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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

POLYPHEMUS THE GIANT

[54] THE Greek warriors burned and sacked the city of Troy, and then they set sail for the sunny isles of Greece. But storms overtook some, the gods sent misfortune to others, so that but few reached their own land in safety.

Odysseus, King of Ithaca, an island on the western coast of Greece, suffered greater hardships than any other. For ten years he was either tossed by the gods on stormy seas, or kept a captive in strange countries. Of some of his adventures I shall tell you now.

When Odysseus and his comrades sailed away from Troy, they were driven by a fair wind to the shore of Ismarus. Here dwelt a rich and prosperous people called the Cicones.

The Greeks wished to take much spoil back with them to their homes, so they resolved to slay the Cicones and plunder their city.

Some of the citizens escaped the sword of the adventurers and hastened to their kinsmen who dwelt farther from the shore. When they had told their terrible tidings, their comrades armed themselves and sped to the shore to punish the strangers.

Odysseus had tried in vain to make his followers go back to their ships. They had refused to be hurried, and were now sitting on the seashore eating and drinking, heedless of danger.

Before they were aware the kinsmen of the Cicones had fallen upon them, and when the sun went down they had [55] slain six men out of each of the strangers' ships. The rest barely escaped with their lives.

Scarcely had the Greeks reached their vessels and sailed away from Ismarus, when Zeus sent a north wind against them. For nine days their ships were driven hither and thither. Their sails were torn to shreds, when on the tenth day the sailors caught sight of land. It was the land of the lotus-eaters, where the people fed only on the fruit of the lotus, a fruit that brought sleep and forgetfulness to the eater.

Odysseus sent three sailors on shore to find out what manner of people the lotus-eaters were. No sooner had they landed than the inhabitants brought them fruit, which they ate with delight. But the honey-sweet flowers made them forget Odysseus, their comrades, and their ships. They had no wish save to stay for ever with the lotus-eaters to share their magic food.

At length, Odysseus grew tired of waiting for the three sailors to return, and he himself with a few armed men went on shore to look for them. He thought that perhaps that had been take prisoners and had been bound with chains, but he found them lying on the yellow sand, dreamy and content.

"And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland,

Of child, and wife, and slave; but evermore

Most weary seem'd the sea, weary the oar,

Weary the wandering fields of barren foam."

When the three sailors saw Odysseus they cried:

" 'We will return no more.'

And all at once they sang, 'Our island home

Is far beyond the wave; we will no longer roam.' "

Odysseus and his comrades were offered fruit by the kindly lotus-eaters, but Odysseus waved it aside and bade his men drag away the three sailors who had already eaten. The sailors wept sore, for fain would they have dwelt for ever [56] in the land of dreams. But when they were once more on their vessels and had put out to sea, the breezes brought back health to their bodies, vigour to their minds. Soon they were able to rejoice that they had left the enchanted lotus-land far behind.

Westward sailed the fleet of Odysseus, until it reached the island of Sicily, where the Cyclopes dwelt. The Cyclopes were giants who had each but one eye, fixed in the middle of his brow.

Odysseus, taking with him only his own crew, landed on the island, for he wished to see the Cyclopes. He had walked but a little way when he came to a great cave, in which stood baskets filled with cheeses and milkpans filled with milk. In this cave dwelt Polyphemus, one of the sons of Poseidon, and the fiercest of all the fierce Cyclopes.

Into this cave went Odysseus and his comrades. Polyphemus was not within; he was out on the hills with his flocks.

"Let us take the cheeses and drive away the lambs and the kids that are here, before the giant returns," said the sailors. But Odysseus would not do as they wished, for, said he, "I greatly wish to see the giant shepherd who dwells in the cave."

"Verily," said Odysseus, as he told the tale in after days, "verily, his coming was not to be a joy to my company."

Evening drew on apace, and Polyphemus, driving his flocks before him, reached the cave. When he had driven his flocks in before him, the giant took a huge rock and placed it in the doorway.

Odysseus and his comrades had hidden themselves in the dimmest corners of the cave when Polyphemus entered. The giant lighted a great fire of pine wood and began to milk the ewes. Soon the flames lighted up every corner of the cave, and Polyphemus saw his unexpected guests.

In a voice that struck terror even into the brave hearts of the Greeks, so gruff, so loud it was, the giant demanded, [57] "Strangers, who are ye? Whence sail ye over the watery ways? On some trading enterprise or at adventure do ye rove, even as sea-robbers over the brine?"

Boldly then answered Odysseus, "'No Man'  is my name. My ship, Poseidon, the shaker of the earth, broke it to pieces, for he cast it upon the rocks at the border of your country, and brought it nigh the headland, and a wind bore it thither from the sea. But I, with these my men, escaped from utter doom. Give us, we beseech thee, food and shelter."

As you know, Odysseus had not been shipwrecked, his vessel, safely anchored, awaited his return, nor was his true name No Man. He dared not tell the giant the truth, lest he should go in search of his ship and take it for firewood, while he and his companions were kept prisoners in the cave.

The giant said not a word when Odysseus ended his tale, but he stretched out his great hand, seized two of the strangers, and devoured them before the eyes of their horrified companions. Then, well satisfied with his meal, he fell fast asleep.

In the morning the giant finished his breakfast by eating two more of his guests, then, moving away the stone at the entrance of the cave as easily as if it had been a feather, he drove his flocks to pasture. He did not forget to replace the stone in the doorway before he turned away.


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