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Healing the Eye of the Cyclops – An Indigenous Prophecy from Homer’s Odyssey
Healing the Eye of the Cyclops – An Indigenous Prophecy from Homer’s Odyssey

Quote:...The uniqueness of the fragment of myth preserved in Homer’s Odyssey lies in its depiction of the break between the indigenous and newly emerging modern mind.

The tale is well known—Odysseus and his men, newly escaped from the Lotus Eaters and not yet arrived at Circe’s palace, land on the shore of another unknown island, this one inhabited by a Cyclopian race. Odysseus sets out with a handful of men to explore it, to probe its resources and inhabitants. Coming on the cave of one of the natives, he makes himself at home there—over the protests of his men—and then finds himself trapped by a monstrous, one-eyed giant who scorns his demand for hospitality and starts bolting down his men for dinner. Unable to simply overpower the brute, wily Odysseus stuns the Cyclops, called Polyphemus, with powerful drink and then drills out his eye with a wooden spear, escaping the next morning with his men tied to the underbellies of the Cyclops’s herd of goats. A taunting exchange follows between Odysseus and blinded Polyphemus. When Odysseus and his men regain their ships and reach some distance from shore the prophetic nature of the blinding, and the encoded message of the indigenous oral tradition, is revealed. As we shall see, there is good reason to interpret the Cyclops’s words to Odysseus as an invitation to Odysseus to return and heal his eye—in exchange for which Polyphemus will pray to Poseidon for a blessing on his journey home. Odysseus refuses and is cursed to a vexed, long-forestalled homecoming.

Walter Burkert, a German philologist and a scholar of Greek religion, cannily identified certain key indigenous, shamanic motifs in the tale. The first is the fire-hardened spear that Odysseus uses to gouge out the Cyclops’s eye. It is simply anomalous. Why should Odysseus and his men go through such trouble to fashion Polyphemus’s great club, big enough “to be the mast of a pitch-black ship with twenty oars” (Odyssey 9.360), into a weapon? Odysseus possesses a perfectly serviceable sword, one that he has already contemplated killing the Cyclops with. One clue is that the Cyclops’s club is made of olivewood, the tree sacred to Odysseus’s spirit ally, about whom he wonders, “Would Athena give me glory?” (Odyssey 9.355) if he strove against the Cyclops. The second is the spear, as the “the primordial weapon of man; during the Paleolithic period . . . the only effective weapon for hunting,” whose ritual function continued well into the Roman and medieval worlds, is fitting to their circumstances: Odysseus and his men have been cast back into aboriginal time...
"Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us."

  -Thomas Browne
[-] The following 2 users Like Sciborg_S_Patel's post:
  • Ninshub, Laird
Thanks, Sci, that was well worth the read. Albeit that I haven't read any Homer, the article seems to analyse his Odyssey very insightfully, and is insightful in its own right.
[-] The following 1 user Likes Laird's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel

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