Myth
Punishment in Tartarus – Salmoneus
October 9, 2017
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Zeus and his thunderboltAnd so we have reached our penultimate entry in our Punishment in Tartarus mini-series. I know, I know, I hear you sigh. But don’t worry because I have some really fun and interesting – at least they are in my mind – articles planned. The figures to have already featured in the series are Sisyphus, Tantalus, Ixion and Tityos. This time it’s the turn of Salmoneus.

Salmoneus was the son of Aeolus and Enarete and the brother of a rather familiar figure…Sisyphus! We have seen some interesting family ties throughout this mini-series. Salmoneus and Sisyphus are brothers, two of Tantalus’ children – Broteas and Niobe – were punished by the gods and Ixion’s descendants go to war with one another.

He initially lived in Thessaly but left and founded his own city named Salmone. He was arrogant though and tried to compare himself with Zeus. As we know, that’s one hell of a mistake to make. (Get it? Hell…Underworld…no?…oh nevermind). He compared himself to the king of the gods, refused to sacrifice to him and ordered that the sacrifices should be offered to him instead. He also went around in a chariot and dragged animal skins and kettles behind him to mimic thunder and hurled flaming torches into the sky to mimic thunder.

The gods can be angered at the smallest of indiscretions so imagine how ticked off Zeus was when he saw all this. He hurled a thunderbolt at Salmoneus, killing him, and destroyed the city that he had founded along with everyone who lived there.

I think now is a good time to point out that the gods weren’t good guys. They were vengeful, spiteful and incredibly human in their emotions. Modern day religions worship gods who they maintain are nothing short of perfect. The Greek gods on the other hand, were a long way from perfection.

After he had killed Salmoneus, Zeus sent him down to Tartarus. Virgil who puts him there with the Aeneid – the Roman Epic – stating, “I saw too Salmoneus suffering cruel punishment, still miming the flames of Jupiter and the rumblings of Olympus.” Homer includes nothing about it when Odysseus journeys to the Underworld in the Odyssey so this seems to be an addition completely of Virgil’s making.

Unfortunately, I leave you without a specific punishment but this is another instance of a mortal challenging or mimicking a god. Our final instalment in the ‘Punishment in Tatarus’ mini-series is about the Danaides, the fifty daughters of Danaus.

Until next time,

Ian

What I'm Reading
11 Books on my Reading List for October
October 4, 2017
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Here are the eleven books that make my reading list for October. It’s heavy on Children’s books this month and might give you some ideas about what to read.

 

Non-Fiction

 

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

One of the books that is carrying over from last month though I am extremely close to finishing it. The biography of the real-life Tony Stark (that’s Iron Man for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Marvel Universe) by Ashlee Vance is wonderful so far. Musk is the greatest innovator of our time and his story really does encourage and inspire.

 

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

A book on how to get better at Content Writing. That’s different from the creative writing that you see in fiction books. Content writing is, well, this. This post. This blog. All that sort of stuff. The book comes with great reviews and was a Wall Street Journal bestseller.

 

On Writing by Stephen King

I have often seen this book described as not a “How to Write” book, but more a “Why to Write book”. It is always present on lists for recommendations to aspiring writers to read, whether they be creative writers, content writers or otherwise.

 

Adults

 

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

The second book in A Song of Ice and Fire and sequel to A Game of Thrones. It’s another book that was on my reading list last month that I never got around to making progress on. Hopefully this month will be different.

 

The Midnight Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

I didn’t manage to read a single page of The Midnight Circus last month even though I’m already two-thirds of the way through it.

 

Children’s

 

Complete Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

I love fairy tales and this is a book that I imagine will be on the reading list for quite a while since it’s over 700 pages long and made up of over 150 stories. I have put it in the children’s section although the stories do have a certain grim element to them (couldn’t resist!) that makes them appealing to adults also.  

 

Goosebumps #5: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb by R.L. Stine

A story about a mummy from the greatest children’s horror series ever written. What’s not to look forward to?

 

Goosebumps #6: Let’s Get Invisible! by R.L. Stine

A story about a mummy…wait, wrong one.                                                                                                                                             I wrote out a sentence to describe this book, but it seems to have disappeared. You could almost say it has turned invisible. Ooh, SPOOKY!

