Feed on
Posts
Comments

Question 13

            When one talks about an object, being, etc, one tends to look at the aesthetics. When people describe something, they normally use an array of different adjectives to create a vision in another’s mind, but what about the essence and meaning of an object. Just because something may be orange and round with little black lines all over it doesn’t mean that it is a basketball. When one thinks of the Cyclops in The Odyssey, one may describe him as a monster. The creature with one eye and who is larger than any normal human being, one who lives in a cave and feeds off of living things. But what really makes a monster? And is the Cyclops really a monster?

In Book Nine of The Odyssey, I feel that there is a lot of ambiguity in terms of the Cyclops and Odysseus. The issues of human vs. inhuman are thrown back and forth as the story of Odysseus’ adventure on the land of the Cyclopes. Both parties seem to be wary of each other. As Odysseus and his men are approaching the island he describes the Cyclops community as “lawless brutes, who trust so to the everlasting gods, they never plant with their own hands or plow the soil (9.119).” This is the first suggestion by Odysseus that the Cyclopes is inhuman. He continues with, “They have no meeting place for council, no laws either, no, up on the mountain peakes they live in arching caverns- each law to himself, ruling his wives and children, not a care in the world for any neighbor (9.125).” The one thing I found interesting about this particular passage is that Odysseus refers to the Cyclops as “himself” and “his.” This is giving the Cyclopes a human identity. By identifying with gender, this could be a human trait that places the Cyclopes under the description of human. If the Cyclops were a “monster,” than I would think that he would be referred to as “it” or “its,” purely for the reinforcement that this creature was not at all human. Whereas calling the Cyclops “him” reinforces the assumption that the Cyclops may not be at all inhuman or subhuman.

To Odysseus, these Cyclops’ are “lawless brutes,” and it seems to me that the perception that Odysseus and his men have of these creatures is that they are mindless monsters who have no way of living productively. So I found it interesting that when Odysseus and his men first met Polyphemus, the creature was aware of faraway lands and people. “Strangers! He thundered out, ‘now who are you? Where did you sail from, over the running sea-lanes? Out on a trading spree or roving the waves like pirates, sea-wolves raiding at will, who risk their lives to plunder other men? (9.284).” This suggests that Polyphemus has knowledge of other life in this world. If one were subhuman, one would not have the knowledge or understanding or the capacity to know of other lives outside of their own. I believe that this is supporting evidence that the Cyclops is not subhuman or inhuman. Just because he is larger and only has one eye does not allow him to only have qualities or obtain the essence of a human. To those men of Troy who have laws and councils, that is the way of life that works for them. I believe that the land of the Cyclopes if functioning in their own way, that works for their society.

It is suggested in Book Nine that men have certain crafts, more specifically the men of troy. As Odysseus and his men were plotting their escape from Polyphemus’ cave, there were suggestions in the text that men had certain skills, like “Shipwrite” and “blacksmith.” I feel like Homer may have put these words in the text to enforce the human aspect for Odysseus and him men. But at the same time it conflicts with my earlier claim that Odysseus refers to the Cyclops as “himself.” This is where the ambiguity comes in about the distinction between Odysseus and the Cyclops. I feel as though there may be a parallel here with human and inhuman qualities shown in both the Cyclops and Odysseus.

The action that Odysseus and his men take against the Cyclops to escape his cave is that of stabbing his single eye. “I dragged it from the flames, my men clustering round as some god breathed enormous courage through us all. Hoisting high that olive stake with its stabbing point, straight into the monster’s eye they rammed it hard (9.425).” To me this was a way that Homer could show a more monstrous side of Odysseus, almost like he was trying to bring Odysseus and Polyphemus to the same level. Whether or not that level is human or inhuman, there are parallels between the two individuals.

When Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody,” that word alone gives a suggestion that Odysseus is inhuman. Stripping Odysseus of any identity is Homer’s way of showing that even Odysseus can have the essence of being subhuman. “Nobody, friends’- Polyphemus bellowed back from his cave- ‘Nobody’s killing me now by fraud and not by force!’ (9.454).” The Cyclops knows that Odysseus had tricked him into getting drunk and falling asleep so he did not have an opportunity to fight back while they were trying to kill him, hence the “by fraud and not by force.”

I feel as though there was a lot of underlying identity issues in this chapter. There was a reason Zeus caused Odysseus and his men to end up on the land of the Cyclopes. Maybe this was a way for Homer to show that each character in this book is similar in essence. Both Odysseus and Polyphemus have human and monstrous qualities so what makes a monster? In my opinion, I believe that the Cyclops, although he may look different aesthetically, has similar human aspect to any of the other characters in the book. So I feel that both Odysseus and Polyphemus are on the same level with human and monster qualities, making them equals.

