One of the most famous adventures of Odysseus, is when he comes up against the Cyclops. These one eyed monsters live on their own island (which some say is Sicily!).
Odysseus arrives with twelve sailors and starts exploring. He finds a cave and decides to enter!
(For his previous adventures click on 1 or 2 below)
Polyphemos and the Cave
The Greeks, accustomed to plundering, steal cheeses and lambs from the cave. Odysseus is interested in who lives there and remains behind with his men. A huge creature blocks all the light from the cave entrance, and proceeds to roll a stone to block it, that twenty teams of horses could not shift. Expecting hospitality (for Zeus punishes those who do not offer it) Odysseus makes himself known, but the great giant, Polyphemos, with one eye in the middle of his forehead has no time for Zeus and hospitality, and promptly eats two sailors raw!
Odysseus dare not kill the giant with his sword, as they cannot move the stone, and at dawn the hungry monster breaks his fast with two more hapless sailors, and leaves, rolling the stone across the entrance. Wily Odysseus plots their escape, and using a club of olive wood left by the giant, they sharpen it and harden the point in the smouldering fire.
When Polyphemos returns, he eats two more sailors and, drunk on Odysseus's wine, asks his name, and is told 'Nobody'. When he falls into a drunken stupor, Odysseus and the remaining six sailors drive the stake of hardened olive wood into his eye, blinding him. He screams out and other giants come running to help him. when they ask who is hurting him, he responds "Nobody is", so they ask him to quieten down and go away.
The giant guards the entrance to the cave when the sheep and goats need to get out, so Odysseus groups them in threes and ties a man under each group; he leaves hanging under the biggest ram. Polyphemos feels their backs but misses the fleeing mariners.
When they reach their ship Odysseus calls out a taunt, and reveals his real name. the outraged giant hurls a rock that nearly sinks their vessel, and Polyphemos calls on his father Poseidon to avenge him, ensuring Odysseus has a most uncomfortable journey home.
There are various motifs here that are indicative:
This is a beautiful analogy of the skull, bearing the brain and the mind. Odysseus enters in as a thief. He has no idea whose cave it is or that he might be in real danger. His arrogance leads to the death of six of his sailors.
This lawless giant (and shepherd) devours human beings. He can be seen as the baser instincts and the lawless mind. He is destructive and indolent (and so represents the way the crew of Odysseus were raping and looting, as well as 'under the influence' in the land of the Lotus Eaters).
The one eye lacks perspective. It is also suggested by Rudolf Steiner that such a single eye (or three eyes) represents an older clairvoyant awareness, whose time has past. Odysseus is moving on to the power of reason and (eventually) spiritual intuition.
Olive wood club:
The olive features five times in The Odyssey, and is associated with Athena (who is helping Odysseus's son, Telemachus to find his father). In other words the presence of the olive suggests the deployment of wisdom.
The sharpening of the wood:
The making a sharp point and the hardening in the fire both symbolise the use of intellectual power, and being 'one-pointed' about things.
By putting out this one eye, that clairvoyant faculty is blinded or restrained, and also instinctive wild emotion or dream consciousness no longer drives thought.
Clever means of escape:
Polyphemos blinded, says 'Nobody' is hurting him. Odysseus uses his cunning to escape under the sheep and goats, rather than riding on them. The power of Polyphemos has been limited and Odysseus can get away from the limitation of this archaic form of thinking.
Taunting the son of Poseidon:
However, Odysseus is still is foolish enough to taunt the immortal giant, who calls out to his father, Poseidon, to revenge him and nearly destroys Odysseus's ship. Odysseus still has much to learn.
Poseidon, God of the 'Waters of Transiency') is ruler of the realm of life where Odysseus is. It is his tempestuous environment that Odysseus has to contend with, and by blinding the Cyclops he makes an enemy of Poseidon.
Dealing with the one-eyed Cyclops is the first step taken by Odysseus to rise above instinctive consciousness, and to - essentially - wake up.
He manages to escape the limitations of dream-like thought and takes the first tentative steps towards wisdom, hanging on the underside of a sheep (sheep's wool is symbolic of knowledge and wisdom as in the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece)
Odysseus is beginning to think, and not just react.
Murray Morison is a novelist living in Crete
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