 

Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz

The return of Alex Rider! I was surprised to see that Horowitz went back to write more in the Alex Rider series, given that he tied up the story with such a nice and pretty bow in Scorpia Rising. That being said, if there’s one writer I trust to keep a series interesting and exciting, it’s Horowitz. I am VERY excited about reading it.

 

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner 

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is one of those books that shows up on a lot of writers’ favourites lists. I know Neil Gaiman rates it highly and there were another couple of lists I have seen it on.

 

Classics

 

Jason and the Golden Fleece by Apollonius of Rhodes, translated by Richard Hunter

The only classical work on this list. Also known as The Argonautica, it follows the story of Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece (probably guessed that from the title anyway) as well as featuring Medea. It was written in the 3rd century B.C. and should make for a great read for any fan of Classics.

 

That’s the reading list for this month. I know I won’t get all of them read but it’s always good to set a goal. I have a couple of book reviews that need writing from last month and they will be coming along shortly. For now, that’s it and I’ll be back again soon.

 

Ian, Over and Out

 

 

 

 

Myth
Myth of the Week – Tityos
September 26, 2017
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Welcome, welcome, welcome to round four in our mini-series on Punishment in Tartarus. So far we have looked at the stories and indiscretions and subsequent punishments of Sisyphus, Tantalus and Ixion. Do give them a read if you get the chance, they are very interesting!

This week we turn to not a man, but a giant. The giant Tityos, to be precise. So pull up a chair, kick back and let me hit you with some Greek Mythology.

Tityos was the son of Zeus and Elare. After he had “seduced” Elare and impregnated her, he hid her deep below the ground afraid that Hera would find out. There seems to be a bit of conflict here about what happened after that with some people suggesting that Elare carried Tityos to term and gave birth to him. Others say that Tityos grew so large that he ripped his mother’s womb and was carried to term by Gaia (the earth).

Either way, Tityos is born and sees the light of day for the first time. The goddess Leto – remember her? She was the mother of the twins Artemis and Apollo – decided to pay a visit to Delphi. Tityos saw her and could not help but grab her. The ever protective Apollo reacted by slaying the giant. Here comes the good part.

For his punishment, Tityos was stretched out on the ground in Tartarus and bound there. He was so big he covered nine acres! It isn’t terrible so far, right? Well, every day, while he was there, two vultures would peck out his liver and eat it only for it to grow back again at night.

I know right, isn’t that the coolest thing you’ve ever heard?

Perhaps you have heard of it before because Tityos was not the only figure in mythology to have such a punishment. Prometheus, the Titan who gave fire back to man, was tied to a rock and every day his liver would be pecked out by an eagle.

That’s all there is to it. A nice short, snappy myth you can impress all your friends with. Go forth and spread the word!

 

Thanks for reading. If you wish to do so for whatever reason, you can follow me on Facebook on Twitter. If you don’t want to follow me then that’s quite alright too. I’ll be back next time with the myth of Salmoneus (another short account) before wrapping things up with the Danaides.

 

Have a most enjoyable day,

Ian

Book to Movie
Book to Movie: Stormbreaker
September 22, 2017
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I was looking through some old scribblings that didn’t quite make the cut for this website and came across a ‘Book to Movie’ article on Stormbreaker, the movie adaptation of the first book in Anthony Horowitz’s excellent Alex Rider series. I resurrected it and here it is today for your reading…eh…pleasure?

 

 

 

The Book

 

Stormbreaker was released in 2000 and ushered in a new phenomenon in the children’s and Young Adult’s market, the teenage spy. Since then there have been a number of writers to tackle the sub-genre, such as Robert Muchamore with his Cherub series which launched in 2004, Charlie Higson released the Young Bond series in 2005 and Joe Craig penned the Jimmy Coates series, also making its debut in 2005.

None of them do it quite like Horowitz, though.

Alex Rider was a teenage James Bond. Bond for Boys. (That’s not the slogan he used…thankfully). The books had twists, turns, gadgets, exciting plots and deplorable villains. They instantly became a hit amongst young boys and a go-to series for parents to get their kids interested in reading.

As of 2015, the books had series had sold over 19 million copies. Sadly, the movie did not fare as well.

 

The Movie

 

The Alex Rider series made the leap to the big screen in 2006 and seemed to have everything going for it. An experienced director (Geoffrey Sax), a writer who knew the story better than anyone (Anthony Horowitz himself) and a cast so absolutely crammed with talent they get their own paragraph.

