| Old Greek Folk Stories Told Anew|
|by Josephine Preston Peabody|
|A child's first book of Greek tales containing many of the shorter myths retold with exceptional literary skill. Relates the stories of Prometheus, who brought to earth the bright-eyed fire treasured by the gods; of Orpheus, best of harpers; of the cunning Daedalus; the ambitious Phaethon; Apollo and Diana, and other gods and heroes of the olden time. Designed to supplement the myths retold by Nathaniel Hawthorne in A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales. Ages 8-10 |
THE ADVENTURES OF ODYSSEUS
I. THE CURSE OF POLYPHEMUS
 OF all the heroes that wandered far and wide before they
came to their homes again after the fall of Troy, none
suffered so many hardships as Odysseus.
There was, indeed, one other man whose adventures have been
likened to his, and this was Æneas, a Trojan hero. He
escaped from the burning city with a hand of fugitives, his
countrymen; and after years of peril and wandering he came
to found a famous race in Italy. On the way, he found one
hospitable resting-place in Carthage, where Queen Dido
received him with great kindliness; and when he left her she
took her own life, out of very grief.
But there were no other hardships such as beset Odysseus,
between the burning of Troy and his return to Ithaca, west
of the land of Greece. Ten years did he fight against Troy,
but it was ten years more before he came to his home and his
wife Penelope and his son Telemachus.
Now all these latter years of wandering fell to his lot
because of Poseidon's anger against him. For Poseidon had
favored the Grecian cause, and might well have sped home
this man who had done so much to win the Grecian victory.
But as evil destiny would have it, Odysseus mortally angered
the god of the sea by blinding his son, the Cyclops
Polyphemus. And this is how it came to pass.
 Odysseus set out from Troy with twelve good ships. He
touched first at Ismarus, where his first misfortune took
place, and in a skirmish with the natives he lost a number
of men from each ship's crew. A storm then drove them to
the land of the Lotus-Eaters, a wondrous people, kindly and
content, who spend their lives in a day-dream and care for
nothing else under the sun. No sooner had the sailors eaten
of this magical lotus than they lost all their wish to go
home, or to see their wives and children again. By main
force, Odysseus drove them back to the ships and saved them
from the spell.
Thence they came one day to a beautiful strange island, a
verdant place to see, deep with soft grass and well watered
with springs. Here they ran the ships ashore, and took their
rest and feasted for a day. But Odysseus looked across
to the mainland, where he saw flocks and herds,
and smoke going up softly from the homes of men; and he
resolved to go across and find out what manner of people
lived there. Accordingly, next morning, he took his own
ship's company and they rowed across to the mainland.
Now, fair as the place was, there dwelt in it a race of
giants, the Cyclopes, great rude creatures, having each but
one eye, and that in the middle of his forehead. One
of them was Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. He lived by
himself as a shepherd, and it was to his cave that Odysseus
came, by some evil chance. It was an enormous grotto,
big enough to house the giant and all his flocks, and it had
a great courtyard without. But Odysseus, knowing naught of
all this, chose out twelve men, and with a wallet of corn
and a goatskin full of wine they left the ship and made a
way to the cave, which they had seen from the water.
 Much they wondered who might be the master of this strange
house. Polyphemus was away with his sheep, but many lambs
and kids were penned there, and the cavern was well stored
with goodly cheeses and cream and whey.
Without delay, the wearied men kindled a fire and sat down to
eat such things as they found, till a great shadow came dark
against the doorway, and they saw the Cyclops near at hand,
returning with his flocks. In an instant they fled into
the darkest corner of the cavern.
Polyphemus drove his
flocks into the place and cast off from his shoulders a load
of young trees for firewood. Then he lifted and set in
the entrance of the cave a gigantic boulder of a door-stone.
Not until he had milked the goats and ewes and stirred up
the fire did his terrible one eye light upon the strangers.
"What are ye?" he roared then, "robbers or rovers?" And
Odysseus alone had heart to answer.
"We are Achæans of the army of Agamemnon," said he.
"And by the will of Zeus we have lost our course, and are come to
you as strangers. Forget not that Zeus has a care for such
as we, strangers and suppliants."
Loud laughed the Cyclops at this. "You are a witless
churl to bid me heed the gods!" said he. "I spare or
kill to please myself and none other. But where is your
cockle-shell that brought you hither?"
Then Odysseus answered craftily: "Alas, my ship is gone!
Only I and my men escaped alive from the sea."
But Polyphemus, who had been looking them over with his one
eye, seized two of the mariners and
 dashed them against the wall and made his
evening meal of them, while their comrades stood by
helpless. This done, he stretched himself through the
cavern and slept all night long, taking no more heed of them
than if they had been flies. No sleep came to the
wretched seamen, for, even had they been able to slay him,
they were powerless to move away the boulder from the door.
