then after he had busily performed his tasks, he
                 seized once more two men and made his supper. And now it was
                 that drawing near the Cyclops I thus spoke, holding within my
                 hands an ivy bowl filled with dark wine:

                    "'Here, Cyclops, drink some wine after your meal of human
                 flesh, and see what sort of liquor our ship held. I brought it as an
                 offering, thinking that you might pity me and send me home. But
                 you are mad past bearing. Reckless! How should a stranger come
                 to you again from any people, when you have done this wicked

                    "So I spoke; he took the cup and drank it off, and mightily
                 pleased he was with the taste of the sweet liquor, and thus he
                 asked me for it yet again:

                    "'Give me some more, kind sir, and straightway tell your name,
                 that I may give a stranger's gift with which you shall be pleased.
                 Ah yes, the Cyclops' fruitful fields bear wine in their heavy
                 clusters, for rain from Zeus makes the grape grow; but this is a bit
                 of ambrosia and nectar.'

                   "So he spoke, and I again offered the sparkling wine. Three
                 times I brought and gave; three times he drank it in his folly. Then
                 as the wine began to dull the Cyclops' senses, in winning words I
                 said to him:

                    "'Cyclops, you asked my noble name, and I will tell it; but do
                 you give the stranger's gift, just as you promised. My name is
                 Nobody. Nobody I am called by mother, father, and by all my

                    "So I spoke, and from a ruthless heart he straightway answered:
                 'Nobody I eat up last, after his comrades; all the rest first; and that
                 shall be the stranger's gift for you.'

                    "He spoke, and sinking back fell flat; and there he lay, lolling his
                 thick neck over, till sleep, that conquers all, took hold upon him.
                 Out of his throat poured wine and scraps of human flesh; heavy
                 with wine, he spewed it forth. And now it was I drove the stake
                 under a heap of ashes, to bring it to a heat, and with my words
                 emboldened all my men, that none might flinch through fear. Then
                 when the olive stake, green though it was, was ready to take fire,
                 and through and through was all aglow, I snatched it from the fire,
                 while my men stood around and Heaven inspired us with great
                 courage. Seizing the olive stake, sharp at the tip, they plunged it in
                 his eye, and I, perched up above, whirled it around. As when a
                 man bores shipbeams with a drill, and those below keep it in
                 motion with a strap held by the ends, and steadily it runs; even so
                 we seized the fire-pointed stake and whirled it in his eye. Blood
                 bubbled round the heated thing. The vapor singed off all the lids
                 around the eye, and even the brows, as the ball burned and its
                 roots crackled in the flame. As when a smith dips a great axe or
                 adze into cold water, hissing loud, to temper it, , for that is strength
                 to steel,, so hissed his eye about the olive stake. A hideous roar he
                 raised; the rock resounded; we hurried off in terror. He wrenched
                 the stake from out his eye, all dabbled with the blood, and flung it
                 from his hands in frenzy. Then he called loudly on the Cyclops
                 who dwelt about him in the caves, along the windy heights. They
                 heard his cry, and ran from every side, and standing by the cave
                 they asked what ailed him:

                    "'What has come on you, Polyphemus, that you scream so in the
                 immortal night, and keep us thus from sleeping? Is a man driving
                 off your Hocks in spite of you? Is a man murdering you by craft or

                    "Then in his turn from out the cave big Polyphemus answered:
                 'Friends, Nobody is murdering me by craft. Force there is none.'

                    "But answering him in winged words they said: "If nobody
                 harms you when you are left alone, illness which comes from
                 mighty Zeus you cannot fly. But make your prayer to your father,
                 lord Poseidon.'

                    "This said, they went their way, and in my heart I laughed, my
                 name, that clever notion, so deceived them. But now the Cyclops,
                 groaning and in agonies of anguish, by groping with his hands took
                 the stone off the door, yet sat himself inside the door with hands
                 outstretched, to catch whoever ventured forth among the sheep;
                 for he probably hoped in his heart that I should be so silly. But I
                 was planning how it all might best be ordered that I might win
                 escape from death both for my men and me. So many a plot and
                 scheme I framed, as for my life; great danger was at hand. Then to
                 my mind this seemed the wisest way: some rams there were of a
                 good breed, thick in the fleece, handsome and large, which bore a
                 dark blue wool. These I quietly bound together with the twisted
                 willow withes on which the giant Cyclops slept, the brute,, taking
                 three sheep together. One, in the middle, carried the man; the other
                 two walked by the sides, keeping my comrades safe. Thus three
                 sheep bore each man. Then for myself, there was a ram, by far the
                 best of all the flock, whose back I grasped, and curled beneath his
                 shaggy belly there I lay, and with my hands twisted in that
                 enormous fleece I steadily held on, with patient heart. Thus then
                 with sighs we awaited sacred dawn.

                    "Soon as the early rosy-fingered dawn appeared, the rams
                 hastened to pasture, but the ewes bleated unmilked about the pens,
                 for their udders were wellnigh bursting. Their master, racked with
                 grievous pains, felt over the backs of all the sheep as they stood
                 up, but foolishly did not notice how under the breasts of the woolly
                 sheep men had been fastened. Last of the flock, the ram walked to
                 the door, cramped by his fleece and me the crafty plotter; and
                 feeling him over, big Polyphemus said:

                    "'What, my pet ram 'Why do you move across the cave
                 hindmost of all the flock? Till now you never lagged behind, but
                 with your long strides you were always first to crop the tender
                 blooms of grass; you were the first to reach the running streams,
                 and first to wish to turn to the stall at night: yet here you are the
                 last. Ah, but you miss your master's eye, which a villain has put
                 out,, he and his vile companions, blunting my wits with wine.
                 Nobody it was, not, I assure him, safe from destruction yet. If only
                 you could sympathize and get the power of speech to say where he
                 is skulking from my rage, then should that brain of his be knocked
                 about the cave and dashed upon the ground. So might my heart
                 recover from the ills which miserable Nobody brought upon me.'