Alex Pettyfer, Ewan Mcgregor, Stephen Fry, Robbie Coltrane, Mickey Rourke, Sarah Bolger, Bill Nighy, Damian Lewis, Sophie Okonedo, Missi Pyle, Andy Serkis and Alicia Silverstone…even comedian Jimmy Carr makes an appearance. That’s far better than your average cast! Clearly, there were high hopes for Alex Rider.

Was the movie a dud?

No, not at all. It didn’t translate to the screen as well as it should have but it wasn’t a terrible movie either. It was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half with some good dialogue, a few witty scenes and solid action sequences. I particularly enjoyed Nighy’s performance in the role of Alan Blunt (whose personality was altered from the character in the book). His mannerisms are hilarious.

After a reasonably successful release in the UK, a decision was taken by the powers that be to not release it in America. That made its fate inevitable and as a result, Alex Rider never made another appearance in our cinemas.

 

Verdict

 

The book was better than the movie, there’s no doubt about that, but the movie was an enjoyable hour and a half of TV.

I was left quite disappointed that Alex Rider wasn’t given a second chance. The books were great and the movie cast was stellar.

Happily, there is a small silver lining. Last year Horowitz revealed he was in talks to turn Alex Rider into a TV series. Maybe this would be a better format for the teenage spy to flourish. Maybe it will never happen. At least it’s something for fans to cling onto.

 

Hopefully that was a nice change of pace from the myths I have been posting for the last while. If you liked this and want to stay up to date with more of what I write, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Thanks for reading!

Ian

Myth
Myth of the Week – Ixion
September 18, 2017
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In this edition of Myth of the Week we will be focusing on the myth of Ixion as a continuation of our Punishment in Tartarus mini-series. (I was going to combine his myth with Tityus but there’s a bit more meat to the story than I initially thought). The first two articles were about Sisyphus and Tantalus, who were punished in some pretty awesome ways so be sure to check them out!

Ixion was the king of the Lapiths in Thessaly. He was the son of, well, we don’t really know. His mother was definitely Perimela. There are different accounts of who his father was; Phlegyas, Anton, Pasion or the war god Ares. Take your pick. He was also married to Dia and had sons named Peirithoos and…you have to wait. All shall be revealed. Mysterious, isn’t it?

The story goes that Ixion promised to pay a dowry to Dia’s father, Deioneus, in exchange for his daughter’s hand. When he didn’t, Deioneus grew angry and Ixion invited him over to his house, presumably for a bit of a chat. When Deioneus arrived, however, Ixion threw him into a fire and killed him.

Two major problems with this. Firstly, hospitality was held in high regard. Actually, the safety and rights of guests are held sacred. Guests are protected by the gods, and not just any gods, but Zeus himself. Safe to say, Ixion is off to a bad start. The second big no-no is killing your kin, even if it is only an in-law (I say that with all respect to in-laws and hope my sister-in-law isn’t reading this). In The Iliad, we are told that Patroklos also killed someone in his youth and the punishment is a choice between death and exile. Both Patroklos and Ixion chose exile.

You might be thinking that this was the reason for his being punished in Tartarus.

WRONG!

It gets worse. Much worse. Zeus pities on Ixion because the gods are angry with him and no one purified him of murder. Zeus decides to take it upon himself to purify Ixion. Not only that, but he invites him to his table at Olympus! This is where Ixion really messed up.

He took such a liking to Hera  that he ended up getting drunk and tried to take Hera by force. Just to sum up how stupid he was, this was THE Hera, Queen of the Gods, sister and wife to Zeus.

Zeus didn’t fly off the handle immediately though. He wanted to see if what Hera claimed was true and fashioned a cloud to look like Hera and put it beside Ixion. To cut a long story short, Ixion slept with the cloud and suffered Zeus cast him down to Tartarus. His punishment?

To be chained by his hands and feet to a fiery, eternal spinning wheel.

But wait, there’s more! (Not much more though, I promise). The cloud that Ixion mated with was named Nephele and as a result of their union, Centauros was born. The name sounds familiar, right? He was the father of the Centaurs (half-man, half-horse creatures) who created them by mating with mares.

The Lapiths (led by Ixion’s son Peirithoos) and the Centaurs would  have a great battle against each other which all began because the Centaurs couldn’t hold their drink at a wedding. (They were notorious for it and would act completely inappropriately). The Lapiths were victorious in the end.

