Come now, Stranger, and be at your ease. It is true that in the past I was cruel to travelers, but those days are now long faded. You see before you a broken creature. I will do you no harm. You must be weary after your long journey. Sit yourself down. Take what food and drink there is. It is only the simple fare of a shepherd, but I offer what I have.
It is well for you that you came to my humble dwelling. I will provide you with provisions to ease your want. The others here on the island would, perhaps, not treat you so well. They might even come to harm you. They have not suffered as I have. I have become an outcast even amongst mine own kind; yea, even amongst those fathered by my same father.
I swear to you, good Stranger, the tale that you bring is a knife in my heart. Ten long years and more have I waited for news of my foe. Now, with your words, I know that even my last hope of revenge is thwarted. It is a bitter draught to mix, and more bitter yet to taste. The designs of the Fates are as twisted as a skein of wool from one of my great sheep. It is far beyond the measure of my poor brain to unknot the tangle woven by the Moirae.
You have told me your tale and I thank you. Though your words are poison to my ears, yet still you have naught to fear from me. Take your repast. When you have eaten and drunk your fill, I will lade you with such as I can spare. This you will take to your ship. Perhaps you will speak better of me to those you meet as you continue your journey. Others have not been so kind. Evil words and untrue have gone from the mouths of my enemies. I am mocked and reviled.
The curds and whey are good, are they not? They are fresh from this morning’s milking, strained in withy made of my own hands. Eat and drink your fill. While you take your meal, I will tell you my tale. We have the afternoon before us. Perhaps my story will help to pass the time.
It is ten years now and more since those foul marauders came to my island. Knowing now what I know of them, I should have slain them to the last man the moment I saw them. But I was ignorant, and I have paid a heavy price. Thus, you find me as I am, maimed and broken.
It was an evening like any other. I herded my flock back to this very spot, here before the entrance to my humble abode. The ewes I drove inside to be milked. My rams I left outside to stand watch over the threshold. I myself entered into my home, setting fast the stone that serves as my door. You can see it there, leaning against the wall. I alone can move such a great stone as that, for I am strong with the strength given me by my father.
Once inside, I gathered my ewes for the evening milking. The curds and whey I strained with a withy, even as I strained those that you now eat. As I worked, I became aware of a strange air in my dwelling. Looking about, I spied a group of strangers hiding in the shadows. They seemed to have sprung from the stone, as if by some fell magic. I am sure you can imagine my surprise, suddenly beset by a throng of unbidden thieves.
They were puny mortals, cringing in the shadows cast by my fire. I challenged them to name themselves, as is the right of any who are unjustly invaded. They did not answer with truth, weaving only the first of a string of many lies. No names did they give, only that they were travelers returning from the wars at Troy. Their leader, a rascal and a deceiver, claimed that their ship had been driven onto the rocks by my father. Not only did he blame my father for their plight, he had the temerity to invoke the name of Zeus. By the words of this thief, I was bound by Zeus to offer his ragged band my hospitality. Thus did this scoundrel believe he and his men should be repaid for breaking into my home.
I admit to you now, good Stranger, that my anger was beyond quelling. And was I not justified to be angry? Seizing two of these puny thieves, I dashed their brains out on the rocky floor. That ended the idle talk of the rest of them, of that you can be sure. I made my evening meal of the two mortals, then took to my bed. That dirty rabble cowered in the shadows at the back of my cave. I put them out of my mind. All of them together could not move aside my door of stone. They were of a weak sort, not worth troubling over.
The next morning, I made a breakfast of two more of the thieves. Rolling away the stone, I herded my ewes into the rosy-fingered dawn. When all of my sheep were outside, I heaved the mighty stone back across my threshold. With the mortals trapped inside, I paid them no more heed, thinking them harmless. In this I made a great mistake, as you have no doubt already guessed.
The day was as any other. I tended my flocks, felt the warmth of the sun on my mighty limbs. Alas, I had no thought that this would be the last day I would know the blessed light of that sun.
Returning to my cave that evening, I drove all of my herd before me. The rams and the ewes I guided over the threshold, wishing to have them all safely inside. With my stone door safely closed, I gave a thought to my supper. Fresh meat was at hand. I caught two more of the mortals and banged their heads against the floor of stone. They died squeaking like the mice that they were.
After the evening meal I was taking my rest. It was then that the leader of the mortals dared to speak to me. He offered me drink, expecting some boon in return. I took his barrel of wine and drank it down. This was yet another of my mistakes. I had no head for strong drink, knowing no more than the milk from my sheep. But I was greedy and the drink was good.
When I had drunk my fill, I asked this upstart his name. He told me that he was called No-Man. With the wine coursing through me, I granted No-Man a boon, but not the favor he was seeking. In return for his wine, I promised to eat him last of all his rabble. Then I fell fast to my sleep.
The wine of No-Man brought deep dreams and I sank into them. But my dreams were shattered by a stab of white-hot pain in my skull. The pain was unbearable, shooting through my brain as if with the fires of Hades. I threw my hands to my face and found a pike of olive wood stabbed into my only eye. That miserable pack of vermin had blinded me as I slept.
