AskDefine | Define Polyphemus

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English

Etymology

From Latin Polyphemus, from Ancient Greek Πολύφημος.

Proper noun

  1. A cyclops in Greek mythology.

Extensive Definition

Polyphemus (Greek: Πολύφημος, transliterated as Polyphemos in Robert Fitzgerald's translation) is a character in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclops. The one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa, his name means "famous". Polyphemus plays a pivotal role in Homer's Odyssey.

Polyphemus in Homer's Odyssey

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus or Ulysses, lands on the Island of the Cyclopes during his journey home from the Trojan War. He then takes twelve men and sets out to find supplies. The Greeks find and enter a large cave, the home of the great Cyclops Polyphemus. When Polyphemus returns home with his flocks and finds Odysseus and his men, he blocks the cave entrance with a great stone, trapping the remaining Greeks inside. The Cyclops then crushes and devours two of the men.
The desperate Odysseus devises a clever escape plan. To make Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gives the Cyclops very strong unwatered wine. When Polyphemus asks for Odysseus' name, Odysseus tells him "ουτις," (translated as "no man"). Once the Cyclops passes out from the wine, Odysseus and his men sharpen the giant's huge olive club to a point and harden its tip in the embers of a fire. The men lift the stake and drive it into Polyphemus' eye, blinding him. Polyphemus yells for help from his fellow cyclopes that "no man" has hurt him. The other cyclopes take this to mean that Polyphemus has lost his mind, because he was saying "nobody" attacked him. They conclude his condition is a curse from a god, so they do not intervene.
In the morning, Odysseus and his men tie themselves to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the blind Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, he feels their backs to ensure the men aren't riding out, but doesn't feel the men underneath. Odysseus leaves last, riding beneath the belly of the biggest ram. Polyphemus doesn't realize that the men are no longer in his cave until the sheep (and men) are safely out.
As Odysseus and his men sail away, he boasts to Polyphemus that "Nobody didn't hurt you, Odysseus did!" This act of hubris causes problems for Odysseus later. Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon for revenge. Even though Poseidon fought on the side of the Greeks during the Iliad, he bore Odysseus a grudge for not giving him a sacrifice when Poseidon prevented them from being discovered inside of the Trojan Horse. Poseidon curses Odysseus, sending storms and contrary winds to inhibit his homeward journey.
The episode in Odyssey is the oldest testament to cannibalism in ancient Greek literature. Walter Burkert detects in the Polyphemus episode a subtext that "seems to offer us something more ancient: threatened by the man-eater, men conceal themselves in the skins of slaughtered animals, and thus, disguised as animals, escape the groping hands of the blinded monster."

Polyphemus in Theocritus

The Hellenistic poet Theocritus painted a more sympathetic picture of Polyphemus. The Cyclops of the Odyssey has been recast in the poet's bucolic style which idealized the simple farming life. Polyphemus becomes a gentle simpleminded shepherd in love with the sea-nymph Galatea, finding solace in song.

Polyphemus in Ovid's Metamorphoses

The Cyclops also appears in the story of Acis and Galatea. As a jealous suitor of the sea nymph, Galatea, he kills his rival Acis with a rock. Rather than telling the love stories of Odysseus and Aeneas Ovid choses here to tell love stories about the monsters that those heroes experienced. Ovid's first century Roman audience would surely have had a basic knowledge of Polyphemus' role as an uncivilized cannibal in Book IX of the Odyssey, and this episode gives an amusing contrast to that characterization. Polyphemus is shown doing all of the things that a proper Roman suitor would do - trims his beard, composes a poem etc. - which implores the reader to cheer for him, even though his courtship is doomed to fail. Ovid tells this story shortly after the Judgement of Arms, where he shows how perceptions of Odysseus in Ovid's time were very different from the Archaic Period. Ovid appears to be suggesting in his uncharacteristic depiction of Polyphemus that it is possible for the way that readers view a character to drastically change over time.
Although the full story was described by Ovid, it was also mentioned by Philoxenus and Theocritus, and in Valerius Flaccus' version of Argonautica, among the themes painted on the Argos, "Cyclops from the Sicilian shore calls Galatea back."

Other mythological figures

Additionally, one of the Argonauts was named Polyphemus, "famous". He was the son of Elatus and Hippea, and when he helped Heracles search for Hylas, both were left behind by the Argo. In Iliad I, Nestor numbers "the godlike Polyphemus" among an earlier generation of heroes of his youth, "the strongest men that Earth has bred, the strongest men against the strongest enemies, a savage mountain-dwelling tribe whom they utterly destroyed." No trace of such an oral tradition, which Homer's listeners would have recognized in Nestor's allusion, survived in literary epic.
In Shrek 2, Polyphemus is the Poison Apple Bar's doorman; in Shrek 3, he joins Prince Charming's villain army.

Other Information

See also

Notes

Polyphemus in Bulgarian: Полифем
Polyphemus in Catalan: Polifem (fill de Posidó)
Polyphemus in Czech: Polyfémos (Kyklóp)
Polyphemus in Danish: Polyfem
Polyphemus in German: Polyphem
Polyphemus in Estonian: Polyphemos
Polyphemus in Spanish: Polifemo
Polyphemus in Esperanto: Polifemo
Polyphemus in French: Polyphème
Polyphemus in Italian: Polifemo
Polyphemus in Latin: Polyphemus
Polyphemus in Dutch: Polyphemos
Polyphemus in Japanese: ポリュペーモス
Polyphemus in Norwegian: Polyfemos
Polyphemus in Polish: Polifem
Polyphemus in Portuguese: Polifemo
Polyphemus in Romanian: Polifem
Polyphemus in Russian: Полифем (циклоп)
Polyphemus in Simple English: Polyphemos
Polyphemus in Serbian: Полифем
Polyphemus in Finnish: Polyfemos
Polyphemus in Swedish: Polyfemos
Polyphemus in Tagalog: Polyphemus
Polyphemus in Ukrainian: Поліфем
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