 

Hopefully you enjoyed that. I certainly loved researching it. If you would like me to cover any myth or mythical figure, please let me know. You can contact me through Facebook, Twitter, leave a comment below or email me at ian@ianbrooksauthor.com. I’ll be back next time with our third last figure – Tityus – in the Punishment in Tartarus mini-series.

 

See you then!

Myth
Myth of the Week – Tantalus
September 15, 2017
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As promised, today we are looking at Tantalus and his story of how he ended up in Tartarus and what his punishment is. The myth of Tantalus is fairly simple and straightforward though comes with a couple of variations. I will also mention a few additional myths that tie in with, and stem from, Tantalus.

Tantalus was the son of Zeus and the nymph Pluto (not the same figure as the Roman God of the Underworld). Another strand of the myth states that it was Tmolos, the Mountain God, who was the father of Tantalus though Zeus seems to be the most popular version.

He would become King of Lydia and have three children, Broteas, Niobe and Pelops. As we saw with Sisyphus though, to wind up in Tartarus you have to do something pretty bad and there are, again, a couple of version of the Tantalus myth, one much darker than the other. (SPOILER, the darker one is WAY cooler!)

One of the versions is that he had shared the secrets of gods with men and that he had tried to share ambrosia with his friends. While this doesn’t sound that terrible, it must be remembered that the gods hated mortals who challenged them or displayed hubris (excessive pride and self-confidence). Ambrosia was the food of the gods and was considered something only they could eat. It was supposed to give immortality to those who ate it and here we can see why it would have been such a slight against the gods.

The darker version is much more interesting. The story goes that at a feast for the gods, Tantalus cut up his son, Pelops, cooked him and fed him to the gods. Cannibalism was taboo and thus a major slight against the gods. Zeus spotted the deception but not before the goddess Demeter had mistakenly devoured his left shoulder. Afterwards, Pelops would be revived by the Fates by boiling all his parts in a pot. As for his shoulder, that could not be saved and he was given one made of ivory instead. He ended up rising to power and living a prosperous life. He is an important figure in myth and his descendants include the likes of Herakles, Theseus and Agamemnon.

The story does not end as well for Tantalus. Zeus cast him down to Tartarus and his eternal punishment was to stand in a lake with delicious fruit hanging above his head. Sounds alright, doesn’t it? Well, each time he bent down to take a drink to quench his thirst, the lake dried up and each time he raised his hands to pick one of the delicious fruits off a branch, a wind would blow it well out of reach.

That should be the end of the myth but as a bonus I will mention what became of Tantalus’ other two children Broteas and Niobe. Broteas was a hunter and, according to Apollodorus, failed to honour Artemis and boasted that fire could not harm him. Artemis drove him mad and Broteas threw himself into a fire. It didn’t end well for him.

Niobe displayed hubris by considering herself as beautiful as Leto, the mother of the twin Olympians, Apollo and Artemis. She had twelve children and as punishment for her boastful ways, Apollo killed her six sons and Artemis killed her six daughters. It is said that the bodies of her children were not buried for nine days and left to lie in their own blood until, on the tenth day, the gods decided to bury them. During this time, Niobe did not eat and wept with grief constantly. In another version, Artemis was kinder and left one daughter alive.

And that’s that. The myth of Tantalus. There’s a lot of information in this post with a number of different characters but I thought it was worth it. Greek myths are rarely isolated and are so interesting that it’s easy to get lost in talking about associations and ties with other myths. Hopefully I didn’t go too far down the rabbit hole with this one.

 

That’s all from me, folks. Thanks for reading. Still to come in this mini-series of punishment in Tartarus are Ixion, Salmoneus, Tityus and The Danaides so be sure not to miss them and if you haven’t yet read about the fate of Sisyphus, you can do so here. And if you find all that just hunky dory, you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter. I’m pretty hungry so I’m going to pounce on a nearby apple before a heavenly wind blows it away!

 

 

What I'm Reading
What I’m Reading
September 11, 2017
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I haven’t done a ‘What I’m Reading’ post for a long time so hopefully this might give you some ideas if you’re stuck for reading material.

I’m not a great lover of non-fiction but I am currently reading the Elon Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. So far I’m over a third of the way through and it is an excellent read. Musk is, simply put, a genius and his drive, determination and ingenuity are incredible.

