Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 9

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Book 9

  • Odysseus introduces himself and begins his story, starting with the moment his men leave Troy.
  • We've got almost ten years to cover here.
  • He starts by describing his home—the island of Ithaka of course—and all of the surrounding islands.
  • He laments that he was held captive by Kalypso, and actually declares (in our Lattimore translation) that she "never could […] persuade the heart within me" to be her lover. (Basically, he means that he was acting like he loved her, but didn't feel that way in his heart.)
  • Yeah, we're pretty sure we've heard that excuse before.
  • Now Odysseus covers the stuff we don't know—the years in between Troy and Kalypso.
  • Also, welcome to the historical present.
  • Odysseus and his men first come to the land of the Kikonians, where they kill everyone, take plunder, and enslave the women.
  • Ah, Ancient Greece: when men were raging jerks and women were chattel. Gosh, we miss the old days.
  • Odysseus tries to get his men to go back to sea so they can get home already, but the men are starving and therefore mutinous. Many Ithakans are killed in the plundering struggle (the natives put up a fight).
  • Those who escape are victims of a god-sent storm and have to wait around for a few days before they can sail again.
  • Ten days later, they land on the island of the Lotus Eaters.
  • This sounds like a great tropical get-away, until three of Odysseus' men eat the lotus flower, lose their memory of home and family, and want nothing more than to stay on the island getting high. Forever.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • Odysseus quickly rounds up his men, including the three lotus-afflicted guys, and leaves.
  • Next they arrive at the land of the uncivilized Cyclopes, giant monsters with only one eye. Because of their uncivilized ways, these monsters have no seamanship and let their fertile land go to waste. All they do is tend flocks of sheep.
  • (We're hearing a little farmer vs. nomad grudge here.)
  • When Odysseus and his crew run across a Cyclops' deserted cave, his men want to steal, but Odysseus won't let them.
  • Instead, he wants to treat the Cyclops like a human being and play the part of good guests (more on that hospitality thing). So they burn an offering in the monster's cave and wait for his return.
  • Not surprisingly, the Cyclops soon returns, driving in his herd of sheep and closing the entrance of the cave behind him with a huge boulder.
  • But he doesn't want to play along.
  • After some bantering he refuses their suggestion of hospitality—he doesn't care for Zeus' rules about being good guests and hosts.
  • The Cyclops asks Odysseus where he has landed his ship. Odysseus, quick on his feet, says that they've been shipwrecked by Poseidon. (Irony alert!)
  • The Cyclops, also quick on his feet, bends down, grabs two men, and promptly eats them.
  • Then he goes to sleep.
  • Odysseus draws his sword to kill the Cyclops in his sleep, but he stops when he realizes that they can never escape the cave without the strength of the Cyclops to remove the gigantic rock at the entrance. Foiled again.
  • So they mill around and wait for the monster to wake up and have breakfast.
  • The Cyclops wakes in the morning and, yes, has a few of Odysseus' men for breakfast. Luckily, he doesn't choose Odysseus.
  • When he leaves to tend his flocks for the day, Odysseus hatches a plan. He has his men carve out a huge wooden pole and sharpen its end in fire.
  • When the Cyclops returns, Odysseus cunningly offers him wine and tells him that his name is "Nobody."
  • The Cyclops gets drunk from the wine and passes out.
  • Time for action. Odysseus and his men drive the sharpened pole straight into the Cyclops' only eye, blinding him.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • Moral of the story: don't drink until you blackout.
  • The Cyclops makes such a racket that other Cyclopes gather outside his cave and ask him what is wrong. We hear his name—Polyphemos—for the first time. They ask if any man has tricked him.
  • Polyphemos yells out to them: "Nobody's tricked me, Nobody's ruined me!"
  • So the others are all, "OK, fine, then stop making a ruckus. Nobody's ruined us, either" and they go back to their fun times in the pastures.
  • But first, they reveal the information that Poseidon, god of the sea, is Polyphemos' father.
  • Uh-oh.
  • Odysseus takes a moment to congratulate himself.
  • But there's still in the little problem of how to escape the cave. The Cyclops, meanwhile, can't see to eat the men for their treachery (is it treachery if you've imprisoned them in your cave?), so he just pulls the spike out of his eye and goes to bed.
  • While he sleeps, Odysseus devises the second part of the plan: he ties each of his men beneath one of Polyphemos' rams, saving the biggest for himself, of course.
  • You know what they say about men who need big rams.
  • The next morning, Polyphemos lets his flock out, reaching down and feeling the tops of their fleece for escaping men. Of course, he doesn't detect anything.
  • Odysseus' ram is the last one out and Polyphemos asks him (the ram) what is wrong; he is usually the first out. He decides that his king ram must be sympathizing with his master because of the whole mutilated eye thing and lets the creature pass.
  • Outside, Odysseus triumphantly unties his men and all make their way to their ship, stealing the escape-vessel sheep while they're at it.
  • Sweet—surely they're home-free now, right?
  • Nope. Odysseus can't help taunting Polyphemos as they sail away. (We're sensing a trend here.)
  • Polyphemos, enraged, throws a gigantic rock that passes over the Ithakans' ship.
  • The men rather reasonably want Odysseus to stop taunting Polyphemos, but he's having too much fun trash-talking.
  • He then pulls the moronic move of revealing his real name to Polyphemos. In fact, he doesn't just reveal his name; he basically delivers his personal biography: he is Odysseus, raider of cities, Laertes' son, the man from Ithaka.

(Click the infographic to download.)

  • Polyphemos runs to daddy and begs him to curse Odysseus. He prays that Odysseus will never get home, or if he does, that he will lose all his companions in the journey.
  • This is where we can all stop wondering why Poseidon hates Odysseus so much.
  • Polyphemos hurls another rock, this one landing behind the ship and forcing it out to sea.
  • Shortly thereafter, Odysseus lands and makes a sacrifice to Zeus.
  • It's rejected. (We don't really know how that works, but take Odysseus' word for it—he clearly messed with the wrong one-eyed man-eating son-of-a-god.)

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