So all night long Odysseus took thought how they might
At dawn the Cyclops woke, and his awakening was like a
thunderstorm. Again he kindled the fire, again he milked
the goats and ewes, and again he seized two of the king's
comrades and served them up for his terrible repast. Then
the savage shepherd drove his flocks out of the cave, only
turning back to set the boulder in the doorway, and pen up
Odysseus and his men in their dismal lodging.
But the wise king had pondered well. In the sheepfold he
had seen a mighty club of olive-wood, in size like the mast
of a ship. As soon as the Cyclops was gone, Odysseus
bade his men cut off a length of this club and sharpen it
down to a point. This done, they hid it away under
the earth that heaped the floor; and they waited in fear and
torment for their chance of escape.
At sundown, home came the Cyclops. Just as he had done
before, he drove in his flocks,
barred the entrance, milked the goats and ewes, and made his
meal of two more hapless men, while their fellows looked on
with burning eyes. Then Odysseus stood forth, holding a bowl
of the wine that he had brought with him; and, curbing his
horror of Polyphemus, he spoke in friendly fashion: "Drink,
Cyclops, and prove our wine, such as it is, for all was lost
 our ship save this. And no other man will ever bring
you more, since you are such an ungentle host."
The Cyclops tasted the wine and laughed with delight so
that the cave shook. "Ho, this is a rare drink!" said
he. "I never tasted milk so good, nor whey, nor
grape-juice either. Give me the rest, and tell me your name,
that I may thank you for it."
Twice and thrice Odysseus poured the wine and the Cyclops
drank it off; then he answered: "Since you ask it, Cyclops,
my name is Noman."
"And I will give you this for your wine, Noman," said the
Cyclops; "you shall be eaten last of all!"
As he spoke his head drooped, for his wits were clouded with
drink, and he sank heavily out of his seat and lay prone,
stretched along the floor of the cavern. His great eye shut
and he fell asleep.
Odysseus thrust the stake under the ashes till
it was glowing hot; and his fellows stood by him, ready to
venture all. Then together they lifted the club and drove it
straight into the eye of Polyphemus and turned it around and
The Cyclops gave a horrible cry, and, thrusting away the
brand, he called on all his fellow-giants near and far.
Odysseus and his men hid in the uttermost corners of the
cave, but they heard the resounding steps of the Cyclopes
who were roused, and their shouts as they called, "What ails
thee, Polyphemus? Art thou slain? Who has done thee any
"Noman!" roared the blinded Cyclops; "Noman is
here to slay me by treachery."
"Then if no man hath hurt
thee," they called again, "let us sleep." And away
they went to their homes once more.
But Polyphemus lifted away the boulder from the
 door and sat there in the entrance, groaning with pain and stretching
forth his hands to feel if anyone were near. Then, while he
sat in double darkness, with the light of his eye gone out,
Odysseus bound together the rams of the flock, three by
three, in such wise that every three should save one of his
comrades. For underneath the mid ram of each group a man
clung, grasping his shaggy fleece; and the rams on each side
guarded him from discovery.
Odysseus himself chose out the greatest ram and laid hold of
his fleece and clung beneath his shaggy body, face upward.
Now, when dawn came, the rams hastened out to pasture, and
Polyphemus felt of their backs as they huddled along
together; but he knew not that every three held a man bound
securely. Last of all came the kingly ram that was dearest
to his rude heart, and he bore the King of lthaca. Once
free of the cave, Odysseus and his fellows loosed their hold
and took flight, driving the rams in haste to the ship,
where, without delay, they greeted their comrades and went
But as they pushed from shore, Odysseus could not refrain
from hailing the Cyclops with taunts, and at the sound of
that voice Polyphemus came forth from his cave and hurled a
great rock after the ship. It missed its mark and upheaved
the water like an earthquake. Again Odysseus called, saying:
"Cyclops, if any shall ask who blinded thine eye, say that
it was Odysseus, son of Laertes of Ithaca."
Then Polyphemus groaned and cried: "An Oracle foretold it,
but I waited for some man of might who should overcome me by
his valor,—not a weakling!
And now"—he lifted his hands and
prayed,—"Fa-  ther Poseidon, my
father, look upon Odysseus, the son of Laertes of Ithaca,
and grant me this revenge,—let him never see Ithaca again!
Yet, if he must, may he come late, without a friend, after
long wandering, to find evil abiding by his hearth!"
So he spoke and hurled another rock after them, but the ship
outstripped it, and sped by to the island where the other
good ships waited for Odysseus. Together they put out from
land and hastened on their homeward voyage.
But Poseidon, who is lord of the sea, had heard the prayer
of his son, and that homeward voyage was to wear through ten
years more, with storm and irksome calms and misadventure.
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