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Monday, March 31, 2014

Odysseus and the Cyclops

By Eric Wilson

                This unorthodox marble sculptural group depicts the blinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus. For those who don’t know, this scene takes place in book 9 of the Odyssey. When Odysseus and his men find a cave full of supplies on the island of the one-eyed giants, they enter and set up camp, only to discover that it is the home of a giant named Polyphemus, who rolls a rock in the entrance of the cave to trap them.  After witnessing several of his men being eaten, Odysseus comes up with the plan that they will blind the creature and escape when he lets out his flock. Odysseus makes Polyphemus drunk. When the Cyclops asks Odysseus his name, Odysseus replies "No One."  As is shown in the sculpture, Odysseus and his men use a hardened wooden stake to poke out the monster's eye, and as the creature cries out for help, the other Cyclopes ignore him when he says that  “no one” has hurt him.

                The collection of marble sculptures that make up this unusual piece were found in 1957 in the grotto of Tiberius at Sperlonga, on the coast of Latium, South of Rome. It is believed to have been constructed for the emperor Tiberius during his reign from about 14 to 37 A.D, along with several other s
culptures depicting the adventures of Odysseus. It is a subject of debate as to whether this piece was an original Hellenistic era sculpture, or a Roman adaptation. It was found in several scattered fragments that were later recreated at the Sperlonga Museum. Fortunately, a considerable amount of the original piece was found intact. The grotto was probably once used as a summer dining room in an early Imperial era Roman villa, belonging to the emperor. The cave was used as a creative and fascinating mode of displaying the art. The grotto itself served as a representation of the cave that Odysseus and his men were trapped in and thus is a perfect recreation of this famous scene. This is one of just many excellent pieces that visually immortalize the deeds of Odysseus, and one that for many scholars of Greek and Roman literature is easily recognizable.

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