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The Story Told to Alcinoüs - the Cyclops

In Book IX of The Odyssey, Odysseus recounts the part of his journey where his arrogance gets his entire crew killed. Odysseus doesn't see it that way and certainly doesn't make a point to acknowledge his culpability to his audience in Alcinoüs's hall. But unfortunately for Odysseus, I have the luxury of being able to reread and re-frame his tale.

Before getting some of his crew killed and the rest doomed to be killed later, Odysseus docks his fleet at an island abundant with food. Odysseus describes how fertile the land was, how the island had a stream of fresh water, how it had a bay safe for ships... Yet despite having found a goddamn oasis after toiling away at sea, Odysseus decides to leave for a nearby island. And once there, he thinks it smart to walk into a cave covered in massive piles of shit.i Somehow the smell doesn't phase Odysseus and his men as they help themselves to some cheese.

The cyclops appears and isn't happy to find a bunch of men making themselves at home in his kitchen. He reclaims his food by eating the men who ate it. Odysseus and company can't escape because the cyclops moved a large boulder to block the door of the cave.ii So Odysseus comes up with a plan to get the cyclops drunk and stab him in the eye.

After Odysseus offers the cyclops wine, the cyclops becomes grateful and asks for his name. Wiley Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his name is "Noman." Odysseus pats himself on the back for this clever lie because later when the cyclops screams for help shouting, "I'm being attacked by Noman!" his other monster friends respond, "oh well if you're being attacked by 'no man' then I guess no one is attacking you hur der."

Odysseus and what remains of his crew manage to escape the cave, but Odysseus is not done being stupid. As he's sailing away he starts taunting the cyclops. The cyclops rips off part of a mountain and throws it at Odysseus's ship, missing by a hair. Having barely survived, Odysseus begins to taunt the cyclops again while his remaining crew is begging him to please stfu.

Unfortunately for the crew Odysseus does not listen and undoes his earlier act of cleverness by revealing his name. The cyclops then prays to his dad Poseidon to "please kill Odysseus, but if you can't do that then at least make his life hard and kill all his friends." The later part of the prayer comes true.

Odysseus's tale of being an idiot is well received in the hall of Alcinoüs. Stupidity mixed with "bravery" makes for fun stories.

  1. Odysseus doesn't mention the shit at first. He describes the pile of dung only later when he tells how he employed it as a hiding spot for the spear he used to blind the cyclops. []
  2. Odysseus conveniently doesn't mention the massive boulder until after it locked them inside the cave. But this boulder must have been rolled to the side of the entrance when they entered, right? Odysseus does say that when entering the cave in his "stout heart" he "suspected" he would meet a powerful savage. A real Sherlock Holmes, this Odysseus. []

2 Responses to “The Story Told to Alcinoüs - the Cyclops”

  1. Diana Coman says:

    Ahahaha, what exactly do you think is the misfortune Odysseus suffer from your reread and reframing anyway?

    Note that Odysseus is after all precisely what his name says and there isn't in this sense much that he does as separate thing, see the discussion on being vs. doing and perhaps even the one on heroes.

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