Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily
6.7 The Eroi:
 Polyphemus

Polyphemus is a Cyclops, son of Poseidon and the nymph Toosa. Classical mythology calls Cyclops both the sons of Uranus and Gaia, and the members of an ancient population. The people of the Cyclops are remembered by the historian Thucydides[1] and, according to Homer, it was a people of anthropophagous giants, strong and dedicated to pastoralism characterized, in addition to their tall stature, by the fact of having a single eye in the middle of the forehead.

Villa Romana del Casale - Polyphemus and Ulysses

There are those who affirm that the Cyclops had a single eye for the habit of hunting keeping one eye closed because in this way they were facilitated during the launch of the spears. They were based in the regions of Etna and the most famous of them, Polyphemus, is linked to the Homeric legend of Ulysses.

Polyphemus was a shepherd and lived with his flock in a cave. Ulysses, having landed in Sicily with his twelve companions, asked him for hospitality. Instead of hosting them, Polyphemus captured them with the intention of devouring them, which he immediately began to do with some of them. However, he promised Ulysses that he would be the last to be devoured to thank him for the wine he had given him and also asked him what his name was. Ulysses, cunningly answered his name Nobody. At night, while Polyphemus was asleep under the influence of wine, Ulysses and his men pointed a large stake and drove it into the one eye of the Cyclops, blinding him.

Odysseus and his men blind the Cyclops Polyphemus, detail from a proto-Attic amphora, about 650 BC, Eleusis

Polyphemus shouted for help calling the other Cyclops, but when they asked him what was happening he replied that Nobody had tried to kill him by deception, so the other Cyclops, believing him crazy, left. Ulysses, in order to try to get out of the cave without Polyphemus noticing it, tied himself under the belly of a large ram and invited his companions to do the same, so, when the following morning Polyphemus let the flock out, while controlling the rams, he did not notice that Ulysses and his men were fleeing the cave safe and sound. Once he believed himself safe on his ship, Ulysses shouted his real name to the Cyclops, but it almost cost him and his companions their lives, as Polyphemus, a little angry, took a cliff and threw it, almost succeeding to hit the ship of Ulysses.

Acitrezza: Faraglioni dei Ciclopi

The legend of the nymph Galatea with whom he fell in love unrequited as the nymph loved the young Aci is linked to Polyphemus. One day, while Galatea and Aci were resting together, Polyphemus, blinded by jealousy, takes a large rock and throws it against the two. But, before the rock hits Aci, Galatea transforms it into a river, and that's how Aci becomes the god of the river that flows at the foot of Etna.

Polyphemus throws a boulder against Aci, detail of the fresco "History of Aci, Galatea and Polyphemus" by Annibale Carracci (1597 -1600)

Antoine Jean Gros - Aci and Galatea (1833)

[1] Thucydides VI.2.

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Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero

Polyphemus

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