View in browser
Classical Greek Tutoring
Newsletter, 19th April 2020

Welcome to the latest newsletter from Classical Greek Tutoring and I hope this finds you well.    

In this fortnightly newsletter, I bring you the latest news in the classics world, as well as hints and tips for learning Greek.  Best wishes, Helen

The podcast which I recommend this week is entitled "Literature and History". Doug Metzger and his dog Parker have produced 74 episodes so far beginning with the Tower of Babel. Greek literature begins with Hesiod in episode 7. The aim of each episode is to provide summaries and historical analysis of influential works of world literature. I hope you can take a listen. Please drop me a line with your own podcast suggestions!

The Tragedies of Euripides

Every Wednesday at 8pm BST, Out of Chaos theatre company and Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies are live streaming Greek tragedies of Euripides followed by discussion with guest academics and the actors. Herakles and The Bacchae can be watched on Youtube hereIphigenia in Aulis will be broadcast on 22nd April and can be watched live or afterwards.

Classics in the News

Ancient Papyrus theft

A further twist in the story of the alleged theft of pricless Biblical papyri fragments, which had been part of the collection at the Sackler Library, Oxford. Read more here

Ancient Greek Literature


Odysseus and the Cyclops

Cyclopes appear in Hesiod’s Theogony, the sons of Ouranos and Gaia,  craftsmen who supply Zeus with the thunderbolts which enable him to defeat the Titans. In the Odyssey, Polyphemus is the son of Poseidon and the nymph Thoösa. Thus there is a question hanging over Polyphemus' origins, how he became a cyclops, since he had no cyclopean blood on his father or mother’s side.

While he tells the story of his wanderings, Odysseus is being accommodated by the Phaeacians, an idealised community who are the perfect hosts. In contrast, the Cyclops eats his guests instead of feeding them! Everything Polyphemus says or does is a perversion or mockery of the rites of hospitality. Homer creates in the Cyclopes a cultural group at the opposite extreme from the Phaeacians on the scale of civilisation and hospitality. Once neighbours, the peace-loving Phaecians were driven from their home by the violent actions of the Cyclopes: 

"The Phaeacian men, who formerly lived in the spacious land, Hyperia, next to the Cyclopes who were men too overbearing, and who had kept harrying them, being greater in strength. From here godlike Nausithoös had removed and led a migration, and settled in Scheria." (Od. 6.3-8 , trans. Lattimore)

The Phaeacians live in a polis, in houses, and worship the gods while the Cyclopes live in caves and "do not concern themselves over Zeus of the aegis nor any of the rest of the blessed gods, since we are far better than they (Od. 9.275-7, trans. Lattimore).

The story of the hero's escape from a blinded ogre is based on a universal folktake of which versions can be found throughout Europe as well as parts of northern Africa and the near East. The tale of Polyphemus in Odyssey 9 is one of many versions of a folktale widespread throughout Europe and beyond.  Oskar Hackman collected 125 specimens and discovered the following common theme : the hero finds himself at the mercy of a giant shepherd in a cave, he blinds the giant and escapes from the cave by walking out on all fours dressed in sheep's skin. This folktale has been recorded in Spain, France, Italy, Sicily, Albania, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, Finland.

Two aspects of the Odyssey 9 story which are not found in the folk-tale are the trick of the name 'Nobody', and the inebriation of the giant. 

The trick of the name Nobody is a characteristic of another common folktale in Hackman’s list and will only work if Polyphemus is alone. Odyssey 1 introduces Polyphemus with grandeur: ‘for Polyphemus [is] like a god, whose power is greatest over all the Cyclopes.’ (Od. 1.70-71, trans. Lattimore). So there is a community of cyclopes but Homer tells us that our cyclops is solitary: “there lodged a monster of a man, who now was herding the flocks sat a distance away, alone, for he did not range with others but stayed away by himself” (Od.9.187-9, trans. Lattimore). In the folk-tale, the giant is also solitary, living remote from men and other giants.

The inebriation of the giant is not found in the folktale, it may be an invention or a later addition. A small circle of folktales are concerned with a man who inebriates a devil or demon in order to capture him and force him to reveal some knowledge. It is impossible to know if the Odyssey is the common source of the folktale versions, but it is likely not since these incidents were either excluded or not known. In the Odyssey, the incident with the wine is prepared for several pages, we are told the origin of the wine, and it is mentioned over and over. The wine Odysseus brings to the cyclops' cave is extra special Ciconian wine from the celebrated vineyards of Ismarus, and it is extra-strong because we are told it needs to be diluted 20 times. 

The word ‘cyclops’ means round-eyed or round-faced, but not one-eyed, and we are not explicitly told in the Odyssey that Polyphemus has one eye instead of the usual two. It is however implied in several places by use of the word 'eye' in the singular. For example, "They seized the beam of olive, sharp at the end, and leaned on it into the eye .... we twirled it in his eye ... the fire made the roots of his eye crackle. .... the Cyclops’ eye sizzled ... he pulled the timber out of his eye” (Od. 9382-397, trans. Lattimore). Perhaps the story was so well known that the audience took this for granted – everyone knows that a cyclops has only one eye. 

If you have any questions about classical Greek language or literature, please drop me a line and I'll do my best to help.

f you have enjoyed this newsletter, please feel free to forward it to anyone you think may be interested. Click on the buttons below to visit my social media pages and website.

Classical Greek Tutoring

39 Old Mill Grove, Belfast
United Kingdom

facebook twitter instagram

You have received this email because you subscribed to receive my newsletter and information about Classical Greek Tutoring.