The Ninth Book of the Odyssey tells the famous story of the Cyclops. Some of the themes that have already presented themselves appear here, especially (1) hospitality and (2) Odysseus' boastfulness. Another theme that plays a major role in this book is (3) Odysseus' cleverness.
HospitalityOdysseus and his 12 chosen men enter the cave of the Cyclops bearing gifts. They assume the owner of the cave will be willing to exchange gifts and treat them well because such is the will of Zeus, but the Cyclops doesn't care about Zeus. His father is Zeus' brother, Poseidon. Like the Phaeacians, the Cyclops doesn't initially observe the customs of hospitality. When Odysseus gives the Cyclops wine, the Cyclops behaves almost properly by giving him a gift in exchange. However, the gift -- sparing his life until all the other men have been devoured -- is worthless. When Odysseus outwits the Cyclops Polyphemus, Polyphemus calls on his father to curse Odysseus and his men.
BoastfulnessOdysseus goes to the Cyclops' island for no good reason. He has already settled most of his men on a nearby island (Goat Island) from which they can replenish their supplies. It has been suggested that this is the island the Phaeacians came from. Curiosity seems the plausible motive to go to the Cyclops' island. While there Odysseus is able to get the best of the Cyclops, so because of his need to boast about his exploits, as he leaves Odysseus taunts the Cyclops and even after his men ask him to stop, he continues to boast about who he is and what he has done. Perhaps Odysseus fears that if he doesn't tell the Cyclops, no one will hear about his exploits and he will lose glory. Since the Cyclops curses him to lose all his men, there might well be no one left to tell tales about him, but perhaps there would have been had Odysseus desisted.
Crafty Odysseus - No OneOdysseus is known for his craftiness. It is almost a task beneath him to outwit the boorish Cyclops. Using a sophisticated linguistic trick, Odysseus outwits the Cyclops by telling him his name is Outis 'no one'. Not a name, Odysseus uses it as if it were one, so that when the Cyclops tries to tell his brothers that Odysseus has injured him, he can't because the only name he knows for the stranger in his cave is "No One". His brothers realize something has happened to Polyphemus with no known cause, so they figure it must be of divine cause. They can do nothing in that case and so the other Cyclops leave without helping. In Greek there are further plays on words making connections between the word for Odysseus' skill and the "name" he gave the Cyclops.
Odysseus had spent some time among the Phaeacians unnamed, like a "no one," just as his son Telemachus did in various courts until the proper rites of hospitality had been concluded. In the cave of Polyphemus the proper hospitality rites were never concluded. Giving a real name in some societies is akin to surrendering power over oneself. Odysseus had some reason to worry about the friendliness of the Phaeacians, especially because of their link to Poseidon, and clearly with the Cyclops, he had no reason to give that bit of symbolic power away.
It is also worth noting that although the Cyclops is one-eyed -- Odysseus spears out the eyeball with his olive stake -- this is not explicitly stated.
- The Homeric Cyclopes: Folktale, Tradition, and Theme, by Robert Mondi. Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 113. (1983), pp. 17-38.
- Goat Island: Od. 9. 116-141, by Jenny Strauss Clay. The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 30, No. 2. (1980), pp. 261-264.
- "Odyssey 9": Symmetry and Paradox in Outis, by Michael Simpson. The Classical Journal, Vol. 68, No. 1. (Oct. - Nov., 1972), pp. 22-25.
- Divine Justice in the Odyssey: Poseidon, Cyclops, and Helios, by Charles Segal. The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 113, No. 4. (Winter, 1992), pp. 489-518.