Polyphemus as Depicted in the Odyssey

Polyphemus character has been depicted in some ways in both art and literature. In the Odyssey, for example, Polyphemus has been displayed as a complex character who exhibits both the qualities of a villain as well as a tragic hero. In future iterations, the complexities of the character are portrayed. The modern interpretation of Polyphemus is that of a character who is an overwhelmed host figure or an aggressive obstacle. In other forms of art, Polyphemus is depicted in several different ways. In one sculpture, he is depicted as a malformed man while in yet another sculpture he is viewed as grotesque Cyclops. As depicted in the Odyssey, Polyphemus is a character who is filled with horror, tragedy, and comedy. He is also viewed as a character of repulse and horror, but these negative traits are overshadowed by his comical identity aspect.

The physical appearance of Polyphemus can best be described as monstrous. With the height and weight, and weight of this creature, it was more of a giant than a human being. The one eye on the forehead was also an illustration that he was a giant. There are however varied views as to the real physical appearance of Polyphemus (Carey, 27). The seemingly different views are as a result of literary drawings, sculptures and paintings that represent Polyphemus differently. It, therefore, becomes very difficult to describe the physical appearance of this creature. The impression that one gets regarding the physical appearance of Polyphemus depends on the type of literary work that one interacts with. It is based on how he is represented in these works that the person interacting with the works gets a mental image of the physical appearance of Polyphemus.

Another characteristic relating to the character of Polyphemus is that he is murderous. He was a cannibal and to him, killing and eating a man was not a big issue. In fact, Polyphemus could even kill more than one man and eat them at a sitting. Given the value that is accorded to human life, Polyphemus had no respect or value for this life and he could kill at will. Another instance that shows that Polyphemus was murderous is when he killed Acis so that he could get back his wife. His wife, who was known as Gulatea was enraged by the unacceptable and ungraceful actions that her husband perpetrated against other people. For this reason, she left him for another man whom she loved for his gentle actions. When Polyphemus realized that his wife had been taken by another man, he made plans to revenge with the intention that the revenge would hand him back his wife. He was also violent especially considering the manner in which he reacted when he realized that that there were intruders in his compound. The manner in which he killed Acis also shows how violent he could get. He killed him by throwing a large rock to him that crushed him to death. He also killed the men that were with Odyssey in a very cruel way by banging them against the walls of the cave.

The lack of persuasive power is another character that defines Polyphemus. When he was left by his wife due to his ungraceful actions, he should have tried to persuade his wife to come back home. Instead, he resorts to killing Acis. This is a cowardice act and depicts him as a real coward who cannot be in a position to face issues heads on and result to crude methods of solving problems (Evslin, 18). Such an action among others also makes him appear to be an uncivilized person. Civility appears to have completely deserted him as he was acting in a very primitive way. For example, cannibalism is an act that has long been phased out in many communities. The fact that Polyphemus still engages in this practice is an indication that he is not civilized. Also, the methods that he uses to settle disputes also show that he is an uncivilized person (Klaus, 36). The act of killing Acis so that he could get back his wife is a cowardice and primitive act as he could have simply talked to his wife and persuaded her to return home. Although it can be argued that Polyphemus was not a human, there are many attributes that he shares with human beings, and it would, therefore, be expected that Polyphemus would show some aspects of humanity even if it is to a small extent.

Another characteristic of Polyphemus is that he is not sympathetic. When he discovered the lost men, the first thing that crossed his mind is how he would feast on them. It did not dawn on him that he could help these men trace their way to where they were going. Instead, he starts intimidating the men by throwing the firewood onto the ground with a thunderous sound, talking with a very loud voice as well as killing two of the men in a gruesome way and feasting on them.

Another characteristic of Polyphemus is that he was in good relationship with the gods (Góngora, 74). After Odysseys and his men disappear, Polyphemus was able to seek the intervention of the gods who grants him his wishes by laying misfortunes along the path that they were following. Polyphemus also lived a solitary life and his character was defined by the landscape.

Polyphemus is also a character who is to be pitied. Some of the things that happen to this character make him be a subject of pity irrespective of many of his actions that are considered inhuman. The first sign that shows that Polyphemus is a creature to be pitied is during the speech that Odyssey made to his ram (Griffin, 48). In this speech, Odyssey clearly shows that Polyphemus is a creature to be pitied. The second sign that makes him a subject of pity is the act of being blinded by Odyssey and his men.

Polyphemus is largely viewed as a human character as opposed to a monster.   The similarities with humans are more as compared to the differences and this makes him manlier than beastly (Homer & Rieu 41). For example, just like humans, he had feelings for the opposite sex and he even marries. He shows compassion and his gentle side to the lady making him appear just like a normal human. His body resembled that of a woman with the only difference being the one eye on the forehead.












Works Cited

A.H.F. Griffin, “Unrequited Love: Polyphemus and Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses”, Greece

& Rome Second Series, Vol. 30.2 1983

Carey, Sorcha, “A Tradition of Adventures in the Imperial Grotto”, Greece & Rome, Second

Series, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Apr., 2002)

Homer, , and E V. Rieu. The Odyssey. Baltimore: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Góngora, A. L, Polyphemus and Galatea. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977. Print

Evslin, Bernard. The Cyclopes. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Print.

Klaus Junker, Interpreting the Images of Greek Myths: An Introduction, Cambridge University



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