Polyphemus and Odysseus
Authors, historians, psychoanalysis, and numerous great thinkers spanning from the Middle Ages to the 19th have attempted to interpret the myth of Polyphemus and Odysseus. Regardless of which interpretation is correct, all the analyses incorporate Polyphemus’s single eye as one of the main explanations behind the lore. Writer, Justin Glenn, divulges these various interpretations and denounces their credibility as he builds up towards discussing his view of the ancient tale.
According to Glenn, during earlier points in time, thinkers, such as Wilhelm Grimm and Leo Meyer, held “nature” interpretations of the single eye: the eye of a storm, a volcano, and the most renown views being a celestial body, such as the sun or the moon. Similarly, Wilhelm Mannhardt believed that the Cyclops represented the “Frost-King,” while Odysseus was the “Summer-God.”
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However, seeing as such analyses are a long stretch, Glenn disregarded them; he especially overlooked Mannhardt’s outlook because the author was forcing the nature spirit parallels onto many other texts, yet it is harder to perceive such circumstances “in the case of the Cyclopes than in that of the Lapiths.” Other than the natural interpretations, other thinkers have attempted linked the Polyphemus myth with foreign tales.
For example, Ludwig Laistner claimed that all monsters stemmed from a beast dubbed Alpträume, who much like the Cyclops, possessed one eye. Laistner believed that Polyphemus was one of the many embodiments of this beast that visited people in their sleep to haunt its victims with nightmares by hypnotizing them with its powerful gaze. Thus, seeing as Polyphemus is a one-eyed monster, Laistner molded Odysseus into a dreamer, who sought to slay his nightmares by uprooting the source of the terror, the eye.
Nevertheless, one again Glenn denounces this theory by explaining that Laistner made meager attempts at providing a sufficient amount of information to bolster his beliefs and instead he “undercut his own research.” Glenn also explains the interpretations of A. B. Cook’s fire-drill and Gabriel Germain’s attempt at linking Polyphemus to the ram-cult, yet much like the previous theories, Glenn disregards these notions by highlighting their lack of evidence and strained attempts at reshaping the Greek myth to fit their previously established definitions.
Glenn additionally denounces the several historical views of the tale, such as Robert Grave’s belief that the story represented a political feud in which the Ionians (Odysseus) fashioned a story to make monsters out of their enemy the Corinthians (Polyphemus), due to their lack of evidence. Once the author finishes his warpath of slaying down previously held notions of the myth, he comes to an agreement with G. S. Kirk’s and James Frazer’s plea to “abandon the search for the origins of myths… [as] they are simply a fantasy, not an allegory or explanation” and delineates that there is a psychological reason as to why this myth was created.
Glenn highlights that “one of the most basic principles of psychoanalysis is that human constitute wish-fulfilment” and the Polyphemus story stems from the desire to explain the meaning behind the relationship between father and son and castration. Thus, blindness is utilized to symbolically substitute castration because according to Glenn the myth of Polyphemus and Cronos are essentially the same, with regards to their plot: a hero and son are imprisoned, are threatened to be eaten by the bigger monster and father figure, and escape by blinding and castrating, respectively.
Glenn continues to describe the relationship between castration and father and son by referring to the work of Thalia Feldman, a writer who delineated that the Polyphemus myth is a creation of a child’s imagination because children during ancient times often viewed their fathers with fear and preserved them as “all-powerful [beings] … capable of inflicting fearful punishment.” Thus, much like Uranus, Cronos, and Zeus’s father-son relationship portraying the son’s fear and need to castrate his father, Polyphemus and Odysseus represent such an architype of father and son enmity and need to blind the “father.