We bring you one of the most exciting stories from Homer’s Odyssey with our version of ‘In the Cyclops Cave’.
Warning: It’s a rather scary story, as it is all about a giant who likes nothing better than to eat people.
Odysseus, the craftiest man alive, is sailing home from the Trojan War. He and his men go ashore and find a cave with sheep, goats and cheese. They make themselves comfortable, only to find that the cave belongs to a one-eyed giant.
You can find our other Greek Myths, including the earlier Trojan stories, here.
Adapted by Bertie.
Read by Natasha. Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
In the Cyclops’ Cave –
After the Greeks destroyed the fabulous city of Troy, they sailed home in their black ships, but not all of them received a warm welcome by any means. When King Agamemnon returned to his palace in Argos, his Queen Clytemnestra was far from pleased to see him. You see, before he left for Troy, King Agamemnon had sacrificed the life of their daughter so that the gods would send a fair wind to blow the Greek ships to Troy. Now, Clytemnestra hated her husband more than any man alive, but she pretended to be all smiles and kisses.
While Agamemnon was relaxing his weary limbs in the warm, soapy water, Queen Clytemnestra crept up with a knife and killed him.
On the island of Ithaca, a very different Queen, whose name was Penelope, was longing for the safe return of her husband. She had to wait quite a while though. His journey home took him ten long years, and all that time, Penelope was surrounded by men who wanted to marry her and steal her husband’s throne. She said to her suitors: “Gentlemen, I am spinning a magnificent bedspread for my wedding night. First let me finish making it, and then I will say which one of you I shall choose for my new husband.” Every day Penelope worked at spinning her wheel, and every night she unpicked her threads, so that her work was never done. In this way she kept the men waiting, for she was sure that her husband was still alive and would return home safely to her arms. His name was Odysseus and he was famous all over the world for his quick mind and his cunning tricks. It was Odysseus who had come up with the idea of the wooden horse, which led to the destruction of Troy. Despite all his resourcefulness, he made slow progress home, for Poseidon the god of the seas was angry with him. The sea god sent howling winds to blow Odysseus off his course, and fierce storms to buffet his ships. This is the story of why he was so angry.
Odysseus and his men sailed in their swift boats, their oars turning up white foam on the wine-dark sea. One evening they landed on a small island. He and his men hunted down goats for their dinner and that evening they ate roast meat on the beach. In the morning, Odysseus looked across the water to the mainland. He saw a wild country, with wooded mountains wrapped in mist. He decided to go and see what kind of people lived on that land. He told most of his men to wait behind, but he sailed across the water in his own boat with his crew of twenty brave men. On his back he took a skinful of fine wine that had been given to him by a priest of the sun god, Apollo. He thought it would make a good gift for his hosts, whoever they might be.
When they got ashore, they scrambled up the steep cliffs and explored the woods. They saw nobody, but high up on the mountain they discovered a vast cave. Inside they found lambs and goat kids living in pens, and on the ground were piles of round cheeses and barrels full of milk. The men were all for stealing the cheese and a few lambs, and taking them back to the ship as fast as possible. However, Odysseus commanded them to sit down and wait for the owner of the cave, for he was sure he would be a rich man, and generous to travellers, according to the laws of the gods. So they waited until evening. In the meantime they lit a fire, and helped themselves to the cheese and milk.
Towards sunset, they heard the tinkling of sheep bells, and they knew that the owner of the cave was driving his flocks back home. First the sheep came running into the cave, and then they were followed by a giant who had to stoop to enter through the door. He had one eye in the middle of his forehead, as do all those who belong to the race of the Cyclops.
The Cyclops was astonished to find a band of men making themselves comfy in his cave and eating his cheese. He blinked with his one eye and asked in a terrible voice:
“And who might you be?”
Odysseus replied: “We are Greeks on our way back from the glorious war in Troy. Lord Zeus, the king of all the gods is our protector, and according to his laws you must treat us kindly, provide us with gifts, and send us safely on our way.”
Instead of replying, the Cyclops went to the door of the cave and rolled a great stone into the opening so that the exit was blocked. Now the only light in the cave was from the fire lit by Odysseus and his men.
“What care I for the laws of Zeus?” said the Cyclops. “I am strong, and besides, I am protected by Poseidon, the god of the seas and of earthquakes too, for he is my father.”
Odysseus and his men retreated into the dark corners of the cave, but the Cyclops could see them in the dark with his one eye, for it glowed as bright as the fire.
“Don’t talk to me of laws!” said the Cyclops. “I know your type. You are scoundrels who sail the wine-dark seas, raiding the people who live on their shores, killing and burning and plundering whatever takes your fancy. In fact, you are lawless pirates, that’s who you are!”
With that he grabbed up two of the men and stuffed them into his mouth. “Mmm,” he said. “Nice dinner.”
The Greeks threw up their hands and wailed: “Oh Lord Zeus save us from this horrific monster!” But the Cyclops just chuckled to himself and lay down to sleep by the fire. Odysseus drew his sword and was tempted to drive it straight into the heart of the giant while he slept, but then he thought: “If I kill the Cyclops, revenge will be sweet, but I will also be sending us to our doom, for we shall never remove that great boulder from the door of the cave. Not twenty horses could pull that rock away. We shall surely remain here till we die.” And so he and his men lay down and wept for their lost friends, while Odysseus wracked his brains for a better way to avenge them.
