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The Cyclops

Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.

When the great city of Troy was taken, all the chiefs who had fought
against it set sail for their homes. But there was wrath in heaven
against them, for indeed they had borne themselves haughtily and
cruelly in the day of their victory. Therefore they did not all find a
safe and happy return. For one was shipwrecked and another was
shamefully slain by his false wife in his palace, and others found all
things at home troubled and changed and were driven to seek new
dwellings elsewhere. And some, whose wives and friends and people had
been still true to them through those ten long years of absence, were
driven far and wide about the world before they saw their native land
again. And of all, the wise Ulysses was he who wandered farthest and
suffered most.

He was well-nigh the last to sail, for he had tarried many days to do
pleasure to Agamemnon, lord of all the Greeks. Twelve ships he had
with him--twelve he had brought to Troy--and in each there were some
fifty men, being scarce half of those that had sailed in them in the
old days, so many valiant heroes slept the last sleep by Simois and
Scamander and in the plain and on the seashore, slain in battle or by
the shafts of Apollo.

First they sailed northwest to the Thracian coast, where the Ciconians
dwelt, who had helped the men of Troy. Their city they took, and in it
much plunder, slaves and oxen, and jars of fragrant wine, and might
have escaped unhurt, but that they stayed to hold revel on the shore.
For the Ciconians gathered their neighbors, being men of the same
blood, and did battle with the invaders and drove them to their ship.
And when Ulysses numbered his men, he found that he had lost six out
of each ship.

Scarce had he set out again when the wind began to blow fiercely; so,
seeing a smooth, sandy beach, they drove the ships ashore and dragged
them out of reach of the waves, and waited till the storm should
abate. And the third morning being fair, they sailed again and
journeyed prosperously till they came to the very end of the great
Peloponnesian land, where Cape Malea looks out upon the southern sea.
But contrary currents baffled them, so that they could not round it,
and the north wind blew so strongly that they must fain drive before
it. And on the tenth day they came to the land where the lotus
grows--a wondrous fruit, of which whosoever eats cares not to see
country or wife or children again. Now the Lotus eaters, for so they
call the people of the land, were a kindly folk and gave of the fruit
to some of the sailors, not meaning them any harm, but thinking it to
be the best that they had to give. These, when they had eaten, said
that they would not sail any more over the sea; which, when the wise
Ulysses heard, he bade their comrades bind them and carry them, sadly
complaining, to the ships.

Then, the wind having abated, they took to their oars and rowed for
many days till they came to the country where the Cyclopes dwell. Now,
a mile or so from the shore there was an island, very fair and
fertile, but no man dwells there or tills the soil, and in the island
a harbor where a ship may be safe from all winds, and at the head of
the harbor a stream falling from the rock, and whispering alders all
about it. Into this the ships passed safely and were hauled up on the
beach, and the crews slept by them, waiting for the morning. And the
next day they hunted the wild goats, of which there was great store on
the island, and feasted right merrily on what they caught, with
draughts of red wine which they had carried off from the town of the

But on the morrow, Ulysses, for he was ever fond of adventure and
would know of every land to which he came what manner of men they were
that dwelt there, took one of his twelve ships and bade row to the
land. There was a great hill sloping to the shore, and there rose up
here and there a smoke from the caves where the Cyclopes dwelt apart,
holding no converse with each other, for they were a rude and savage
folk, but ruled each his own household, not caring for others. Now
very close to the shore was one of these caves, very huge and deep,
with laurels round about the mouth, and in front a fold with walls
built of rough stone and shaded by tall oaks and pines. So Ulysses
chose out of the crew the twelve bravest, and bade the rest guard the
ship, and went to see what manner of dwelling this was and who abode
there. He had his sword by his side, and on his shoulder a mighty skin
of wine, sweet smelling and strong, with which he might win the heart
of some fierce savage, should he chance to meet with such, as indeed
his prudent heart forecasted that he might.

So they entered the cave and judged that it was the dwelling of some
rich and skilful shepherd. For within there were pens for the young of
the sheep and of the goats, divided all according to their age, and
there were baskets full of cheeses, and full milk pails ranged along
the wall. But the Cyclops himself was away in the pastures. Then the
companions of Ulysses besought him that he would depart, taking with
him, if he would, a store of cheeses and sundry of the lambs and of
the kids. But he would not, for he wished to see, after his wont, what
manner of host this strange shepherd might be. And truly he saw it to
his cost!

It was evening when the Cyclops came home, a mighty giant, twenty feet
in height or more. On his shoulder he bore a vast bundle of pine logs
for his fire, and threw them down outside the cave with a great
crash, and drove the flocks within, and closed the entrance with a
huge rock, which twenty wagons and more could not bear. Then he milked
the ewes and all the she-goats, and half of the milk he curdled for
cheese and half he set ready for himself when he should sup. Next he
kindled a fire with the pine logs, and the flame lighted up all the
cave, showing Ulysses and his comrades.