I was bellowing in my rage and suffering. My howls woke the others of my kind, who came running to my aid. They called to me, asking who had injured me. No-Man has blinded me, I cried, No-Man has wounded me. Hearing this, they thought me mad. They laughed and went away. Thus you see the trickery of this mortal, this No-Man.
With the pain searing through my wounded eye, I groped wildly about the cave. I meant to find every last one of those insects and crush the life from them. But in my blindness, they eluded me. Always I could hear them scampering about, but I could not lay my hands to them. When I could bear it no more, I left them to their hiding places and crouched at my threshold, leaning my back against the great stone. Not so easily would they escape my cave, even if I had not my sight.
My rams and ewes began bleating at the coming of the rosy dawn. They were eager to crop the morning grass heavy with dew. As I rolled away the great stone, I used my heavy limbs to block the opening. None would pass save my flock. In threes did my ewes cross the threshold. I ran my fingers through the wool of each, searching yet finding nothing. The rams came likewise, and nothing did I find.
When the last of my herd had passed my hands, I dashed into my cave. I meant to make an end of those who had taken my only eye. My groping hands searched every nook and cranny in the living stone, yet not one of the mortals did I find. I listened for any sound of their furtive scurrying, but nothing did I hear. The silence mocked me.
It was only then that I realized how I had been tricked. They had hidden themselves under the bellies of my animals, clinging to the wool like the vermin that they were. Thus did they elude my searching fingers. Now know you, good Stranger, the deceit of my foes. But I did not know this until it was too late. I rushed out of the cave, tripping and cursing in my new darkness.
Think on my plight if you will. I was not used to my blindness, as I am now. In my haste, I stumbled and fell to the rocks, bruising my limbs. Raising myself, I ran to a cliff above the shore. There, the morning breeze brought news to my ears. I could hear the cry of men and the creaking of ropes. There was the sound of oars splashing into the sea. Thus another of their evil lies was revealed to me. The thieves had not been shipwrecked. Their vessel was at hand and they were making their escape.
The voice of No-Man called to me, taunting me from the sea. I tore a rock from the cliff and hurled it at the sound of his voice. There was a mighty splash and the cries of men. I knew that my missile had almost found its mark. As I reached for another stone to cast, the voice of No-Man called across the wind. Listen then, Stranger, for these were his very words.
If anyone asks you who got the better of you, who shamed you, tell them it was Odysseus, son of Laertes, from Ithaca.
The taunt of Odysseus seared into my brain, even over the pain in my skull. I hurled the huge rock with all my might, meaning to smash their puny ship. Alas for the loss of my sight, for my rock fell only on the sea. The creaking of their oars grew fainter and I knew that they had escaped.
In my rage, I cursed and reviled those mortal thieves. They had invaded my home, humiliated me, and then blinded me. My only thoughts were of revenge. It was then that I called upon my father, the great god Poseidon. I implored him to have mercy on me. Though I be a bastard, I am still one of his offspring. I am the fruit of his loins and he heard my cries.
Revenge I asked for, yet my final revenge did not come to pass. I begged my father never to let this Odysseus find his way home to Ithaca. Let him live a wanderer and die a wanderer, that was my desire. My father is very powerful, but there are other powers in the pantheon. Alas for me that it should be so. And now these many years later, good Stranger, you have told me the final tale.
My father did what was in his power to do. He commands the winds and the seas, the earthquakes and the deep. He hindered this liar Odysseus for ten long years, while I suffered here on my island. Not one of his filthy crew of mortals survived, yet somehow my foe was aided by the other gods. Through craft and guile, and many lies, he finally made his way back to his miserable kingdom in Ithaca. He is the king there now, as your tale tells. The paltry little ruler over a speck of a kingdom; Odysseus, Bah! I cursed his name then, and I curse it doubly now. I wish only that he may yet come to some evil fate.
A thief and a liar, he is a king and at peace. I, whose home was invaded, who was humiliated and blinded; I still suffer the blindness this Odysseus inflicted on me. Can you tell me the justice in that, good Stranger? No, you are silent, for there is no answer. Far better men did they leave dead before the walls of Troy. Far better, and more deserving of life than these scum who robbed me of my only eye. Yet Atropos cuts clean the life thread when and where she will. Even the power of Poseidon cannot alter that.
What is that you say? You will take your leave of my island this very day? As you wish, though I am disappointed. Your company is the only that I have had these long years and I rue your swift departure. Still, I am a creature of my word. Take what I have according to your need. May your journey be safe, and may you have a welcome at its end.
But please, good Stranger, grant me that one small boon I asked of you. Speak better of me to those you meet as you continue on your voyage. Remember poor, blinded Polyphemus to those that you encounter as you fare. Tell them the tale so that they may know the true story of the Cyclops and what he was made to suffer.
Columbia Pictures [Public domain] – The Voyage of Sinbad – the eye of Cyclops