When it comes to fiction, I’m on the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings. I loved the Game of Thrones TV series so much that I was worried that when I started reading the books I would find them tedious. I’m glad to announce that the pages pass by quickly and it is easily as captivating as the TV series, if not more so.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a book I have been stuck on for a while now though I can’t quite figure out why. Great reviews, a good book, I think I just keep getting distracted by other things to read and never get the chance to finish it.

Turning to a Crime Thriller next and Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman makes an appearance. I haven’t started it yet and neither have I read any of the other books in the series. The Snowman marks the seventh book in the Harry Hole Thrillers and has been made into a fajor film starring Michael Fassbender which is to be released next month.

Going back to 1896 I have The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells lined up. I’ve only every read one book by Wells – The Time Machine – though found it wonderful and it left me with a lot of thoughts and questions. I recommend it highly.

I am doing my best to brush up on my fairy tales and am working my way through the complete collection by the Brothers Grimm. I’m also keen on starting the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson as well as The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.

As of right now I only have one children’s book on the go and that’s Say Cheese and Die!, the fourth book in the original Goosebumps series. I hope to read the full original series and even though the books are short, ranging from 111 to 139 pages, there are 62 of them which might take a bit of time to get through.

Recently I finished the newest James Bond book written by Anthony Horowitz, Trigger Mortis, A Game of Thrones – the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire – and Room by Emma Donoghue, which I hope to write a review for even though I’m about seven years too late!

 

More importantly, what are you reading? Do any of these books catch your eye and do you have any recommendations? I’m always eager to add to my reading list, no matter how big or full it gets! Thanks for reading. If you want to follow me and hear more about books and mythology and terrible jokes, you can do so on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Until next time,

Ian

 

Myth
Myth of the Week – Sisyphus
September 7, 2017
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Due to overwhelmingly unpopular demand, we are back. And when I say “we” I mean “I”, but it sounds much more impressive if I use the plural. And I know the question that’s on everyone’s lips… “Is he seriously still going on about this Greek Myth stuff? He might as well be flogging a dead (Trojan) horse.” The simple answer to that is, “Always”. Fans of Harry Potter will know what I mean. Anyway, let’s get back to the show.

I’ve decided to focus on some of the figures who committed crimes so great their punishment was to be sent to Tartarus in the Underworld. Tartarus is the deepest, darkest part of the Greek Underworld and ending up there means you must have really ticked off the wrong people. To give you an example, The Titans were imprisoned there. They were the generation of gods that existed before the Olympians and their war against the younger gods is known as the Titanomachy. But that’s all for another post. Just know that Tartarus is the worst place you can go, the place of eternal hardship, “The Dungeon of the Damned”. *

One such figure stuck in this place of damnation is Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a wonderful figure to learn about in myth. He was the crafty King of Corinth who managed to trick death…twice! If the gods hate one thing, it is being challenged and beaten by mortals and there are plenty of examples of this across Greek Mythology.

The first of Sisyphus’ deceptions happened after Zeus took the nymph Aegina. Her father, the River Asopos, was angered by this and travelled around looking for her. He was told by Sisyphus that Zeus was her captor in return for a spring in the Corinth acropolis. Zeus drove back the angry Asopos using his thunderbolts and confined him to his original bed. Zeus then ordered Thanatos, the personification of death (also the inspiration for Thanos, the supervillain in the Marvel comics universe) to tie him up in chains and cast him down to Tartarus. Sisyphus tricked Thanatos by asking him to first show him how the chains worked on himself. Thanatos ended up binding himself and as long as he was bound, no one on earth could die.

The second deception gods came when he persuaded Persephone – goddess of the Underworld and wife of Hades – to leave him revisit to earth temporarily as his wife had disrespected him in death. She allowed this to happen but soon after, Sisyphus refused to return to the Underworld and had to be forcibly dragged down by Hermes, the messenger god.

This is where his punishment comes in. Perhaps you’ve heard of the term, “Sisyphean task” which denotes an impossible task, similar to my attempts at procuring a literary agent. (I joke, I joke…well, not really.) Sisyphus believed he was smarter than Zeus at this point and was ordered to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity. Every time he got close to the top, it would roll all the way back down and he would have to start all over again. Try that CrossFitters!

