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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 9

Summary

Odysseus reveals his true name and identity to King Alcinous and his people. He then describes some of the troubles he and his men faced in their journey back from Troy. First they sack Ismarus, the city of the Cicones. After an initial success, they linger too long feasting, by which time the Cicones are able to call in reinforcements, who defeat them and drive them from their island. After surviving a fierce storm, they reach the land of the Lotus-Eaters. All the men who eat the lotus plants provided by the natives forget their homeland and do not want to leave the island. Odysseus must force these men against their will back onto their ships.

Odysseus then relates in detail the famous episode with Polyphemus, the Cyclops. After having feasted on abundant flesh and sweet wine on an isle near the island of the Cyclops, Odysseus leads one ship to their land, wanting to see for himself whether the Cyclops, a race of savage, one-eyed giants, are as wild and rude as men say. He leaves the ship on the shore and goes to one of the giants' cave with twelve of his men. Polyphemus is not there, and the men help themselves to the cheese kept in his basket. They wish to leave, but Odysseus has them await the giant's return, hoping for a "stranger's gift." When Polyphemus comes back, he blocks the entrance with a huge rock. Discovering the men, he immediately eats two of them for dinner. Before leaving with his flocks for the hills the next morning, he eats two more men. Odysseus devises a plan to escape and sharpens the tip of a long stick.


When the Cyclops comes back, Odysseus offers him intoxicating wine and gives his name as "No-Body." While the giant is sleeping, the men thrust the stick in the fire and then into the giant's eye. He raises a terrible cry, but when the other Cyclops ask him what's wrong, he says that "No-Body" is killing him, and they leave in disgust. The next morning, the hero and his companions manage to escape by hiding themselves below the bellies of the rams. On reaching the ship with the flock, Odysseus incites the fury of the giant by taunting him. Incited, the giant in return throws huge stones at the ship and prays to his father, Poseidon, to punish the hero by killing him or, failing that, killing all his men and keeping him from home for a long time. Finally, Odysseus' ship reaches the others at the nearby isle, and the men divide the sheep amongst themselves and have a feast. Then they once again sail away.

Notes

The much-awaited tales of Odysseus' adventures finally begin in this Book. The Achaeans sack the city of the Cicones, but their greed proves to be their downfall. Several times in the book, Odysseus' companions will get into trouble because of their gluttony and feasting. Here they are busy eating sheep and drinking wine when the Cicones re-gather, plan a surprise attack, and kill many of Odysseus' men.

The Cyclops episode is one of the most famous in The Odyssey. The Cyclops, who live wildly without the benefit of laws, cities or agriculture, are the antithesis of civilized men. Rather than welcoming strangers, they eat them (perhaps the ultimate act of "inhumanity"). They also mock the power of both men and gods. Odysseus' encounter with the Cyclops highlights the conflict between man and nature. Odysseus is able to trick the Cyclops through his cleverness, but he is punished by Poseidon for his act and his subsequent vanity.

The Cyclops episode acts at the moral center of the tale, for it is here that the reader learns why Odysseus is forced to wander for so many years before he reaches home. One of the themes of the epic is the moral development of the character of Odysseus. He needs to be humbled and made more patient. In this episode, the reader gets a glaring view of his follies. His greed for gifts takes him to the giant's cave, and his stubborn refusal to return when his companions ask him to do so shows his foolhardiness. Moreover, his proud, boasting words to the giant when they are sailing away further endangers the lives of his men. He is far from being perfect, and the reader begins to understand Odysseus himself may have brought on some of the terrible ordeals that he has to endure before reaching Ithaca.

Homer has made changes in the traditional tale of the Cyclops. He introduces the trick by which Odysseus says that his name is "No-Body." Outwitting the Cyclops makes Odysseus more formidable; but at the same time, it increases the danger to himself. The trick, however, saves Odysseus at a critical moment. In the escape from the cave, the more traditional version has Odysseus and his companions kill the sheep and clothe themselves in their skins. In this Homeric version, they to cling their bellies of the sheep, which brings them advantages. Homer, therefore, is seen successfully juxtaposing traditional epic material with folklore.

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