Polyphemus (//; Greek: Πολύφημος Polyphēmos) is the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes. His name means "much spoken of" or "famous". Polyphemus plays a pivotal role in Homer's Odyssey.
In Homer's Odyssey
In Homer's Odyssey (Book 9), Odysseus lands on the Island of the Cyclopes during his journey home from the Trojan War. He leaves his 11 other ships behind at an island and takes one ship and crew to see who lives at the other islands. They reach and land on an island with a giant cave filled with sheep and goats, he then left his boat at the shore and brought along his twelve best men to find who lived in the cave. Eventually they find that the large cave is the home of the great Cyclops Polyphemus. When Polyphemus returns home with his flocks and finds Odysseus and his men, he blocks the cave entrance with a great stone, trapping the remaining Greeks inside. Polyphemus then eats two men after killing them by removing their brains as his meal the first night.
The next morning, Polyphemus kills and eats two more of Odysseus' men for his breakfast and exits the cave to graze his sheep. The desperate Odysseus devises a clever escape plan. He spots a rather large unseasoned olive wood club that Polyphemus left behind the previous night and, with the help of his men, sharpens the narrow end to a fine point. He hardens the stake over a flame and hides it from sight. That night, Polyphemus returns from herding his flock of sheep. He sits down and kills two more of Odysseus' men, bringing the death toll to six. At that point, Odysseus offers Polyphemus the strong and undiluted wine given to him by Maron. The wine makes Polyphemus drunk and unwary. When Polyphemus asks for Odysseus' name, promising him a guest-gift if he answers, Odysseus tells him "Οὖτις", which means "no one", "nothing". Being drunk, Polyphemus thinks of it as a real name and says that he will eat "Nobody" last and that this shall be his guest-gift—a vicious insult both to the tradition of hospitality and to Odysseus. With that, Polyphemus crashes to the floor and passes out. Odysseus, with the help of his men, lifts the flaming stake, charges forward and drives it into Polyphemus' eye, blinding him. Polyphemus yells for help from his fellow cyclopes that "Nobody" has hurt him. The other cyclopes think Polyphemus is making a fool out of them or that it must be a matter with the gods, and they grumble and go away. In the morning, Odysseus and his men tie themselves to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the blind Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, he feels their backs to ensure the men are not riding out, but because of Odysseus' plan, he does not feel the men underneath. Odysseus leaves last, riding beneath the belly of the biggest ram. Polyphemus does not realize that the men are no longer in his cave until the sheep and the men are safely out.
As he sails away with his men, Odysseus boasts to Polyphemus that "I am not no one; I am Odysseus, Son of Laertes, King of Ithaca." This act of hubris causes problems for Odysseus later. Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon for revenge. Even though Poseidon fought on the side of the Greeks during the Trojan War, he bore Odysseus a grudge for not giving him a sacrifice when Poseidon prevented them from being discovered inside of the Trojan Horse. The episode in Odyssey is the oldest testament to cannibalism in ancient Greek literature. Walter Burkert detects in the Polyphemus episode a subtext that "seems to offer us something more ancient: threatened by the man-eater, men conceal themselves in the skins of slaughtered animals, and thus, disguised as animals, escape the groping hands of the blinded monster." The vivid nature of the Polyphemus episode in the Odyssey made it a favorite theme of ancient Greek painted pottery, both black-figure and red-figure pottery. According to Julien d'Huy, this tale may be palaeolithic
The Hellenistic poet Theocritus painted a more sympathetic picture of Polyphemus. The Cyclops of the Odyssey has been recast in the poet's pastoral style which idealized the simple lives of shepherds. In Idylls 6 and 11, Polyphemus becomes a gentle shepherd in love with the sea-nymph Galatea, finding solace in song. According to a tradition, Keltos, the eponymous ancestor of the Celts, was a son of Polyphemus and Galatea.
In Virgil's Aeneid
Aeneas observes Polyphemus as he leads his flocks down to the sea after Achaemenides re-tells the story of how Odysseus and his men escaped Polyphemus in Homer's Odyssey. Polyphemus is described as using a “lopped pine tree” as a walking staff. Once Polyphemus reaches the sea, he washes his oozing eye socket with water and groans painfully. Achaemenides is taken aboard Aeneas’ vessel and they begin to row away. Polyphemus hears them and gives chase into the sea, but is unable to reach them. He then lets out a great roar and the rest of the cyclopes in Polyphemus’ tribe come down to the shore and watch as Aeneas safely sails away. Polyphemus is often portrayed with two empty eye sockets and his actual eye located in the middle on his forehead.
