Translated title of the contribution: Cyclops society and the moral structure of the odyssey

S. D. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The specific topic of this paper is the tale of the Cyclops Polyphemus in Odyssey 9 and its connections to the story of the Odyssey as a whole, including the hero's account of his travels in his Apology and Homer's presentation of Odysseus' return to his home on Ithaca in the second half of the poem. I also attempt to situate Polyphemus in a larger social, political and above all else economic framework, arguing that he is a less exceptional figure than Odysseus makes him out to be, and that thinking of him as a generic epic herdsman offers insights into his treatment at the hands of Odysseus and the poet, into the Cyclops society of which he is a part, and into the overall moral structure of the epic. As I note in Section 1, the Polyphemus incident plays a key role in Homer's story. My larger and more controversial thesis is that this is due at least in part to the story's moral and social complexity, which makes it a powerful tool to unlock other, more problematic issues both in the Odyssey and outside of it. Section 2 offers an initial consideration of the Polyphemus episode, its seeming intentions within the Apology and some of its peculiarities. Section 3 embarks on a second reading of the tale, designed to challenge the first by declining to take it at face value. Section 4 considers another Homeric herdsman, Odysseus' slave Eumaeus, and his place on Ithaca and within the political, moral and narrative economy of the poem. Section 5 uses that perspective to look back at Polyphemus and Cyclops Island, and to reassess their connections to Homeric society generally and the story of the Odyssey as a whole.

Translated title of the contributionCyclops society and the moral structure of the odyssey
Original languageRussian
Pages (from-to)53-67
Number of pages15
JournalShagi/ Steps
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© K. S. DANILOCHKINA, trans. from English


  • Class
  • Cyclops
  • Herding
  • Homer
  • Justice
  • Odyssey
  • Pastoralism
  • Power
  • Technology


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