                    "So saying, from his hand he let the ram go forth; and after we
                 were come a little distance from the cave and from the yard, first
                 from beneath the ram I freed myself and then set free my
                 comrades. So at quick pace we drove away those long-legged
                 sheep, heavy with fat, many times turning round, until we reached
                 the ship. A welcome sight we seemed to our dear friends, as men
                 escaped from death. Yet for the others they began to weep and
                 wail; but this I did not suffer; by my frowns I checked their tears.
                 In stead, I bade them straightway toss the many fleecy sheep into
                 the ship, and sail away over the briny water. Quickly they came,
                 took places at the pins, and sitting in order smote the foaming
                 water with their oars. But when I was as far away as one can call,
                 I shouted to the Cyclops in derision:

                    "'Cyclops, no weakling's comrades you were destined to devour
                 in the deep cave, with brutal might. But it was also destined your
                 bad deeds should find you out, audacious wretch, who did not
                 hesitate to eat the guests within your house! For this did Zeus
                 chastise you, Zeus and the other gods.'

                    "So I spoke, and he was angered in his heart the more; and
                 tearing off the top of a high hill, he flung it at us. It fell before the
                 dark-bowed ship a little space, but failed to reach the rudder's tip.
                 The sea surged underneath the stone as it came down, and swiftly
                 toward the land the wash of water swept us, like a flood-tide from
                 the deep, and forced us back to shore. I seized a setting-pole and
                 shoved the vessel off; then inspiriting my men, I bade them fall to
                 their oars that we might flee from danger,, with my head making
                 signs,, and bending forward, on they rowed. When we had
                 traversed twice the distance on the sea, again to the Cyclops would
                 I call; but my men, gathering round, sought with soft words to stay
                 me, each in his separate wise:

                    "'O reckless man, why seek to vex this savage, who even now,
                 hurling his missile in the deep, drove the ship back to shore ? We
                 verily thought that we were lost. And had he heard a man make
                 but a sound or speak, he would have crushed our heads and our
                 ships' beams, by hurling jagged granite stone; for he can throw so

                    "So they spoke, but did not move my daring spirit; again I called
                 aloud out of an angry heart: ' Cyclops, if ever mortal man asks you
                 the story of the ugly blinding of your eye, say that Odysseus made
                 you blind, the spoiler of cities, Laertes' son, whose home is Ithaca.'

                    "So I spoke, and with a groan he answered: 'Ah, surely now the
                 ancient oracles are come upon me! Here once a prophet lived, a
                 prophet brave and tall, Telemus, son of Eurymus, who by his
                 prophecies obtained renown and in prophetic works grew old
                 among the Cyclops. He told me it should come to pass in aftertime
                 that I should lose my sight by means of one Odysseus; but I was
                 always watching for the coming of some tall and comely person,
                 arrayed in mighty power; and now a little miserable feeble creature
                 blinded me of my eye, overcoming me with wine. nevertheless,
                 come here, Odysseus, and let me give the stranger's gift, and beg
                 the famous Land-shaker to aid you on your way. His son am I; he
                 calls him self my father. He, if he will, shall heal me; none else
                 can, whether among the blessed gods or mortal men.'

                    "So he spoke, and answering him said I: 'Ah, would I might as
                 surely strip you of life and being and send you to the house of
                 Hades, as it is sure the Earth-shaker will never heal your eye!?'

                    "So I spoke, whereat he prayed to lord Poseidon, stretching his
                 hands forth toward the starry sky: 'Hear me, thou girder of the
                 land, dark-haired Poseidon 'If I am truly thine, and thou art called
                 my father, vouchsafe no coming home to this Odysseus, spoiler of
                 cities, Laertes' son, whose home is Ithaca. Yet if it be his lot to see
                 his friends once more, and reach his stately house and native land,
                 late let him come, in evil plight, with loss of all his crew, on the
                 vessel of a stranger, and may he at his home find trouble.'

                    "So spoke he in his prayer, and the dark-haired god gave ear.
                 Then once more picking up a stone much larger than before, the
                 Cyclops swung and sent it, putting forth stupendous power. It fell
                 behind the dark-bowed ship a little space, but failed to reach the
                 rudder's tip. The sea surged underneath the stone as it came
                 clown, but the wave swept us forward and forced us to the shore.

                    "Now when we reached the island where our other wellbenched
                 ships waited together, while their crews sat round them sorrowing,
                 watching continually for us, as we ran in we beached our ship
                 among the sands, and forth we went ourselves upon the shore.
                 Then taking the Cyclops' sheep out of the hollow ship, we parted
                 all, that none might go lacking his proper share. The ram my
                 mailed companions gave to me alone, a mark of special honor in
                 the division of the flock; and on the shore I offered him to Zeus of
                 the dark cloud, the son of Kronos, who is the lord of all, burning
                 the thighs. He did not heed the sacrifice. Instead, he purposed that
                 my well-benched ships should all be lost, and all my trusty
                 comrades. But all throughout that day till setting sun we sat and
                 feasted on abundant meat and pleasant wine; and when the sun
                 went down and darkness came, we laid us down to sleep upon the
                 beach. Then as the early rosy-fingered dawn appeared, inspiriting
                 my men, I bade them come on board and loose the cables. Quickly
                 they came, took places at the pins, and sitting in order smote the
                 foaming water with their oars.

                    "Thence we sailed on, with aching hearts, glad to be clear of
                 death, though missing our dear comrades."