"Who are ye?" cried Polyphemus, for that was the giant's name. "Are ye
traders or, haply, pirates?"

For in those days it was not counted shame to be called a pirate.

Ulysses shuddered at the dreadful voice and shape, but bore him
bravely, and answered, "We are no pirates, mighty sir, but Greeks,
sailing back from Troy, and subjects of the great King Agamemnon,
whose fame is spread from one end of heaven to the other. And we are
come to beg hospitality of thee in the name of Zeus, who rewards or
punishes hosts and guests according as they be faithful the one to the
other, or no."

"Nay," said the giant, "it is but idle talk to tell me of Zeus and the
other gods. We Cyclopes take no account of gods, holding ourselves to
be much better and stronger than they. But come, tell me where have
you left your ship?"

But Ulysses saw his thought when he asked about the ship, how he was
minded to break it and take from them all hope of flight. Therefore he
answered him craftily:

"Ship have we none, for that which was ours King Poseidon brake,
driving it on a jutting rock on this coast, and we whom thou seest are
all that are escaped from the waves."

Polyphemus answered nothing, but without more ado caught up two of the
men, as a man might catch up the whelps of a dog, and dashed them on
the ground, and tore them limb from limb and devoured them, with huge
draughts of milk between, leaving not a morsel, not even the very
bones. But the others, when they saw the dreadful deed, could only
weep and pray to Zeus for help. And when the giant had ended his foul
meal, he lay down among his sheep and slept.

Then Ulysses questioned much in his heart whether he should slay the
monster as he slept, for he doubted not that his good sword would
pierce to the giant's heart, mighty as he was. But, being very wise,
he remembered that, should he slay him, he and his comrades would yet
perish miserably. For who should move away the great rock that lay
against the door of the cave? So they waited till the morning. And the
monster woke and milked his flocks, and afterward, seizing two men,
devoured them for his meal. Then he went to the pastures, but put the
great rock on the mouth of the cave, just as a man puts down the lid
upon his quiver.

All that day the wise Ulysses was thinking what he might best do to
save himself and his companions, and the end of his thinking was this:
There was a mighty pole in the cave, green wood of an olive tree, big
as a ship's mast, which Polyphemus purposed to use, when the smoke
should have dried it, as a walking staff. Of this he cut off a
fathom's length, and his comrades sharpened it and hardened it in the
fire and then hid it away. At evening the giant came back and drove
his sheep into the cave, nor left the rams outside, as he had been
wont to do before, but shut them in. And having duly done his
shepherd's work, he made his cruel feast as before. Then Ulysses came
forward with the wine skin in his hand and said:

"Drink, Cyclops, now that thou hast feasted. Drink and see what
precious things we had in our ship. But no one hereafter will come to
thee with such like, if thou dealest with strangers as cruelly as thou
hast dealt with us."

Then the Cyclops drank and was mightily pleased, and said, "Give me
again to drink and tell me thy name, stranger, and I will give thee a
gift such as a host should give. In good truth this is a rare liquor.
We, too, have vines, but they bear no wine like this, which indeed
must be such as the gods drink in heaven."

Then Ulysses gave him the cup again and he drank. Thrice he gave it to
him and thrice he drank, not knowing what it was and how it would work
within his brain.

Then Ulysses spake to him. "Thou didst ask my name, Cyclops. Lo! my
name is No Man. And now that thou knowest my name, thou shouldst give
me thy gift."

And he said, "My gift shall be that I will eat thee last of all thy

And as he spake he fell back in a drunken sleep. Then Ulysses bade his
comrades be of good courage, for the time was come when they should be
delivered. And they thrust the stake of olive wood into the fire till
it was ready, green as it was, to burst into flame, and they thrust it
into the monster's eye; for he had but one eye, and that in the midst
of his forehead, with the eyebrow below it. And Ulysses leaned with
all his force upon the stake and thrust it in with might and main. And
the burning wood hissed in the eye, just as the red-hot iron hisses in
the water when a man seeks to temper steel for a sword.

Then the giant leapt up and tore away the stake and cried aloud, so
that all the Cyclopes who dwelt on the mountain side heard him and
came about his cave, asking him, "What aileth thee, Polyphemus, that
thou makest this uproar in the peaceful night, driving away sleep? Is
any one robbing thee of thy sheep or seeking to slay thee by craft or

And the giant answered, "No Man slays me by craft."

"Nay, but," they said, "if no man does thee wrong, we cannot help
thee. The sickness which great Zeus may send, who can avoid? Pray to
our father, Poseidon, for help."

Then they departed, and Ulysses was glad at heart for the good
success of his device when he said that he was No Man.

