The Odyssey


Terracotta plaque of the Mesopotamian ogre Humbaba, believed to be a possible inspiration for the figure of Polyphemus

Scholars have seen strong influences from Near Eastern mythology and literature in the Odyssey.[17] Martin West notes substantial parallels between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey.[18] Both Odysseus and Gilgamesh are known for traveling to the ends of the earth and on their journeys go to the land of the dead.[19] On his voyage to the underworld, Odysseus follows instructions given to him by Circe, who is located at the edges of the world and is associated through imagery with the sun.[20] Like Odysseus, Gilgamesh gets directions on how to reach the land of the dead from a divine helper: the goddess Siduri, who, like Circe, dwells by the sea at the ends of the earth, whose home is also associated with the sun. Gilgamesh reaches Siduri's house by passing through a tunnel underneath Mt. Mashu, the high mountain from which the sun comes into the sky.[21] West argues that the similarity of Odysseus' and Gilgamesh's journeys to the edges of the earth are the result of the influence of the Gilgamesh epic upon the Odyssey.[22]

In 1914, paleontologist Othenio Abel surmised the origins of the Cyclops to be the result of ancient Greeks finding an elephant skull.[23] The enormous nasal passage in the middle of the forehead could have looked like the eye socket of a giant, to those who had never seen a living elephant.[23] Classical scholars, on the other hand, have long known that the story of the Cyclops was originally a folk tale, which existed independently of the Odyssey and which became part of it at a later date. Similar stories are found in cultures across Europe and the Middle East.[24] According to this explanation, the Cyclops was originally simply a giant or ogre, much like Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh.[24] Graham Anderson suggests that the addition about it having only one eye was invented to explain how the creature was so easily blinded.[25]

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