In Ovid's Metamorphoses
The Cyclops also appears in Ovid's story of Acis and Galatea. As a jealous suitor of the sea nymph, Galatea, he kills his rival Acis with a rock. Rather than telling the love stories of Odysseus and Aeneas, Ovid chooses to tell love stories about the monsters that those heroes experienced. Ovid's first century Roman audience would surely have had a basic knowledge of Polyphemus' role as an uncivilized cannibal in Book IX of the Odyssey, and this episode gives an amusing contrast to that characterization. Polyphemus is shown doing all of the things that a proper Roman suitor would do—trims his beard, composes a poem, etc.—which encourage the reader/hearer to cheer for him, even though his courtship is doomed to fail. Ovid tells this story shortly after the Judgement of Arms, where he shows how perceptions of Odysseus in Ovid's time were very different from the Archaic period in Greece. Ovid's self-conscious and urbane report appears to be suggesting in his uncharacteristic depiction of Polyphemus that it is possible for the way that readers view a character to drastically change over time.
Although the full story was described by Ovid, it was also mentioned by Philoxenus and Theocritus, and in Valerius Flaccus' version of Argonautica, among the themes painted on the Argos, "Cyclops from the Sicilian shore calls Galatea back."
During the Renaissance and Baroque the myth regained publicity and Luís de Góngora published his own "Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea" in 1613.
Polyphemus sings in Georg Friedrich Händel's popular 1718 setting of Acis and Galatea, an English language pastoral opera or masque with the libretto set by John Gay to Ovid's Metamorphosis. Here, the jealous monster scares the lovers in the aria "I rage, I melt, I burn" and then monstrously courts Galatea with his "O ruddier than the cherry". As he realizes how he frightens the one he would love, he resists mollification with "Love sounds the alarm" then ultimately interrupts their sweet duet, now a trio, and murders his opponent in a rage.
In other cultures
The story of Odysseus and Polyphemus is recognizable in the folklore of many other European groups. Wilhelm Grimm collected versions in Serbian, Romanian, Estonian, Finnish, Russian, and German. Versions in Basque, Lappish, Lithuanian, Gascon, Syrian, and Celtic are also known.
In other media
- Polyphemus has been repeatedly portrayed in post-classical art and literature. Nicholas Poussin's painting Landscape with Polyphemus was the subject of a famous essay by William Hazlitt.
- Polyphemus is also the subject of a series of sculptures made by the French artist August Rodin about 1888.
- Polyphemus was featured in the 1955 film Ulysses where he was played by Oscar Andriani, as well as the 1997 TV miniseries The Odyssey where he was played by Reid Asato.
- He is portrayed in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? as Big Dan Teague.
- Although unnamed, Polyphemus appeared in the TV mini-series The Odyssey played by Reid Asato. The costume for Polyphemus was provided by Jim Henson's Creature Shop with David Barclay operating the face of Polyphemus.
- Polyphemus appears in The Sea of Monsters, the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan.
- πολύ-φημος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
- οὔτις and Οὖτις, Georg Autenrieth, A Homeric Dictionary, on Perseus
- Burkert, Homo Necans (1982) translated by Peter Bing (University of California Press) 1983, p. 131.
- Julien d'Huy, Polyphemus (Aa. Th. 1137) A phylogenetic reconstruction of a prehistoric tale, New Comparative Mythology, 1, 2013.
- Book 3, Virgil's Aeneid (translation by Stanley Lombardo)
- Ovid, Metamorphoses xiii. 750–68.
- J.H. Mozley translation, Book I.
- Grimm, Wilhelm (1857). Die Sage von Polyphem (in German). Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. pp. 1–30. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
- Pausanias (1898). Frazer, Sir James George, ed. Pausanias's Description of Greece 5. Macmillan. p. 344.
- Frederick Cummings, "Poussin, Haydon, and The Judgement of Solomon", The Burlington Magazine Publications, 1962.
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- Polyphemus and Galatea depicted in statues with a golden harpsichord by Michele Todini, Rome, 1675 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art