The Odyssey‎ > ‎

Book 9

The Odyssey – Book 9 The Cyclops (Context)


·        Odysseus introduces himself and begins his story, starting with the moment his men leave Troy.

·        There are almost 10 years to cover.

·        He starts by describing his home—the island of Ithaca of course—and all of the surrounding islands.

·        He laments that he was held captive by Calypso, and actually declares (in our Lattimore translation) that she "never could […] persuade the heart within me" to be her lover. (He means that he was acting like he loved her, but didn't feel that way in his heart.)

·        Odysseus covers the things the audience doesn’t know yet—the years in between Troy and Calypso.

·        This brings the audience to historical present.

Sack of Ismarus

·        Odysseus and his men first come to the land of the Cicones, where they kill everyone, take plunder, and enslave the women.

·        Odysseus tries to get his men to go back to sea so they can get home already, but the men are starving and therefore mutinous. Many Ithacans are killed in the plundering struggle (the natives put up a fight).

·        Those who escape are victims of a god-sent storm and have to wait around for a few days before they can sail again.

Island of the Lotus Eaters

·        Ten days later, they land on the island of the Lotus Eaters.

·        This sounds like a great tropical get-away, until three of Odysseus's men eat the lotus flower, lose their memory of home and family, and want nothing more than to stay on the island getting high. Forever.

·        Odysseus quickly rounds up his men, including the three lotus-afflicted guys, and leaves.

Island of the Cyclopes

·        Next they arrive at the land of the uncivilized Cyclopes, giant monsters with only one eye. Because of their uncivilized ways, these monsters have no seamanship and let their fertile land go to waste. All they do is tend flocks of sheep.

·        When Odysseus and his crew run across a Cyclops's deserted cave, his men want to steal, but Odysseus won't let them.

·        Instead, he wants to treat the Cyclops like a human being and play the part of good guests (more on that hospitality thing). So they burn an offering in the monster's cave and wait for his return.

·        Not surprisingly, the Cyclops soon returns, driving in his herd of sheep and closing the entrance of the cave behind him with a huge boulder.

·        After some bantering he refuses their suggestion of hospitality—he doesn't care for Zeus's rules about being good guests and hosts.

·        The Cyclops asks Odysseus where he has landed his ship. Odysseus, quick on his feet, says that they've been shipwrecked by Poseidon. (Irony alert!)

·        The Cyclops, also quick on his feet, bends down, grabs two men, and promptly eats them.

·        Then he goes to sleep.

·        Odysseus draws his sword to kill the Cyclops in his sleep, but he stops when he realizes that they can never escape the cave without the strength of the Cyclops to remove the gigantic rock at the entrance. Foiled again.

·        So they mill around and wait for the monster to wake up and have breakfast.

·        The Cyclops wakes in the morning and, yes, has a few of Odysseus's men for breakfast. Luckily, he doesn't choose Odysseus.

·        When he leaves to tend his flocks for the day, Odysseus hatches a plan. He has his men carve out a huge wooden pole and sharpen its end in fire.

·        When the Cyclops returns, Odysseus offers him wine & says that his name is "Nobody."

·        The Cyclops gets drunk from the wine and passes out.

·        Time for action. Odysseus and his men drive the sharpened pole straight into the Cyclops's only eye, blinding him.

·        Moral of the story: don't drink until you blackout.

·        The Cyclops makes such a racket that other Cyclopes gather outside his cave and ask him what is wrong. We hear his name—Polyphemus—for the first time. Polyphemus yells out to them: "Nobody's tricked me, Nobody's ruined me!"

·        So the others are all, "OK, fine - stop making a ruckus. Nobody's ruined us, either" and they go back to their fun times in the pastures.

·        But first, they reveal the information that Poseidon, god of the sea, is Polyphemus's father.

·        Odysseus takes a moment to congratulate himself.

·        But there's still in the little problem of how to escape the cave. The Cyclops, meanwhile, can't see to eat the men for their, so he just pulls the spike out of his eye and goes to bed.

