Date posted: December 29th 2016
Book Title: The Odyssey
Be good to your guests... and if you are a guest, you better be respectful to your host—or you might just regret it
My Summary (audio)
Alright, before we begin, let me lay out a couple of things:
First of all the story is not told in chronological order, there are a lot of flashbacks that I can't do here or else it would be super confusing. So I’ll just tell it in chronological order 1 . Second of all, the story takes place in the 6th century BC, and during this time the greek islands were like little mini‑kingdoms. And in most cases, if people wanted to sail between the islands, they would be gambling with their lives!
For example, let’s say someone decided to go to a new island, they had two options. Option one: attack the native islanders (and this was apparently very common), or option two: be friendly. The funny thing is that these two options were taken to the extreme. Option one would be the bloodiest massacre you can imagine; they would kill, rape, and burn houses down to the ground like nobody’s business—and then sacrifice a hundred goats to the gods. Obviously if they didn’t succeed, the locals would kill them, and burn their ships to the ground. Now, option two is peculiar, because it is the complete opposite. If they were friendly, the locals would greet them, feed them, and drink with them all day long. They would hear each other stories and be best friends for as long as they stayed (sometimes months) at no cost! Then, before leaving, the locals would prepare gifts for the visitors. I'm talking about huge gifts! In exchange for nothing, just for being nice guests, I guess.
Anyway, that’s how they rolled back in the 6th century BC. Everything revolved around either killing each other, or sharing food, drinks, and gifts.
But let’s cut to the chase. The story is about Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, and his journey home from the War of Troy. We know from The Iliad that Odysseus went to Troy with all the greek kings to bring Helen back to Sparta. In fact he was the one who came up with giant horse idea 2 . So he is a pretty clever guy, well built, very athletic, an excellent storyteller, but most importantly, he was father and a husband.
Ismarus and the Lotus‑eaters
Odysseus left for Troy when his little boy, Telemachus, was just an infant, and he wouldn’t return for another 20 years. Why, you ask? Well, that is precisely the story. The war was over, and Troy was burned down to the ground (as we know). And now all the Greek kings were ready to come back to their respective islands. However they decided to make a quick stop at Ismarus before going home and, as Odysseus said, they wanted to ‘put those people to the sword’—a.k.a. rape them, kill them, and burn their houses down to the ground—option one3 .
“Those people” were called the Cicons and, unfortunately for Odysseus and his buddies, there were some more Cicons inland. And when the Cicons cried for help, a bunch of little Cicons came from the mountains and totally outnumbered the Greeks, killing about 72 of Odysseus’ men. Those who survived boarded their ships and escaped. 4
Odysseus actually left Troy with 12 ships, and I’m calculating there were about 22 men per ship—so a little under three hundred men. They had already lost a bunch of men to the Cicons, so they decided to stop messing around and go straight back to Ithaca. BUT, the weather was terrible that day, and it forced them to put down their sails (to prevent the masts from snapping), and they tumbled around for nine days and nine nights. This storm took them all the way down to Africa, to the Land of Lotus‑eaters.
When Odysseus’ men started eating Lotuses, they got super high and told him they wanted to stay there forever. Now, Lotuses are not particularly hallucinogenic or addictive (not that I know of). Maybe Homer (the author) meant something else (maybe opium?) Either way Odysseus had to drag his men out of that land, and as high as they were, they sailed off and docked on the first island they found—still a little lost and not fully recovered from the storm (or the drugs!).
Polyphemus the Cyclops
Odysseus and his men were near Sicily between two islands. One was just an empty island with a large population of sheep, and the other one was the land of the Cyclops. Now, according to this book Cyclops are not the one‑eyed creatures that you see in other mythology. They must have at least two eyes because Homer at some point talks about their eyelids5, so those pictures of one eyed giants you see in other mythology are wrong! But what the rest of the mythology got right was that they were big people, and apparently they shepherd giant sheep as well.
Anyway, Odysseus first went to the empty island and took some (normal‑sized) sheep “to‑go”, but he wanted something more than just lamb to munch on the journey home. So he had the brilliant idea to go see if the Cyclops were nice enough to give him a piece of cheese or something. They sailed to the Cyclops’ island and Odysseus told all his 200 plus men to stay ashore while he and twelve of his best men went to see what the Cyclops were up to. This small group of men approached one of the Cyclops who was just minding his own business, doing Cyclopy things like milking his giant sheep and chopping wood here and there. And then—I honestly don't know what the fuck Odysseus was thinking—but his etiquette strategy was the following (and this is paraphrasing a little): “Let’s sneak into his cave, eat a bunch of his food while he is out there working his ass off, and then when he comes in, he might just give us a gift! Right?”6
Obviously the Cyclops came in, saw a bunch of little men eating his food and started freaking out! Odysseus made up a bunch of bullshit about how his name was Noman and he just wanted some cheese. But the Cyclops wasn’t having any of that, he grabbed two men and bit them in half! Everyone freaked out and started running for their lives. However, they couldn't get out of the cave because the cyclops had closed the door which was a giant rock that nobody but the Cyclops could move. Fortunately the cave was pretty big, and when they hid the Cyclops couldn't find them. I guess he was just thinking of them like cockroaches (or something like that,) considering he just went to sleep down by the fire7
But Odysseus wanted revenge. After all, the freaking Cyclops had eaten two of his best men! So in the middle of the darkness, he grabbed a long‑ass stick, sharpened it, put on the fire until its tip was hot red, and jabbed the Cyclop’s eye with that thing! The tip was so hot that it sizzled… 8
The cyclops, of course, got up and started screaming like a madman—blood running down his face—and he couldn't see very well with his other eye 9 , so he opened the door to let more light in (perhaps). And because of all the commotion, the sheep started running out of the cave. Now, for Odysseus and his men, this was their chance! They hid themselves by grabbing onto the giant‑sheep’s coat under their belly and passed between the Cyclops legs, unnoticed.
Phew! They went back to the ships and sailed away. However, while sailing away, Odysseus had another stupid idea. He turned around and yelled back to the Cyclops saying that he (Odysseus) was the one who stabbed him in the eye, and that his name was not Noman, that his name was Odysseus, the king of Ithaca.
Now THAT is most important part of the story. Because this Cyclops happened to be the son of Poseidon, the god of the seven seas 10 . And when he found out that Odysseus had stabbed his son in the eye with a hot-red stick, he promised Odysseus would never make it back home under his watch. Odysseus was cursed.
Click on the Next button below to find out how he lifted the curse...