The Odyssey

Based upon Odysseus’ criticism of the Cyclopes, what kind of society do you think the Greeks valued?

The Cyclops

In the next land we found were Cyclopes,

110 giants, louts, without a law to bless them.

In ignorance leaving the fruitage of the earth in mystery

to the immortal gods, they neither plow n

or sow by hand, nor till the ground, though grain—

wild wheat and barley—grows untended, and

115 wine-grapes, in clusters, ripen in heaven’s rains.

Cyclopes have no muster and no meeting,

no consultation or old tribal ways,

but each one dwells in his own mountain cave

dealing out rough justice to wife and child,

120 indifferent to what the others do…

As we rowed on, and nearer to the mainland,

at one end of the bay, we saw a cavern

yawning above the water, screened with laurel,

and many rams and goats about the place

125 inside a sheepfold—made from slabs of stone

earthfast between tall trunks of pine and rugged

towering oak trees.

A prodigious man

slept in this cave alone, and took his flocks

to graze afield—remote from all companions,

130 knowing none but savage ways, a brute

so huge, he seemed no man at all of those

who eat good wheaten bread; but he seemed rather

a shaggy mountain reared in solitude.

We beached there, and I told the crew

135 to stand by and keep watch over the ship:

as for myself I took my twelve best fighters

and went ahead. I had a goatskin full

of that sweet liquor that Euanthes’ son,

Maron had given me. He kept Apollo’s

140 holy grove at Ismarus; for kindness

we showed him there, and showed his wife and child,

he gave me seven shining golden talents

perfectly formed, a solid silver winebowl,

and then this liquor—twelve two-handled jars

145 of brandy, pure and fiery. Not a slave

in Maron’s household knew this drink; only

he, his wife and the storeroom mistress knew;

and they would put one cupful—ruby-colored,

honey-smooth—in twenty more of water,

150 but still the sweet scent hovered like a fume

over the winebowl. No man turned away

when cups of this came around.

A wineskin full

I brought along, and victuals in a bag,

for in my bones I knew some towering brute

155 would be upon us soon—all outward power,

a wild man, ignorant of civility.

We climbed, then, briskly to the cave. But Cyclops

had gone afield, to pasture his fat sheep,

so we looked eound at everything inside:

160 a drying rack that sagged with cheeses, pens

crowded with lambs and kids, each in its class:

firstlings apart from middling’s, and the ‘dewdrops,’

or newborn lambkins, penned apart from both.

And vessels full of whey were brimming there—

165 bowls of earthenware and pails for milking.

My men came pressing round me pleading:

‘Why not

take these cheeses, get them stowed, come back,

throw open all the pens, and mke a run for it?

We’ll drive the kids and lambs aboard. We say

170 put out again on good salt water!’


how sound that was! Yet I refused. I wished

to see the cave man, hat he had to offer—

no pretty sight, it turned out, for my friends.

We lit a fire, burnt an offering,

175 and took some cheese to eat; then sat in silence

around the embers, waiting. When he came

he had a load of dry boughs on his shoulder

to stoke his fire at suppertime. He dumped it

with a great crash into that hollow cave,

180 and we all scattered fast to the far wall.

Then over the broad cavern floor he ushered

the ewes he meant to milk. He left his rams

and he-goats in the yard outside, and swung

high overhead a slab of solid rock

185 to close the cave. Two dozen four-wheeled wagons,

with heavy wagon teams, could not have stirred t

he tonnage of that rock from where he wedged it

over the doorsill. Next he took his seat

and milked his bleating ewes. A practiced job

190 he made of it, giving each ewe her suckling;

thickened his milk, then, into curds and whey,

sieved out the curds to drip in withy baskets,

and poured the whey to stand in bowls

cooling until he drank it for his supper.

195 When all these chores were done, he poked the fire,

heaping on brushwood. In the glare he saw us.

‘Strangers,’ he said, ‘who are you? And where from?

What brings you here by seaways—a fair traffic?

Or are you wandering rogues, who cast your lives

200 like dice, and ravage other folk by sea?’

We felt a pressure on our hearts, in dread

of that deep rumble and that mighty man.

But all the same I spoke up in reply:

‘We are from Troy, Achaeans, blown off course

205 by shifting gales on the Great South Sea:

homeward bound, but taking routes and ways

uncommon; so the will of Zeus would have it.

We served under Agamemnon, son of Atreus—

the whole world knows what city

210 he laid waste, what armies he destroyed.

It was out luck to come here, here we stand,

beholden for your help, or any gifts

you give—as custom is to honor strangers.

We would entreat you, great Sir, have a care

215 for the gods’ courtesy; Zeus will avenge

the unoffending guest.’

He answered this

from his brute chest, unmoved:

‘You are a ninny,

or else you come from the other end of nowhere,

telling me, mind the gods! We Cyclops

220 care not a whistle for your thundering Zeus

or all the gods in bliss; we have more force by far.

I would not let you go for fear of Zeus—

you or your friends—unless I had a whim to.

Tell me, where was it, now, you left your ship—

225 around the point, or down the shore, I wonder?’

He thought he’d find out, but I saw through this,

and answered with a ready lie:

‘My ship?

Poseidon Lord, who sets the earth a-tremble,

broke it up on the rocks at your land’s end.

230 A wind from seaward served him, drove us there.

We are survivors, these good men and I.’

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THe Greeks certainly valued hospitality. Homer criticizes the Cyclops for not being hospitable to his guests. Hospitality was even afforded to enemies who came in peace yet the Cyclops is just plain nasty. Odysseus criticizes the Cyclops that he would defy the Gods' rule for honouring guests that come to their door or, in this case, cave.