What false name does Odysseus give the Cyclops in The Odyssey?

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Depending on what translation you read, the name is either "Nobody" or "No man".  Either way, it is a clever trick on the side of Odysseus.  He wants to answer the Cyclops question, in order to keep the other talking, but he doesn't want to give away his identity.  Odysseus himself, man of ego and hubris, is portrayed by Homer as a character who would particularly enjoy this joke.  When he harms Prometheus (the Cyclops), it would be amusing to him that the Cyclops would say "No man hurt me."  Here is a direct quote:

‘Cyclops, you ask my name and I will tell it you; give me, therefore, the present you promised me; my name is Noman; this is what my father and mother and my friends have always called me.’

“But the cruel wretch said, ‘Then I will eat all Noman's comrades before Noman himself, and will keep Noman for the last. This is the present that I will make him.’

This is also an example of verbal irony.  When Cyclops says "I will keep Noman for the last", it sounds like he isn't going to have any person for "the last".  In fact, he means Odysseus, and he'll eat Odysseus last.  This contradiction is what makes it irony.

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The Odyssey, composed sometime around 900 BC, is notable for many reasons. It is full of memorable stories that writers and artists have alluded to in their works for about 3,000 years now.

One of the coolest things about The Odyssey is the characterization of its protagonist, Odysseus. As a larger-than-life character, Odysseus is a little different than the typical epic hero. His strength is not so much physical as it is mental—he's an exceptionally smart guy, and this is how he survives twenty years of life-threatening adventures on his way home from Troy.

When he finds himself trapped in the cave of the cyclops Polyphemus (who just happens to be the son of the God of the Sea, Poseidon), he tells him that his name is “Nobody.” A little later, when Odysseus blinds the one-eyed Polyphemus, the cyclops calls out to his brothers, “Nobody has blinded me.” His brothers perceive this as pointless ranting; why would somebody claim to be blinded by “nobody”?

Along with his intelligence, Odysseus also has a little too much pride. When he and his surviving men escape Polyphemus, Odysseus taunts him, telling him his real name. Polyphemus cries out to his father, Poseidon, who exacts revenge on Odysseus by keeping him lost at sea for many more years before finally allowing him to make it back to Ithaca and his son and wife. 

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