The following is an excerpt from Book XI in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus descends into the Underworld:

“Then I witnessed the torture of Sisyphus, as he wrestled with a huge rock with both hands. Bracing himself and thrusting with hands and feet he pushed the boulder uphill to the top. But every time, as he was about to send it toppling over the crest, its sheer weight turned it back, and once again towards the plan the pitiless rock rolled down. So once more he had to wrestle with the thing and push it up, while the sweat poured form his limbs and dust rose high above his head.”

(Od, XI. 593-600)

Next time you’re having a bad day, just think about poor Sisyphus as he tries in vain to get that boulder to the top of the hill. Funnily enough, in 1942, the French philosopher Albert Camus, put forward the theory that Sisyphus is actually quite content in his struggles, reaching the conclusion in his essay, Le Mythe de Sisyphe that “All is well” and “One must imagine Sisyphus happy”. Somehow, I can’t really see it myself.

A point of note to make is that myths can have variations. For instance, in another version it is Hades who is tricked by Sisyphus. There are other accounts of the second deception, too, where Sisyphus maintained that he had been sent to Tartarus by mistake and convinced Persephone to release him. It’s worth knowing that these myths can change from writer to writer.

This mini-series on punishment in Tartarus will continue with Tantalus. (Sound like any word in the English language you know? That should give you a clue as to his punishment!) Other figures to be discussed are Ixion, Tityus, Salmoneus and The Danaides, though I will group some of these together as they are short.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed unexpected return to writing articles. If you’re in the mood, why not share it on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, by smoke signals, carrier pigeon and through Morse code. You have so many options! You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. What a time to be alive!

 

* This phrase comes from the translation of 17th century English poet, George Sandys.

Myth
Myth of the Week – Polyphemus
September 9, 2016
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polyphemusWelcome to the return of Myth of the Week, the world’s most inconsistent running weekly series of articles. In the last instalment I looked at…hold on, it’s been too long. I’ve no idea what it was. Let me check…Oh, Narcissus and Echo. That was a good one. (I actually did have to check.)

This time we will be looking at the character of Polyphemus the Cyclops. That isn’t Cyclops as in the kick-ass fella from X-Men who shoots lasers from his eyes. The Cyclopes were a race of giants with only one eye and the reason Polyphemus is so special is that he is the Cyclops that features in the Odyssey and was the son of the God of the Sea, Poseidon and his mother was Thoosa.

The Odyssey, for some context, was the second great epic written by Homer c.700 B.C. It documents the ten-year journey home of Odysseus from the Trojan War. Yes, ten years it took this bloke to get home though to be fair seven of those were spent on the island Ogygia, where he was kept by the nymph Calypso. Also ten years is the length of time the Trojan War lasted.

Odysseus is one of the craftiest characters in mythology. It was, in the broad myth of the Trojan War, his idea to create the Trojan Horse that would eventually breach the walls of Troy, with the Trojans believing it was a sign of peace, and claim victory for the Achaeans.

So, back to Polyphemus. In Homer he was portrayed as a rather vicious character who was also a shepherd. He ate a number of men that Odysseus sailed with. He basically trapped Odysseus and his men in his cave and they couldn’t make it out because there was a big, heavy boulder in front of the entrance. In order for them to escape, this is what the resourceful Odysseus did. Firstly, he got him blind drunk (snigger…you’ll get it in a moment) by giving him copious amounts of wine. Once Polyphemus keeled over in a drunken stupor, Odysseus took an olive branch and jammed it straight into Polyphemus’ one good eye, thus blinding him. (Blind drunk…get it? I know, it sucked but it’s all I had to make this someway entertaining.)

There is a certain element of comedy to this as prior to blinding him, Odysseus gives his name as being Nobody and in return for the gift of wine Odysseus promises he will eat Nobody last. As you can imagine this leads to many quirky statements of “it’s Nobody’s treachery” that is hurting him etc. which makes it sound like the lad has actually just gone a little mad. Comedy in Ancient Times eh…

As an aside if you ever read Aristophanes, the Greek Comedic Playwright of the late 5th and early 4th centuries B.C. then you’ll know that it’s absolutely filthy. Jimmy Carr eat your heart out. Let me hit you with some knowledge real quick; the term “Cloud Cuckoo Land” actually originates from Aristophanes’ Birds and its Greek name sounds way better. Nephelokokkygia. How cool is that? Don’t actually answer, I prefer the allusion of interest.

