Arnold Böcklin, Odysseus and Polyphemus, 1896

In Homer’s epic, Odysseus lands on the island of the Cyclopes and arrives at the cave of the giant Polyphemus while the giant is out tending sheep. When the giant arrives home he blocks the cave with a stone and locks the men and sheep inside. Instead of providing hospitality to Odysseus and his men, the giant eats six of them. Odysseus offers the giant Cyclopes some strong wine and he passes out drunk. Odysseus then stabs Polyphemus in his one eye with a wooden stake, thereby blinding him. Polyphemus calls out ‘Who did this?’ and Odysseus replies ‘Nobody.’ Other giants hear the commotion and come Polyphemus’ aid asking ‘Who did this to you?, whereby Polyphemus answers ‘Nobody’ and the giants go away.

The next day the blinded cyclopes lets out his sheep to graze. He checks for the Odysseus and his men by touching the backs of the sheep, however, the men clung to the sheep’s bellies. They make their escape back to their ship and set sail. The angry Polyphemus stands on the shore asking who the men are and in an act of hubris, Odysseus reveals his real name. The angry giant attempts to drown the ship by throwing a stone at it but narrowly misses. Odysseus did not realize that Polyphemus was Poseidon’s son – the Cyclopes asks his father to torment Odysseus and his crew on their voyage.

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