·        While he sleeps, Odysseus devises the second part of the plan: he ties each of his men beneath one of Polyphemus's rams, saving the biggest for himself, of course.

·        The next morning, Polyphemus lets his flock out, reaching down and feeling the tops of their fleece for escaping men. Of course, he doesn't detect anything.

·        Odysseus's ram is the last one out and Polyphemus asks him (the ram) what is wrong; he is usually the first out. He decides that his king ram must be sympathizing with his master because of the whole mutilated eye thing and lets the creature pass.

·        Outside, Odysseus unties his men and they make their way to their ship

·        Odysseus can't help taunting Polyphemus as they sail away.

·        The men rather reasonably want Odysseus to stop taunting Polyphemus, but he's having too much fun trash-talking.

·        He then pulls the moronic move of revealing his real name to Polyphemus. In fact, he doesn't just reveal his name; he basically delivers his personal biography: he is Odysseus, raider of cities, Laertes's son, the man from Ithaca.

·        Polyphemus begs for assistance from Poseidon and asks him to curse Odysseus. He prays that Odysseus will never get home, or if he does, that he will lose all his companions in the journey.

·        This is where we can all stop wondering why Poseidon hates Odysseus so much.

·        Polyphemus hurls another rock, this one landing behind the ship and forcing it out to sea.

·        Shortly thereafter, Odysseus lands and makes a sacrifice to Zeus.

How do we know the Cyclopes are barbarians?


·        They don’t plough or sow crops – the crops just grow (i.e. they aren’t farmers)

·        They do have wine, as grapes grow freely in their land – but they don’t seem to be aware that wine should be mixed with water (similar to the Centaurs)

·        They have no assembly and no law code (the hall marks of a civilised society) – each Cyclops just lays down rules for his own family

·        They cannot build shops and therefore cannot trade (which is why they have never set foot on the island where Odysseus lands)

·        Polyphemus is an aggressive loner, even by Cyclops standards – “he had no truck with others of his kind, but lived aloof in his own lawless ways”

·        Polyphemus doesn’t just each people – which is bad enough – but he eats them raw, which shows that he is truly barbaric – “he was quite unlike any man who eats bread”

Practice passage for analysis Book 9

‘When the fierce glow from the olive stake warned me that it was about to catch alight in the flames, green as it was, I withdrew it from the fire and my men gathered round. A god now inspired them with tremendous courage. Seizing the olive pole, they drove its sharpened end into the Cyclops’ eye, while I used my weight from above to twist it home, like a man boring a ship’s timber with a drill which his mates below him twirl with a strap they hold at either end, so that it spins continuously. In much the same way we handled our pole with its red-hot point and twisted it in his eye till the blood boiled up round the burning wood. The scorching heat singed his lids and brow all round, while his eyeball blazed and the very roots crackled in the flame. The Cyclops’ eye hissed round the olive stake in the same way that an axe or adze hisses when a smith plunges it into cold water to quench and strengthen the iron. He gave a dreadful shriek, which echoed round the rocky walls, and we backed away from him in terror, while he pulled the stake from his eye, streaming with blood.’


1.      In this passage, by what means does Homer make the description of the blinding of the Cyclops vivid? You should support your answer with details from the passage. (10 marks)




How it makes the blinding vivid


“like a man boring […]”

Audience can relate to the language of ship building. Listening audience.

“boring” – illustrates the challenge they face.

Comparison to drill shows the level of plain inflicted on the Cyclops as the stake is being driven deep into his eye.

Semantic field of pain/heat

“blood” “singe” “hiss” “shriek” “flame”

Makes the Cyclops more human – feels pain

Characterises Odysseus as a hero, able to inflict such pain on a greater enemy

Exaggeration/high level of description

“dreadful shriek”

“great shout”

Engages audience in the Cyclops’ panic.


“in the same way that an axe […]”

Relatable imagery – blacksmith

Emphasises heat of the olive stake and the fact that it is fusing to the Cyclops’ eye.