I love this story: the way they both try to trick each other, the baffled and callous response of the other Cyclopes, but especially the word play! The confusion between ‘Nobody’ and ‘no-one’ works well in translation but the last line reveals another, untranslatable level of complexity in the pun since μῆτις (cunning) has the same spelling as μή τίς (no-one). Thus Odysseus here shows that he certainly deserves his epithet ‘πολυμητις’ (of great cunning).
However, the Cyclops story also shows Odysseus’ failings – because of his insatiable curiosity and his desire for ‘guest-gifts’ he ignored his men’s pleas to return to the ship and thus got them trapped in the cave in the first place. His clever tricks get them out safely but when they have almost escaped he again falls victim to pride and tells the Cyclops his true name. As a result he is subjected to years of persecution by Poseidon in revenge for the blinding of his son, until eventually with Athene’s help, he learns self-control and greater wisdom.
‘δός μοι ἔτι πρόφρων, καί μοι τεὸν οὔνομα εἰπὲ 355
αὐτίκα νῦν, ἵνα τοι δῶ ξείνιον, ᾧ κε σὺ χαίρῃς:
καὶ γὰρ Κυκλώπεσσι φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα
οἶνον ἐριστάφυλον, καί σφιν Διὸς ὄμβρος ἀέξει:
ἀλλὰ τόδ᾽ ἀμβροσίης καὶ νέκταρός ἐστιν ἀπορρώξ.
ὣς φάτ᾽, ἀτάρ οἱ αὖτις ἐγὼ πόρον αἴθοπα οἶνον. 360
τρὶς μὲν ἔδωκα φέρων, τρὶς δ᾽ ἔκπιεν ἀφραδίῃσιν.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ Κύκλωπα περὶ φρένας ἤλυθεν οἶνος,
καὶ τότε δή μιν ἔπεσσι προσηύδων μειλιχίοισι:
‘Κύκλωψ, εἰρωτᾷς μ᾽ ὄνομα κλυτόν, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ τοι
ἐξερέω: σὺ δέ μοι δὸς ξείνιον, ὥς περ ὑπέστης. 365
Οὖτις ἐμοί γ᾽ ὄνομα: Οὖτιν δέ με κικλήσκουσι
μήτηρ ἠδὲ πατὴρ ἠδ᾽ ἄλλοι πάντες ἑταῖροι.’
ὣς ἐφάμην, ὁ δέ μ᾽ αὐτίκ᾽ ἀμείβετο νηλέι θυμῷ:
‘Οὖτιν ἐγὼ πύματον ἔδομαι μετὰ οἷς ἑτάροισιν,
τοὺς δ᾽ ἄλλους πρόσθεν: τὸ δέ τοι ξεινήιον ἔσται. 370
τίπτε τόσον, Πολύφημ᾽, ἀρημένος ὧδ᾽ ἐβόησας
νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίην καὶ ἀύπνους ἄμμε τίθησθα;
ἦ μή τίς σευ μῆλα βροτῶν ἀέκοντος ἐλαύνει; 405
ἦ μή τίς σ᾽ αὐτὸν κτείνει δόλῳ ἠὲ βίηφιν;’
τοὺς δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἐξ ἄντρου προσέφη κρατερὸς Πολύφημος:
‘ὦ φίλοι, Οὖτίς με κτείνει δόλῳ οὐδὲ βίηφιν.
οἱ δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενοι ἔπεα πτερόεντ᾽ ἀγόρευον:
‘εἰ μὲν δὴ μή τίς σε βιάζεται οἶον ἐόντα, 410
νοῦσον γ᾽ οὔ πως ἔστι Διὸς μεγάλου ἀλέασθαι,
ἀλλὰ σύ γ᾽ εὔχεο πατρὶ Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι.’
ὣς ἄρ᾽ ἔφαν ἀπιόντες, ἐμὸν δ᾽ ἐγέλασσε φίλον κῆρ,
ὡς ὄνομ᾽ ἐξαπάτησεν ἐμὸν καὶ μῆτις ἀμύμων.
Odysseus is trapped in the Cyclop’s cave and needs to get him drunk in order for his escape plan to work….
“Give me more please, and tell me your name
immediately, so that I can give you a guest-gift, in which you may rejoice:
for the life-giving land of the Cyclopes brings forth
wine made of fine grapes, and the rain of Zeus increases them;
but this is a portion of ambrosia and nectar”
Thus he spoke, then again I offered the sparkling wine.
Three times I brought and gave and three times he drank it up in his folly.
Moreover when the wine had loosened the Cyclopes in his wits,
then indeed I addressed him with gentle words:
“Cyclops, you ask my renowned name; moreover I will tell it
to you: but you must give me a guest-gift, as you promised.
Nobody is my name: Nobody they call me –
my mother and my father and all my other companions”
Thus I spoke but he immediately replied to me with a ruthless spirit:
“I shall eat Nobody last of all, after his companions,
the others first: this will be my guest-gift to you.”
Polyphemus falls into a drunken sleep and Odysseus blinds him with a sharpened stake. The neighbouring Cyclopes hear his cries of agony and come to investigate….
“Surely no-one among mortals is driving away your sheep against your will?
Surely no-one is killing you by a trick or by force?”
In reply strong Polyphemus addressed them out of the cave:
My friends, Nobody is killing me by a trick and not by force.”
They replied and spoke winged words:
“If indeed no-one is doing violence to you since you are alone,
there is no way to avoid sickness from great Zeus,
but you must pray to your father, Lord Poseidon.”
Thus then they spoke as they went away, but my dear heart laughed,
since my name had deceived them and my excellent cunning.
This passage could be used to support teaching of the two forms of the negative and also the two forms of τις . In John Taylor’s ‘Greek to GCSE Book 1′ τις is introduced in Chapter 5, which also tells the story of the Cyclops, so it would be especially appropriate here.
Chosen and translated by Jane Mason.
The above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.