Blood, gore, and bad temper tantrums were the name of the game. Luckily, Homer had an answer. To overcome such obstacles, you need someone who is brave, strong, valiant, formidable, and cunning. One might even say wily. In short, a Homeric hero.
Let’s recap – it’s been a long time since you took that class that required you to read The Odyssey. The story begins with Odysseus recounting how he and his crew were coming home from the Trojan War (see The Iliad for that story) when they were blindsided by a series of events that delayed their homecoming by twenty years, such as Odysseus’ ten-year liaison with the witch Circe. One episode in that series of events involves a rather cantankerous, bottomless pit of a cyclops named Polyphemus.
Odysseus and his men were blown ashore by a violent storm, and they quickly grabbed some of their food stores and made a mad dash for a nearby cave. Unbeknownst to them, they were on the Island of the Cyclopes, and the cave they were in was the home of the ill-mannered Polyphemus.
The sailors soon found out that Polyphemus had a very different idea of hospitality than they did: He ate two of their men. The next day, he ate two more. Then the next day, would you know it, he ate two more. Not one to stand for this sort of treatment, Odysseus hatched a plan. He plied Polyphemus with a very strong wine (as is rather common, even today, on the Island of the Cyclopes), and while he was drinking, convinced the cyclops that his name was Nobody.
Meanwhile, Odysseus’ men were hard at work. They found a log, sharpened one end of it, and hardened it in the fire. When it was ready, they took it and – SQUELCH! – shoved it right through Polyphemus’ one eyeball. Even though he screamed with pain, none of his cyclops buddies came to help. After all, he told them that Nobody had blinded him. Odysseus and his men took advantage of Polyphemus’ blindness and snuck out of the cave and back to their boats.
Once he and his crew were back in their boats, Odysseus mistook distance for safety. Like many a foolhardy man, he let his pride get the better of him, and he stood in the boat, screaming at the top of his lungs, that his name was not, in fact, Nobody. Polyphemus, blinded, infuriated, and probably more than a little bit hangry after having missed his snack of two grown men, threw the temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums.
He ripped chunks out of the mountain and hurled them in the general direction of Odysseus’ bragging voice.
Now, you’re asking yourself why I summarized an entire section of an epic poem for you. The reason is thus: I found the Island of the Cyclopes. I also found the Cyclops Rocks.
One of my college friends came to visit me on the Island of the Cyclopes – I mean, Sicily, and we decided to explore Catania. Now, when you put two former English majors in an exotic place together, what are they going to do?
Naturally, they’re going to find the things that have to do with cyclopes.
The hop-on/hop-off bus in Catania actually has two different stops outside the city limits: Acicastello (ah-chee-cah-stel-oh) and Acitrezza (ah-chee-treh-zah). From both of these stops, you can see the Cyclops Rocks.
That’s right folks, you can see the actual rocks that the blind and infuriated Polyphemus ripped from the side of Mount Etna and hurled after Odysseus the Loudmouth, right there off the coast of Sicily.
The rocks themselves are actually quite large – another name for them is Cyclops Islands. They may not be very big around, but they are very tall. After standing there, ogling the rocks for a bit, geeking out over the fact that we were standing in the exact spot from which Odysseus made his not-so-smooth getaway, two questions came to us: How big must Polyphemus have been to throw those massive bits of mountain all the way from Mount Etna to the coast? And how stupid must Odysseus have been to have started rubbing it in that close to shore?
To the first we received an answer: According to my friend’s husband, who is a math whiz and does math for fun, Polyphemus would have had to have been roughly the size of Mount Etna in order to have hurled those particular rocks that far, assuming he had a really great arm. Of course, you would have to be big in order to eat two grown men as a snack, but that’s pretty big.
As to the other, I suppose we’ll never know. Maybe Odysseus was dazzled by how blue the water was.
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