But the Cyclops rolled away the great stone from the door of the cave
and sat in the midst, stretching out his hands to feel whether
perchance the men within the cave would seek to go out among the

Long did Ulysses think how he and his comrades should best escape. At
last he lighted upon a good device, and much he thanked Zeus for that
this once the giant had driven the rams with the other sheep into the
cave. For, these being great and strong, he fastened his comrades
under the bellies of the beasts, tying them with osier twigs, of which
the giant made his bed. One ram he took and fastened a man beneath it,
and two others he set, one on either side. So he did with the six, for
but six were left out of the twelve who had ventured with him from the
ship. And there was one mighty ram, far larger than all the others,
and to this Ulysses clung, grasping the fleece tight with both his
hands. So they waited for the morning. And when the morning came, the
rams rushed forth to the pasture; but the giant sat in the door and
felt the back of each as it went by, nor thought to try what might be
underneath. Last of all went the great ram. And the Cyclops knew him
as he passed and said:

"How is this, thou, who art the leader of the flock? Thou art not wont
thus to lag behind. Thou hast always been the first to run to the
pastures and streams in the morning and the first to come back to the
fold when evening fell; and now thou art last of all. Perhaps thou art
troubled about thy master's eye, which some wretch--No Man, they call
him--has destroyed, having first mastered me with wine. He has not
escaped, I ween. I would that thou couldst speak and tell me where he
is lurking. Of a truth I would dash out his brains upon the ground and
avenge me of this No Man."

So speaking, he let him pass out of the cave. But when they were out
of reach of the giant, Ulysses loosed his hold of the ram and then
unbound his comrades. And they hastened to their ship, not forgetting
to drive before them a good store of the Cyclops' fat sheep. Right
glad were those that had abode by the ship to see them. Nor did they
lament for those that had died, though they were fain to do so, for
Ulysses forbade, fearing lest the noise of their weeping should betray
them to the giant, where they were. Then they all climbed into the
ship, and sitting well in order on the benches, smote the sea with
their oars, laying-to right lustily, that they might the sooner get
away from the accursed land. And when they had rowed a hundred yards
or so, so that a man's voice could yet be heard by one who stood upon
the shore, Ulysses stood up in the ship and shouted:

"He was no coward, O Cyclops, whose comrades thou didst so foully slay
in thy den. Justly art thou punished, monster, that devourest thy
guests in thy dwelling. May the gods make thee suffer yet worse things
than these!"

Then the Cyclops in his wrath broke off the top of a great hill, a
mighty rock, and hurled it where he had heard the voice. Right in
front of the ship's bow it fell, and a great wave rose as it sank, and
washed the ship back to the shore. But Ulysses seized a long pole with
both hands and pushed the ship from the land and bade his comrades ply
their oars, nodding with his head, for he was too wise to speak, lest
the Cyclops should know where they were. Then they rowed with all
their might and main.

And when they had gotten twice as far as before, Ulysses made as if he
would speak again; but his comrades sought to hinder him, saying,
"Nay, my lord, anger not the giant any more. Surely we thought before
we were lost, when he threw the great rock and washed our ship back to
the shore. And if he hear thee now, he may crush our ship and us, for
the man throws a mighty bolt and throws it far."

But Ulysses would not be persuaded, but stood up and said, "Hear,
Cyclops! If any man ask who blinded thee, say that it was the warrior
Ulysses, son of Laertes, dwelling in Ithaca."

And the Cyclops answered with a groan, "Of a truth, the old oracles
are fulfilled, for long ago there came to this land one Telemus, a
prophet, and dwelt among us even to old age. This man foretold me that
one Ulysses would rob me of my sight. But I looked for a great man and
a strong, who should subdue me by force, and now a weakling has done
the deed, having cheated me with wine. But come thou hither, Ulysses,
and I will be a host indeed to thee. Or, at least, may Poseidon give
thee such a voyage to thy home as I would wish thee to have. For know
that Poseidon is my sire. May be that he may heal me of my grievous

And Ulysses said, "Would to God, I could send thee down to the abode
of the dead, where thou wouldst be past all healing, even from
Poseidon's self."

Then Cyclops lifted up his hands to Poseidon and prayed:

"Hear me, Poseidon, if I am indeed thy son and thou my father. May
this Ulysses never reach his home! or, if the Fates have ordered that
he should reach it, may he come alone, all his comrades lost, and come
to find sore trouble in his house!"

And as he ended he hurled another mighty rock, which almost lighted on
the rudder's end, yet missed it as if by a hair's breadth. So Ulysses
and his comrades escaped and came to the island of the wild goats,
where they found their comrades, who indeed had waited long for them,
in sore fear lest they had perished. Then Ulysses divided among his
company all the sheep which they had taken from the Cyclops. And all,
with one consent, gave him for his share the great ram which had
carried him out of the cave, and he sacrificed it to Zeus. And all
that day they feasted right merrily on the flesh of sheep and on sweet
wine, and when the night was come, they lay down upon the shore and

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