Maya Aviitzhak Aviitzhak1
18 January 2017
Odysseus and the One Eyed Cyclopes
Homer’s “The Odyssey” is a story about a young hero, Odysseus, son of Laertes. He tells his tale through the first person. His voyage occurs as he travels back from Troy, after war, as Zeus had wanted (Poetry). Throughout the story, Odysseus overcomes many challenges which are thrown at him, some by the gods, some by other supernatural causes. He had a fleet of men who followed him through these obstacles, some surviving and some being slaughtered. Odysseus and his men begin by conquering the city of the Cicones, where he and his men sacked the city and took for themselves the women and riches (Poetry). Following their departure from the wrath of the citizens of Cicones when they tried to take revenge, Odysseus and his men barely escaped the Lotus eaters, as with every flower they ate their memories and will to leave grew weaker and weaker (Poetry). But the climax of the story was when Odysseus and his men reached the land of the cyclops, where Odysseus had to use his wit to escape death once again (Poetry). Each of the problems that Odysseus faced, he usually manages to outsmart his opponent, using wit and wiliness, such as telling Polyphemus his name was Nobody so the cyclops would seem crazy when crying out for help against nobody (Poetry). The great scenes Homer has drawn with his words have inspired many works of art. Works of art, such as Pithos with Lid, Attic Black Figure Column Krater, and Statuette of Odysseus under a Ram, all retell a scene from Odysseus’ encounter with the One Eyed Cyclops as their own depictions, all using different techniques of art to portray the story.
The Pithos with Lid shows multiple scenes of Odysseus and his men trapped in the cave
of Polyphemus. The artwork itself is made with the medium of terracotta, an unglazed brownish-red earthenware, and seems to have the drawings incised, meaning the decorateive figures on the pithos were etched into the material (Pithos). The scene depicted is told by Homer in the story of Odysseus and his men washing up on the shore of the Land of the Cyclopes. The land is described to be rich with wheat, barley and vines (Poetry). After a night of feasting on wine and meat, Odysseus and twelve of his men traveled into the cave of Polyphemus, to test the giant Cyclop’s hospitality (Poetry). Once inside, the Cyclops did not greet them nicely, and they were trapped by the giant stone which only Polyphemus himself could remove (Poetry). The quick witted Odysseus came up with a plan, he decided to get the Cyclops inebriated off the wine he had brought, and then stab him in the eye (Poetry). He cut off a 6 foot long piece of green olive wood trunk, to use as a weapon (Poetry). He and his men smoothed the wood and sharpened the point in a burning fire (Poetry). This is the first scene that is seen in the Pithos with Lid. The artist of the Pithos decided to capture the scene onto a vessel that was commonly used for storing liquids and dry goods (Pithos). Three warriors are depicted, all holding onto the same long stick, as they use their force to stab the fourth character in the eye, presumably Polyphemus. The artist also ironically added a vessel in the background, which can be concluded to be the wine vessel which contained the wine Polyphemus drank. The artist chose to use the technique of hierarchal proportion when drawing the characters. This means that all the characters where created being the same size, not giving any of them greater ranking or importance. The artist of the Pithos with Lid also depicted horses and lions as they hunted a deer, with plants surrounding the figures. Although this scene is not mentioned directly in the story, I believe the animals can be
interpreted as a violent battle that Odysseus had to face. Where the abundance of surrounding plants can be used as a clue to the battle taking place in the land of the cyclops, due to the richness of agriculture they had.
The Attic Black Figure Column Krater tells the story of Odysseus managed to escape from the giant cyclops. The artwork itself also has a medium of terracotta, but the pictures on the vase seem to be painted on rather than etched in. The scene shown on the vase is the one which occurs after Odysseus gets Polyphemus drunk and stabs him in his only eye. It depicts the plan that Odysseus and his men had hatched and waited until daytime to put into action. During the day, Polyphemus would lift the heavy stone covering the exit from the cave, in order to let his sheep out to graze freely (Poetry). The plan Odysseus came up with was to have each of his men tied to a sheep, which would be placed between two other sheep to cover themselves (Poetry). Odysseus was the last one to hang upside down from a ram, right beneath its belly (Poetry). The artist depicts this on the vase by painting a ram carrying a body beneath its stomach. The ram and body are placed between two apotropaic eyes, which are symbolic figures to ward off all evils. The placement of the eyes helps historians place the vessels in the time of 500 BC (Attic). The artist also chose to place Nike, the goddess of victory, on the vessel. She is placed between two scenes of lions attacking bulls. I believe the artist added this drawing to illustrate the victory Odysseus had over Polyphemus.
The Statuette of Odysseus under a Ram is clearly a statue dedicated to the scene in “The Odyssey” where Odysseus escapes. Unlike The Attic Black Figure Column Krater, The Statuette of Odysseus under a Ram is very easily understood from just a simple glance. This particular work of art serves to tell only one scene from Homer’s “The Odyssey”. The scene is the one in
which Odysseus escapes from the cave of Polyphemus by hanging tightly underneath the belly of the ram, in order to blend in and be let out to graze along with the rest of Polyphemus’ sheep (Poetry). The Statuette of Odysseus depicts with great accuracy this exact scene. The Statuette simply consists of a ram and a head sticking out from under it, yet it is so clearly known to be this scene of Odysseus’ story.
The works of art all manage to capture bits and pieces of the story, but do not truly capture the essence of Odysseus being wily and smart as the poem does. The story comes to an end when Odysseus and his men escape Polyphemus as he chases after them. They run to their ships, but Odysseus continues to taunt the giant. When Polyphemus became aware that Nobody
was really Odysseus, he prayed to Poseidon and cursed Odysseus with hopes that he would never find his way home, but if he was destined to find his way home, it would be after losing his ship and men (Poetry). Overall, the story of Odysseus is told by many artists in many different ways, but from the three I have analyzed, I believe the artwork which best illustrates the scene is depicted in the statuette. While both the Pithos with Lid and the Attick Black Figure Column Krater are very interesting to look at, the meaning of their pictures can be somewhat difficult to depict. The two have so much art to decipher on their surfaces, sometimes adding even more than one scene. Whereas the Statuette of Odysseus under a ram is so simple with its form, and does not add any extra symbolism as the other vessel and vase do. The statuette simply tells the one scene it is meant to tell and does a great job portraying it. The Statuette of Odysseus under a Ram may also be connected with Odysseus’ tauntingness. By having his head poke out from under the ram, we can conclude that he is somewhat teasing the giant, whose now only reassurance of how many sheep he lets out simply relies on his touching the top of their bodies.
Although the artworks all recreate difference scenes of Homer’s story in different ways, using rather different mediums and styles, the overall point of Homer’s “The Odyssey” can still be understood from all three of the pieces of artwork.
Maya Aviitzhak Aviitzhak1