In the morning, the Cyclops awoke and without haste ate two more of Odysseus’ men (for breakfast). Then he led his sheep out to the pasture, being careful to roll the rock into the mouth of the cave after him.
The Cyclops had left behind him a great walking stick, of the sort that shepherds use to climb over the mountains. This gave Odysseus an idea. He ordered his men to look for sharp pieces of flint in the back of the cave. They took these and used them to sharpen the end of the stick into a cruel point. Next Odysseus told his men to pick up the stick and harden the point in the fire.
That evening when the Cyclops returned, the men trembled with fear, not knowing which of them the Cyclops would eat next.
But Odysseus wished the giant good evening, saying: “My dear Cyclops. Let us not be enemies. See here, I have a gift for you of the finest wine. It was given to me by a priest of Apollo, who wanted to thank me for saving his life. It tastes no less wonderful than the ambrosia which the gods who live on mount Olympus feast upon. Here, I have a whole skinful for you.”
The Cyclops tried a cup of the wine and he liked it. “For once you speak the truth, oh pirate,” he said. “This wine is indeed the finest I have ever tasted,” and he picked up the skin and guzzled some more wine down.
“Tell me little man, he said, “what is your name?”
“My name,” said Odysseus, “is Nobody. That is what I am called by my friends who love me, and my enemies who fear me.”
“Well I am neither your friend, nor do I fear you,” said the Cyclops, “but I shall call you Nobody all the same, if that is how you like to be called. For in truth, you will be nobody soon when I’ve eaten you. But as a reward for your gift of fine wine, I shall not eat you till I have eaten all the others.”
Before he went to bed he ate two more of Odysseus’ men, and finished the entire skin full of wine.. enough to put fifty men to sleep, and he fell into a deep slumber on the floor of the cave, snoring like a volcano.
Now that the Cyclops was sound asleep, Odysseus ordered those of his men whom the Cyclops had not yet eaten to pick up the great stick that they had sharpened and hardened in the fire. They carried it over their shoulders, which was as big as the trunk of a young tree, and they drove it into the one and only eye of the Cyclops. The giant let out a terrible scream and raged around the cave calling for help. The other one-eyed giants who lived nearby came running to see what was the cause of this commotion.
“What’s happened to you?” they called from outside the cave.
“Nobody has hurt me,” wailed the Cyclops. “Nobody came into my cave and did this to me.” The other giants were baffled by the Cyclops’ cries, since he insisted that “nobody” was harming him. Much confused, they all went back to bed.
In the morning, the Cyclops was careful to make sure that Odysseus and his men did not slip out of the cave. As each of his sheep went out, he felt it carefully to check that a man was not riding on its back, but he did not know that Odysseus had ordered his followers to tie the sheep together in threes, and that now they were clinging upside down between the sheep. The last animal to leave the cave was the old ram with curly horns. Odysseus was clinging to his underside. The Cyclops stroked the ram and said: “Cruel Nobody has blinded me, but I shall have my revenge. I shall find him tonight cowering in the corner of the cave, and I shall eat him for dinner, chewing very slowly.”
When Odysseus and his men were clear of the cave, they started to scramble down the cliffs to the beach, taking some of the lambs with them. They pulled their boat out from where it was hidden in the brush wood, and started to row swiftly out to their friends on the island. Up above on the cliffs they saw the Cyclops, standing as tall as an oak tree and bellowing with rage: “Oh woe is me! Nobody has blinded me in my one eye, and now Nobody is escaping across the seas!”
Odysseus stood up in the boat and called out to him: “Cruel Cyclops, you broke the laws of Zeus by eating my men and now you have your just desserts. Never again shall you see the light of day with that terrible eye of yours!”
His men begged him to sit down in the boat and keep quiet, but he carried on calling out insults to his enemy. In reply the giant picked up a huge rock and hurled it down into the sea. It sent up a great wave that rocked the boat so that it almost turned over. When it was steady, hot-headed Odysseus stood up in the boat again, and despite the pleas of his men he called out:
“Listen here you monstrous giant. If anyone asks you who did this to you, say it was swift-witted Odysseus, son of Laertes, sacker of cities. Yes, it was none other than Odysseus of rocky Ithaca who took the eye of the cruel, stupid Cyclops.”
The Cylops sent another boulder flying into the sea and this sent up another great wave that almost sank the boat again. Now the Cyclops went down on his knees and prayed to Poseidon: “Oh great ruler of the seas, mighty lord who makes the earth quake and tremble. Dear Poseidon, my father… hear my prayer. I did not think to fear this swift-witted Odysseus, son of Laertes, sacker of cities. He was such a puny and feeble little man. Please, oh great sea god, grant me revenge. Send a terrible storm to pick up his ships like toys and fling them back down again so that they smash into smithereens and all his brave men are drowned. Or if it is not permitted to end his life before its time, then make sure he only returns home, after many long years of great suffering, and that he finds his land in turmoil, and the echoing halls of his palace full of greedy robbers devouring his wealth. Oh sea lord, hear the prayer of Polyphemus the Cyclops – for I am your loving son.”
The sea god Poseidon heard the prayer of his son, the cruel Cyclops with one blind eye, and that is the reason why Odysseus spent ten long years buffeted by the cruel seas before he reached his home land.