Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Giant's Cave

When the Trojan war was ended, Ulysses called together his men, and with several vessels sailed for Ithaca and home. Many strange things were to happen to him before he saw his wife and son.

A storm drove the little fleet to the land of the Lotus-eaters. The lotus is a water plant, and the people ate the yellow buds. Then they never wished to live anywhere else, or even to see any other country. It was so with every one who ate the lotus.

Three friends of Ulysses went up the hill, found the people, and ate some of the buds. They did not go back to the ship. Others were sent to bring them, but they said, "We do not wish to go home. We are at home here in this lovely land." The other sailors dragged them to the ship and kept them tied until they were far out at sea.

The ships touched at an island, where they anchored. Ulysses took one vessel and went ashore to get something for his men to eat. The sailors carried a large skin of wine, as a present to the king.

They saw nobody, but found a cave and went in. There were lambs and young goats in pens, piles of cheeses, bowls of milk; everything to show that somebody carried on a good dairy business.

While they were looking around they heard the patter of many feet, and a large flock of sheep and goats began to come into the cave. The men hid themselves until they should see what the master was like.

They were not pleased with the sight. He was a huge giant, very strong and very ugly. He had one large, round eye in the middle of his forehead. For that reason he was called a "Cyclops," which means "round eye." A tribe of such giants lived in the caves of that island.

This Cyclops was named Polyphemus. When the flock was all in, he shut the opening of the cave with a very large stone, lighted a fire, milked his sheep and goats, put aside some of the milk to be made into cheese, and drank the rest.

Then he had time to look around the cave and see his visitors. In a frightful, roaring voice he asked, "Who are you, and where do you come from?"

"Great sir," replied Ulysses, "we are men of Ithaca, who have fought in the Trojan war and gained much glory. We are now going home, and ask you, in the name of the gods, to give us food and shelter to-night, and send us safely away in the morning."

Odysseus and Cyclopes


The giant did not speak, but stretched out his hand and caught two of the men, knocked their heads against the wall, and quickly ate them. Then he threw himself down on the floor and went to sleep.

Ulysses could have killed him with his sword, but how then would he and his companions escape? They could never roll away that stone. There was no help for it; they had to wait until the morning.

When the morning came it brought no light to that dark cave. The giant took two more Greeks and ate them for breakfast. Then he opened the cave, drove out his flock, and rolled the heavy stone into its place again. The men were prisoners.

They kept up the fire, which gave them light to look around. They found a large stick,—the trunk of a tree, in fact,—which the giant had used as a cane or walking-stick. Ulysses told his men to sharpen it with their swords to a point, and to harden that in the fire. He chose four of the bravest sailors to act with him when the time came.

At night the Cyclops returned, shut his cave tight, milked his flocks, and made a hearty supper of two more Greeks. Then Ulysses came forward with a bowl he had filled with wine. "Drink, master," he said. "Your slaves offer you wine." The giant tasted, and drank it all. "More," he said. They filled the bowl again and again until the skin was empty.

Polyphemus had never felt so gay in all his life. He laughed, he sang in a voice that shook the mountain, he joke with his prisoners.

"What is your name?" he asked Ulysses. "I am called No-man," was the answer. "Well, No-man, you are a fine little fellow. That wine you gave me was better than milk. I am sorry it is all gone. Rest easy, and be happy, No-man. I shall eat you the last of all."

He was soon fast asleep. Ulysses told his four men to take the stake, and hold the point in the fire until it was a hot coal, then to lift it and plunge it into the monster's one eye. Ulysses had ordered them to turn it around, and they ground it in well.

The blinded monster roared with pain and rage and stumbled about he cave, trying to find his enemies. The fire was still burning, and they could see how to keep out of his way. Then he called on his friends, the other Cyclopes who lives on the island, and they came running.

"What is it, brother?" they shouted. "Why do you call and cry so loudly?"

"Oh!" he said, "I die, and No-man kills me."

They answered, "If it is no man, it must be the gods who are punishing you. Try to be patient." Then they went away home.

In the morning the Cyclops rolled away the stone to let his flock out, but stood at the mouth of the cave. Ulysses had told his men to harness the biggest sheep, three abreast, with willow twigs which the giant had gathered for making baskets. Under each middle sheep a Greek hid himself, holding fast to the wool. The Cyclops felt the sides and back of every sheep, to be sure that no Greek was riding them, but never thought of feeling underneath.

So all got out safe, Ulysses last, and drove part of the flocks down to the ship. Their friends gladly took on board the men and the sheep. When they were some distance from the shore, Ulysses called out, "Cyclops, I am Ulysses, and I am also No-man." The giant threw rocks in the direction of the voice, but the sailors rowed away, and reached the other ships.