20 Responses to “Parallels Between Odysseus and Polyphemus and what does it mean to be a “monster””

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Julie,

    This is an interesting essay about identity, specifically monstrosity. I think you are right to point to various interests that seem to “humanize” Polyphemus. There is no indication that he eats meat, much less flesh, regularly, as we discussed in class; this seems to deflate the idea that he is normally a cannibal (and thus normally problematic). He is at least aware of the possibility of others (if only gods). And, as Kathryn pointed out in class, he is the one being intruded upon, after all. Maybe it is “uncivilized” to act contrary to guests if one fears Zeus (with the interesting implication that civility is at root fear). But Polyphemus, as he tells us, does not in fact fear Zeus, nor any other “blessed god” (9.310). They have more force (though not more fraud, as we know) “by far,” he says. They have no reason to greet strangers as friends (unlike Nestor, as we saw in class, at 3.79).

    However, I do think there are points to be made on the other side. No matter how much at fault Odysseus is–and he is at fault for generating the wrath of Poseidon–he also is clear that the behavior of Polyphemus is not how men are supposed to act. They are “lawless brutes” (9.120) who do not cultivate the land, who do not hold council (as you said–and by the way note the implication that Ithaca is perhaps lawless by the same metric, having not had a council in twenty years), who have no laws, who do not care for their neighbors, and who have not a care in the world for their fellows. Odysseus later implies that being lawless involves being violent and savage (9.195). He calls Polyphemus a “grim loner, dead set in his lawless ways” (9.210) and explicitly a “monster” (9.211).

    Of course, all of this is in retrospect, and maybe Odysseus is just resentful or furious at getting into such a dangerous and foolish situation. But I think part of the subtext is about what constitutes political life and justice–and what, as a result, constitutes or even completes humanity. This will later be worked out in Aristotle, of course (with interesting references back to this Cyclops episode), especially in the Politics. Only brutes or gods can live without laws, without justice, without caring for others, without politics. I think in the Odyssey there is a proto-Aristotelian, or at least proto-Hellenic, conception of what politics means and thus what being human means. And Polyphemus fails at every step.

    Of course, the result may be that Polyphemus is not inhuman but rather subhuman, a possibility that you raise. In other words, he is not fully human, not fully humanized by culture or by justice or by whatever. But perhaps there is hope. And perhaps the flip side of this is the ways that human beings can regress, so to speak–how they can set aside laws and become brutish or even bestial. We’ll have to see in the final books whether this possibility is taken up. Does justice appear in the final books? Or only revenge?

    KH

  2. Websites worth visiting

    […]here are some links to sites that we link to because we think they are worth visiting[…]…

  3. BEFLUENT.PL says:

    Gems form the internet

    […]very few websites that happen to be detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly well worth checking out[…]…

  4. Gems form the internet

    […]very few websites that happen to be detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly well worth checking out[…]…

  5. Great website

    […]we like to honor many other internet sites on the web, even if they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages worth checking out[…]…

  6. Sites we Like…

    […] Every once in a while we choose blogs that we read. Listed below are the latest sites that we choose […]…

  7. You should check this out

    […] Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine a few unrelated data, nevertheless really worth taking a look, whoa did one learn about Mid East has got more problerms as well […]…

  8. Online Article…

    […]The information mentioned in the article are some of the best available […]…

  9. Links

    […]Sites of interest we have a link to[…]…

  10. Sources

    […]check below, are some totally unrelated websites to ours, however, they are most trustworthy sources that we use[…]…

  11. Cheat4game says:

    Blogs ou should be reading

    […]Here is a Great Blog You Might Find Interesting that we Encourage You[…]…

  12. Cool sites

    […]we came across a cool site that you might enjoy. Take a look if you want[…]…

  13. Visitor recommendations

    […]one of our visitors recently recommended the following website[…]…

  14. Visitor recommendations

    […]one of our visitors recently recommended the following website[…]…

  15. Great website

    […]we like to honor many other internet sites on the web, even if they aren’t linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages worth checking out[…]…

  16. Websites worth visiting

    […]here are some links to sites that we link to because we think they are worth visiting[…]…

  17. Visitor recommendations

    […]one of our visitors recently recommended the following website[…]…

  18. Recommeneded websites

    […]Here are some of the sites we recommend for our visitors[…]…

  19. Superb website

    […]always a big fan of linking to bloggers that I love but don’t get a lot of link love from[…]…

  20. my link says:

    Blogs ou should be reading

    […]Here is a Great Blog You Might Find Interesting that we Encourage You[…]…