Back to the Odyssey and here’s another fun translation. The Greek for “No one” is me tis which is where the name Nobody comes from. However, if you run them together as metis it becomes “wily scheme or resourcefulness”. Thus the pun here is that no one/resourcefulness beat Polyphemus.

So, with Polyphemus blinded, Odysseus comes up with another plan. Polyphemus has to let his sheep out of his cave at some point so in order to make an escape without being caught, they tie themselves to the underbellies of the sheep, knowing that Polyphemus will check their backs. And that’s how they escape. It is parodied in Aristophanes’ Wasps. So, if you’re ever walking by a field and you see a man hanging off the underside of a sheep, maybe go up to him and say, “I know what you’re doing! You’re recreating Odysseus’ escape from Polyphemus’ cave”. Or call the guards.

When leaving, Odysseus displayed hubris which means excessive pride or arrogance. He calls Polyphemus a brute and mocks him by saying the gods have acted against him for his eating of his guests. (Zeus was the god of hospitality and hosts and all that). Polyphemus then tosses a bunch of rocks into the ocean after Odysseus’ ship. They miss but the Cyclops prays to Poseidon to punish Odysseus (but that’s for another day).

The final point worth noting about the myth is that a soothsayer called Telemus once told Polyphemus that a man named Odysseus would rob him of his eye. Polyphemus seems to have accepted this but said that he expected a “big handsome man of tremendous strength” instead of the aging Odysseus.

That’s Polyphemus in the Odyssey finished with. Now onto Polyphemus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which was written in 8 A.D. Ovid’s presentation of him is of, again, a pastoral figure but this time he makes him more comedic than savage as he mixes him in with the heroic ethos. I’ve mentioned the heroic ethos before in other posts but no pressure to remember. I’ll fill you in again. The aspect of it that is relevant to this post follows the belief that bigger is better. The more warriors you kill, the better you are. The more treasure you receive, the better and so on and so forth.

In Ovid, Polyphemus loves a nymph called Galatea. Unfortunately for big ol’ Polyphemus, Galatea has her eyes on a lad named Acis. So at first Polyphemus tries to woo her. He describes how everything he has is so grand and big and on an epic scale. He says he has a vast amount of sheep, he will give her expensive gifts and even presents her with a pair of shaggy bear cubs as pets. That’s grand for him because he’s massive but Galatea is obviously human size and the bears are terrifying. Also when mammy comes around looking for them she will be in a whole heap of trouble.

He goes on to describe how all the ugly faults he has are actually saying that Jove himself does not have a bigger belly than he and that the prickly bristles of hair that cover his body are something to be proud of. He likens it to a tree being ugly without its leaves or a horse being ugly without its mane. He had a lot of self-confidence, I’ll give him that.

Amazingly, Galatea doesn’t quite go for the one-eyed tower of terrifying ugly and stays with Acis. Here, Polyphemus changes into the savage beast we get in the Odyssey, claims his strength matches his side and pursues Acis. And then he chucks a rock at him and smothers him to bits. Cheerful, right? But Acis then gets turned into a river god and everyone’s happy. (Not really, they both lose out on Galatea and Polyphemus comes out of it with a pretty damaged rep.)

I’ll finish on the same note I finished with the Odyssey’s version of Polyphemus, discussing the soothsayer. Ovid again mentions it but this time Polyphemus is more romantic about the whole thing, thinking that Telemus means he will fall in love. He calls the prophet stupid and says that his eye has already been taken, meaning of course by the sea-nymph Galatea.

So that’s that. Interesting, boring. I don’t know. You tell me. The only thing I’m certain of is that I meant to write this about nine months ago and now I finally completed it. If you have any questions about this myth/about another myth/would like me to write about another myth/would like me to stop clogging up the internet and shut down this website, then do give me a shout on either this thing…there should be a comment box below or on Twitter or Facebook.

I’ve no idea what myth to write on next. I will try to keep them shorter in future but maybe I’ll write on Scylla and Charybdis. Or I might do Oedipus. Or Pygmalion. There are a lot of myths out there.

Adios!

Ian

About Me Myth
Operation Masters Thesis: Complete
August 26, 2016
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graduating_college_good_luckOver the past twelve months or so I’ve been banging on about some sort of thesis or other that I have been writing. Well, as of Tuesday (three days ago), that thesis is in the past. Finished, submitted it and there’s a thin A4 sized book as proof that I wasn’t actually making it up over all those months in an attempt to gain sympathy. I thought it would be a good idea fill my legion of fans (hi mammy!) in on what it was all about. Sure what else would ya rather be doing than reading about something so obscure it won’t benefit your life in any way?

