Erich Lessing

Eyeing a potential meal, the cyclops Polyphemus glares menacingly in this 3-inch-high terracotta sculpture (opposite), now in the Louvre, dating to the fourth century B.C. In Book IX of the Odyssey, after Odysseus and his crew become trapped in Polyphemus’s cave, the cyclops begins to devour the sailors, washing them down with fresh milk. The captives secretly make a razor-sharp spear and when Polyphemus returns, gets drunk and falls asleep, the men thrust the weapon through his single eye. Polyphemus screams for help, but his plea is met with indifference because of Odysseus’s cunning: Earlier, when the cyclops demanded to know Odysseus’s name, the hero replied, “Nobody—that’s my name.” So when Polyphemus cries out, “Nobody’s killing me now,” his neighbors ignore him. The next morning, Odysseus and his remaining men, clinging to the undersides of Polyphemus’s sheep, escape as the sheep are herded out to pasture.