Last Reviewed on July 23, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
In Euripides's play Cyclops, Odysseus and his men land on the shores of what is retroactively identified as Sicily, where the Cyclops Polyphemus lives and has trapped Silenus and his fellow satyrs into servitude. The play is Euripides's own expansion upon a book of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey and goes into great detail about the events that might have taken place on Polyphemus's island.
Silenus: There, on the beach, I can see a Greek ship coming in . . . They're after food, by the looks of it . . . O, poor unlucky strangers! They have no idea what our master, Polyphemus, is like! No idea that the ground they're walking on is hostile to foreigners. No idea that their dreadful luck has guided them right into the jaws of the man-eater Cyclops!
Silenus is speaking with the other satyrs as he observes Odysseus's ship pulling up to shore. He is saddened to see Odysseus and his men, because he knows how terrible their fate will be when they encounter Polyphemus. As he prepares to meet them, he realizes the sailors are bringing wine. Silenus, being a satyr, is interested less in the goodwill of others than he is in his own pleasure, and he is excited at the prospect of someone bearing wine for him and his fellows to drink, so he prepares to trade with them, even though it will bring them an even worse fate.
Cyclops: Ey, little man! Wise men believe in one god and one god only: wealth!
The Cyclops is debating virtue and justice with Odysseus, and he makes his argument in the case for self-gratification. No good, according to Polyphemus, comes from helping others, and welfare only steals wealth. They are, as he says, gifts that a host can choose to bestow on others, but in doing so, this decreases his own wealth and gives his guests a taste for handouts. Odysseus instead argues in favor of benevolence and care for other beings who have little—one simply should not steal from them. Polyphemus's wealth was not necessarily honorably earned, as he is a giant, man-eating Cyclops, so he does not necessarily have a right to the wealth he has amassed, even by his own arguments.
Odysseus: Well then, let me tell you my plan for punishing that savage and letting you escape this slavery.
Chorus: Tell me! Hearing about Cyclops' death would be sweeter than the sweetest sounds made by an Asian lyre.
Odysseus has formulated a plan, and he explains it to the satyrs. He will get Polyphemus drunk and gouge out his eye so they can all escape and regain their freedom. His plan is a clever one, and it is successful, but Odysseus's pride gets the better of him and makes the rest of his journey more difficult when he reveals his true identity to the Cyclops, whose father is the god Poseidon.
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