Mrs Cyclops, Lately Widowed

Artwork details: gouache, 4.5 x 4.5 inches (11 x 11 cm), 2005.

One of the 'Drinking Girls' series of miniatures.

This is Mrs Cyclops (lately widowed). You can get a nice little fortune for a Greek island nowadays...

Remember the Cyclops? Well, I thought everybody did, but I found myself attempting to explain the whole story the other day, because it turns out not everybody has ever heard it. So - it won't much help with the understanding of this picture - but if you want the story, see below - another Greek Legend re-told in (very much) my own words....

'Mrs Cyclops' - by Nancy Farmer
Mrs Cyclops, Lately Widowed

The story of the Cyclops

This is an episode out of Homer's 'The Odyssey' - which is all about Odysseus and his journey home from Troy. He was King of Ithaca, and one of the Greek warriors who laid siege to Troy for all those many years. He was famous for sneaky tricks, and he was the bloke who thought up the thing with the Wooden Horse - and I'm not going to explain that bit too - go see the film 'Troy'. That's Homer the ancient Greek poet, by the way, not the one in the Simpsons.

Anyway... famously Odysseus took something like 19 years to get home, he got waylaid by all sorts of monsters, lost all his ships and companions, but eventually he made it... Not, I might add, without a great deal of whingeing and moaning of 'woe is me', and quite a lot of bursting into tears... I've read it... he goes on a lot. Mind you, it was a terrible journey, apart from that time he had a beautiful enchantress (and minor goddess) to shag, and he moaned about that, too.

But the Cyclops now - he was one of the monsters that waylaid Odysseus - even though it was Odysseus's own silly fault. The Cyclops was a huge giant, one-eyed - big eye right in the center of his forehead. And actually there were lots of them - cyclopes is the plural, I believe. They lived on an island, and farmed sheep, and I think they were actually a fairly belligerent bunch, but the Cyclops - who was called Polyphemus - he was the most evil-tempered and argumentative of the whole lot, and he didn't even like the other cyclopes, and lived all on his own, in a cave, with his sheep (and possibly goats).

So Odysseus on his way home, at this stage with quite a few ships and lots of strapping Greek warriors, sails near the island of the cyclopes, and thinks 'Hmm, that's a nice island, I wonder if there's anything worth nicking'. So he takes a boat to the island and a handful of his most strapping Greek warriors, and they land, and investigate. They happen upon the Cyclops' - Polyphemus's - cave. It's full of cheeses, and pens of sheep, and lambs and loads of stuff, and Odysseus' men want to nick the cheeses and then come back for the lambs, too, and drive them down to the boat, but Odysseys (who says, with hindsight this would have been the best plan) wants to wait for the owner to see if he is civilized and might give him a present. Double standards or what? So they light a fire, offer some of Polyphemus's stuff in sacrifice to the gods, and eat some more of his stuff, and wait for him to come home to give them a present.

Well Polyphemus the giant Cyclops duly turns up, drives in all his sheep and goats and rolls this huge stone in front of the cavern door. Some time after that he sees the Greeks, who, strapping warriors as they are, have gone and hidden from all the racket. He asks them what the bloody hell they are doing there - whether they are traders or have come to nick stuff, and Odysseus says, basically, that he is a jolly fine warrior who's jolly famous for killing lots of people and will he please be so kind as to put them up for the night and give him a present. Cos otherwise Zeus is gonna be upset.

The Cyclops says he doesn't give a toss about Zeus and promptly picks up two of the strapping Greeks, bashes their heads on the ground and eats them. Homer goes on about their brains coming out, as Homer is quite into descriptions of blood and guts (and brains). Then he goes to sleep.

Now, the Greeks can't do in Polyphemus while he's asleep, since, strapping warriors as they are, they still aren't macho enough to shift the stone form the cave entrance so they are effectively trapped without Polyphemus to shift it. So they spend all night wailing instead, and in the morning Polyphemus has another two of them for breakfast, then he goes out, taking his sheep with him and putting the big stone back in front of the entrance.

Well this won't do at all, and Odysseus sits down to think up a 'cunning plan'. Of course he wouldn't need a cunning plan if he hadn't gone round breaking into people's places after their stuff. The Greeks cut a length of wood off a handy giant-sized stake that is lying around, and sharpen the end to a point, and hide it. On his return, the Cyclops eats another couple of blokes, and settles down for the evening.

Now Odysseus has brought some exceptionally fine, very strong wine with him (which he mentions in passing was a present from some priest of Apollo, whose family Odysseus had refrained from killing on this account, when he'd killed everyone else in where-ever-it-was... because he's nice like that, and doesn't want to get into trouble with Apollo... again...). Anyway, he goes up to Polyphemus with this wine, and asks the Cyclops, in his most convincing, non-suspicious tone, if he wouldn't like some jolly fine wine to wash down his meal of Greek warriors? Polyphemus duly accepts, and asks for more, and more, and then asks after Odysseus name, and says that he will give him a present after all, for all this fine wine. Odysseus says that his name is 'Nobody'. The cyclops is not bright, and falls for this one, saying that then this will be the present: he will eat 'Nobody' last of all, for bringing such fine wine. Then he falls asleep, and is sick. Homer goes into details over this.

Well, of course, the Greeks sneak up, and having heated the newly-shaped pointed stick in the fire till it's red hot, they plunge it straight into the Cyclops single eye. More details of blood and boiling eyeball-goo from Homer here...

Of course the Cyclops wakes up and shrieks bloody murder, and all the other other cyclopes come running and asks what's going on and is he being attacked? And Polyphemus shouts that 'Nobody' is attacking him... 'Nobody' is killing him... and so the other cyclopes go away again saying he must be ill... Cunning eh?

Well the Cyclops can't see, but there is still the stone to be got past, and he rolls it back and in the morning feels the backs of all his sheep as they go past to check for any escaping Greeks, but the cunning buggers are hanging on underneath the sheep, and once out and away, of course, they not only escape, they make off with all of Polyphemus's sheep as well, and load them onto the boat.

And that is pretty much the end of the story, except the bloody idiot Odysseus still has to have the last line, and once away from the shore, stands up in the boat and shouts very loudly words to the effect of 'Ner-ner na ner-ner (said in best sing-song playground voice) we got away and you can't catch us!'. At which the now blind Cyclops chucks a huge rock at them, only narrowly missing them, and, as the rock falls a little beyond, driving the Greeks back to the island shore again. With some difficulty they get away again, but, deaf to pleas of 'please shut the fuck up (sir)' Odysseys has another go at Polyphemus, and tells him that he's been beaten by the great Odysseus. So ner (again).

Well at this the cyclops wails that there'd been a prophesy to that effect, though he'd expected someone a bit bigger and more scary, and chucks another rock, also narrowly missing. Odysseys does get away this time, but it all goes badly after that since, as it turns out, Polyphemus is actually the son of Poseidon, the god of the seas, who gets a bit upset about all this. But then Odysseus pisses off a lot of people, and gods, and it's really not surprising that the belligerent fellow has such a lot of trouble getting home.

Well that's the story of the Cyclops - If you've read all this well done!

But you see Homer left out a couple of important details, being, as he was, keen on stories of strapping Greek warriors, and blood and guts, and not awfully big on the subject of wives. He seems to have entirely forgotten that Polyphemus had a wife - Mrs Cyclops - and that she never really wanted to be a sheep farmer anyway, and that the Cyclops was blind and prancing about angrily on the edge of a cliff chucking huge rocks at departing ships he couldn't see. And if he didn't slip and fall to his death, who was there to see if he might have been pushed?

And one can get a nice little fortune for a Greek island, nowadays...

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