Men in the Greek world have a long history of making rash decisions without thinking that often end really badly and commonly with bloodshed. One big example that immediately comes to mind is Paris kidnapping Helen of Troy which led to a ten year long war which led to the fall of Troy, causing all the survivors to move to a foreign land and start over. As we have read about throughout the Metamorphoses, people make dumb mistakes that lead to the death of someone they care about, a transformation of a person, and other negative outcomes. Although the majority of them are small things, many of these outcomes come from a personal decision that was made in that moment.

One person that many of us have heard of outside the Metamorphoses is Polyphemus, who plays a big role in Homer’s The Odyssey. Polyphemus is a cyclops who lives on an island that Odysseus and his men travel to who kills many of his men and ultimately gets his eye gouged out. But before all this happens, we are shown a different side of Polyphemus in book 13 of the Met. He is much sweeter and we see a very passionate side of him while he tries his best to win over Galatea who he is in love with. He offers her various types of pets, various fruits, and offers of how she could live with him on his island. He even offers her bear cubs for her as he states “I just found a pair of bear cubs up on the mountain for you to play with, so much alike you can hardly tell them apart. When I found them I said “These I’ll save for my mistress”(13 994-998). This is definitely a different and sweeter side than what we are used to.

As sweet as all of this is and sounds, that doesn’t change how we envision Polyphemus because when he doesn’t get what he wants, rather than leaving Galatea alone, he “kills” Acis. After Polyphemus is rejected he is very vocal about how he wishes to kill Acis and ultimately he “hurled a rock he had wrenched from the mountain. Although the rock’s very tip was all that hit Acis, it was enough to bury the boy completely” (13 1052-1054). Once again, we are shown an irrational decision that was unnecessary and had a brutal ending. There is a common theme of infatuation throughout Greek literature but is especially prevalent throughout the Met and has led to some terrible decisions such as this one.

2 thoughts on “Polyphemus’ Rage: The Prequel

  1. I remember reading a forum topic on this on moodle, and it was so interesting to me how Polyphemus is depicted in two different stories. I agree with you, but I also think his anger comes from being rejected. I mean if you were madly in love with someone and they rejected you, wouldn’t you go batshit crazy? I mean not enough to kill someone but enough to evoke in reckless behavior.


  2. I really like this point on Polyphemus, but I kinda want to back up on what you pointed out about Paris. In the Met, he does seem to be portrayed as stealing Helen (even though Ovid doesn’t bother to mention her name), but in other versions Helen goes with Paris of her own accord. Is it Paris’ rash decision to blame for the war, or Helen’s? Why does Ovid decide to portray the relationship in this way, and barely mentioning Helen at all? A bit off topic, but a thought I’m stuck on.


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