Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What are Odysseus' positive and negative traits in his adventure with the Cyclops?

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Odysseus shows great cunning in dealing with the fearsome Cyclops Polyphemus. First of all, he's smart enough not to tell the Cyclops his real name, at least not until he's managed to escape from Polyphemus's island. Instead, he tells the lumbering giant that his name is Nobody. This means that when Odysseus puts out the Cyclops's eye with a burning stake and Polyphemus screams out in agonizing pain that "Nobody" has attacked him, the other giants on the island don't think there's anything wrong.

Once Odysseus has blinded the Cyclops, he hits upon the bright idea of escaping with his men by clinging to the bellies of Polyphemus' sheep. This way, the Cyclops won't be able to reach down and grab them as they make their escape.

Unfortunately, Odysseus blots his copy-book somewhat by arrogantly taunting the stricken Polyphemus as he escapes from the island. For added stupidity, he even reveals his real name. Polyphemus, son of the sea-god Poseidon, cries out to his father to exact a terrible revenge on Odysseus and his men. Poseidon will do precisely that, making it harder for Odysseus to travel home to Ithaca. If Odysseus hadn't opened his big mouth, none of this would've happened.

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One positive character trait that Odysseus shows with the cyclops situation is his cunning. He does this in many ways. First, Odysseus realized that the cyclops might not be friendly, so he lied about his ship being near shore and instead told Polyphemus, the cylcops, that his ship was destroyed by Poseidon. Later, Odysseus continues his cunning and tells Polyphemus a fake name, Nobody, instead of Odysseus. As readers, this doesn't seem cunning until later in the scene when Polyphemus is blinded and calls out for help: "Nobody's killing me." His brothers think that Polyphemus is alone and don't go to his aid, which is a great help to Odysseus and his crew's escape.

Another way that Odysseus shows his cunning is when he offers Polyphemus wine. Greek wine was very strong, and often had to be watered down. Odysseus gives him drink after drink, until Polyphemus passed out drunk, which was all part of Odysseus' cunning plan to escape the cave. Odysseus knew that Polyphemus would be the only one to move the boulder from the entrance of the cave, so he couldn't kill him, or else they would all be stuck in the cave. So Odysseus came up with the idea to blind Polyphemus. Odysseus and his men sharpened a stake and put it in hot embers and Odysseus and his men rammed it into Polyphemus' eye. After Polyphemus opened the cave entrance, he blocked the exit with his body and felt around for the men trying to exit. Odysseus shows his final example of cunning with their escape. He noticed that the sheep were escaping, so he tied each man to the bellies of three sheep at a time and they all escaped to their ship.

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Odysseus is very clever when dealing with the cyclops Polyphemus.  First of all, he lies to him when he is asked about his ship.  He claims that it was destroyed.  He does this so Polyphemus doesn't go out and destroy it himself.  Then he tricks him into drinking the wine so that they could blind him.  Lastly, he came up with the idea to hide under the sheep so that they could escape out of the cave without the blind Polyphemus knowing about it.

The one downfall to Odysseus character in this section is that he taunts Polyphemus.  He gets carried away, and he boasts about what he has done and how he has tricked him and got away with it.  Odysseus wants that fame, so he makes sure that Polyphemus knows his name and where he's from so that he can tell all who ruined him.  This then allows Polyphemus to curse him.  This curse is what creates such a hard trip home for him and the death of his crew.

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