As you know, I was doing an M.A. in Classics in University College Dublin. And if you didn’t know then you do now. I prefer studying Ancient Greece, particularly the literature and mythology of it. If you’re interested in learning about some of the myths, I discuss some here. For my thesis though I wanted to focus on literature and my favourite text is the Iliad. The Epic Poem can be regarded as the first great work of Western Civilisation and one of the most famous pieces of literature of all time.

Let me hit you with some facts that you can impress your friends with…or lose them. That line is sometimes a little blurry. It was composed by Homer in c.750 B.C. and wasn’t written down until later. In the meantime, they had to develop a functional alphabet with vowels and all that. The title, Iliad, translates as “story of Ilium”. Ilium in turn translates as Troy. It is broken up into twenty-four separate books which sounds incredibly daunting but really these books are like chapters. Something I discovered recently (I should have really known it already but heck, better late than never!) is that it wasn’t divided up into these twenty-four books until Alexandrian scholars got their hands on it and decided it would work better this way. This is due to the Greek alphabet having twenty-four characters in it. I hope all that is right although like most things to do with the Ancient Greeks, there are probably multiple theories out there.

The Iliad is a story about the Trojan War (yes, that’s the one with the big wooden horse) and the great warrior Achilleus and many, many other topics. Basically, the thing has layers, like an onion…or Shrek. If you’re interested in seeing a movie on it, 2004’s Troy is a good one to watch. It stars actors such as Brad Pitt, Brendan Gleeson (the guy is a total legend), Eric Bana, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox and Orlando Bloom and while it isn’t exactly true to the original text, it’s a fun watch all the same.

The story is pretty straightforward. Helen of Sparta is married to Menelaus. Paris, prince of Troy comes over and falls in love with Helen and elopes with her to Troy. Menelaus gets mad and goes to his brother Agamemnon who also happens to be the leader of the Achaean forces. He amasses them and they sail off the attempt to breach the so-called unbreachable walls of Troy. This war last ten years although the Iliad covers only fifty days towards the end of it.

There was good reason too for Menelaus being upset. Helen was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world and for this she has earned the name, “the face that launched a thousand ships” in the English playwright Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. That is quite a popular quiz question so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Now, here we come to my thesis topic. “Finally,” I hear you cry…or perhaps those are snores. So, when the lesser heroes die in the Iliad they are, for the most part, mentioned by name. There are over two hundred and fifty deaths in the Iliad but Homer decides to shed light on these fallen warriors. A small number of these are given what could be described as “obituaries” such as information about their lives. It was these obituaries that I was examining to find out what they meant with relation to the Iliad as a whole.

But Ian, hasn’t that been done already? I mean, the Iliad is almost three thousand years old.

Yes and yes but I believe scholars have reached the wrong conclusion (I feel so uppity writing that!) and that they are examined in an incorrect manner.

Are you mad?

Again, yes.

Why are these obituaries even important?

They’re important because they add a moral aspect to the Iliad where the more warriors who die, the more we get of these emotional obituaries that exist in stark contrast to their deaths. Think of watching a war movie, let’s take Saving Private Ryan for arguments sake. In the opening scene on Omaha Beach soldiers get shot left, right and slightly off-centre and we never know anything about them other than that they were soldiers and they died in battle. Homer shows us that these warriors, most of whom are only introduced at the moment of their death, are more important than simple numbers in a death toll. And for that to come from a society that we would deem primitive and barbaric by today’s standards is pretty damn cool.

I should probably note that this is my interpretation of the text. A lot of other scholars think they’re just there to give greater glory to victorious warriors who slay their opponents, which is pretty much exactly what I argued against.

If you have managed to read this far down then you have earned yourself a big bualadh bos (that means “applause” in Irish for the benefit of my massive overseas readership) and I hope that you have learned something new.

A quick thank you to my thesis supervisor throughout the year, Professor Michael Lloyd and all in the UCD Classics Department.

If you want to ask me a question about the Iliad/my thesis/life in general, do feel free to comment on this, on the Facebook page or on Twitter. I’ll leave you go now to carry on with your wonderful lives.