A Mistake That Wasn’t


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Odysseus clung to the underside of the sheep in the middle. The ropes that tied the three sheep acted as a harness, keeping his feet attached the soft wool around the sheep’s sides. His mind racing, Odysseus considered his options. Polyphemus was coming. There was no doubt that after what had just happened back in that cave, the Cyclops would be in a blinding rage (Odysseus smiled at the unintended pun in spite of himself). There was no doubt that Polyphemus was still dangerous, even without the use of his one bulging eye. Odysseus checked the herd around him. Each sheep had a man strapped underneath its belly. This was their one chance.

He sent a silent prayer to Athena and prayed that Poseidon would not be angry with him for blinding one of the god’s sons. Odysseus was strong. He was clever. He was no god. Nor did he have any desire to be gone from his family any longer. Twelve years. Twelve long years separated him and his wife and beautiful son. He wondered if he would even recognize his son, Telemacus. How old was he now? Fourteen? Almost a man now, and Odysseus had missed almost every moment of those fourteen years. He swore under his breath, and vowed to Zeus that if he was allowed to return across those wine dark seas to be with his family, that he would offer many sacrifices and burnt offerings to the god of thunder.

Odysseus had been away from them for too long. He felt a great aching rise from some hidden place within himself. They had been his motivation during those ten long years at the walls of Troy. As he had thrown himself into the fury of battle each day, he’d learned that the only thing that really kept him alive was the thought of possibly seeing his wife’s face when he returned home. The prospect of coming back to see his son become a man had given him motivation in desperate moments where it became almost easier to give up than to keep fighting in that endless war.

A sudden crash brought him back to the present. Odysseus shook his head. He couldn’t let himself drift off like that. The last time he’d done that...he remembered the terrible screams of Achilles as he fell to the ground, his heel pierced by an arrow from that sniveling coward, Paris. If Odysseus hadn’t been daydreaming about some kind of wooden horse...he would have been able to stop Achilles from going out to die. Odysseus had received a premonition that morning to warn Achilles not to go to war. Stopping Achilles from fighting, however, was like trying to stop a chariot race on the final stretch, and Odysseus had ignored the feeling. Now, Achilles was gone, and the least Odysseus could do to honor his memory was to learn the lesson he should have learned then. It was as if...he shook his head again. There he was a second time...drifting off on tangeants of thought.

He looked off in the direction of the crashing sound. What he saw made his heart sink. Polyphemus was charging through the underbrush, bowling into trees and tripping over rocks with reckless abandon. There were, Odysseus reflected, few things more dangerous than a blinded, angry cyclops. He would do well to avoid doing anything to further anger the monster.
“Get to the beach” Odysseus kept his voice low as he spread the order to his men, “Do everything you can to throw Polyphemus off our trail. Do not raise your voices. Don’t let him get close enough to smell us. Don’t even breathe unless you absolutely have to. Remember what the oracle said...don’t do anything to possibly allow Polyphemus to call down curses upon our heads. Don’t let him know your names.”

When they reached the beach, he cut himself loose from the sheep and went to help his men free themselves. Suddenly there was an earthshaking smash to the left side of the cove. With a massive roar, Polyphemus burst from the trees, sweat pouring from his brow. His massive nose was drenched in snot, and spit flew from his mouth as he screamed
“WHERE ARE YOU. I WILL FIND YOU AND CRUSH YOU AND EAT YOU AND MASH YOU AND EAT YOU AGAIN. WHERE ARE YOU PUNY LITTLE HUMANS?”

Odysseus remained silent and motioned for his men to say nothing. He remembered all too well the stories of other men who had come to the islands of the cyclops. He knew what would happen if the giant found their ship. He resisted the urge to taunt the beast. He knew the risk. Giving into pride would be the cause of all of their doom. It had in the past. But Odysseus had learned his lesson. Polyphemus continued to roar and rage across the beach as Odysseus and his men boarded the vessel and set sail. They watched in silence as the monster, his sheep, and the island that had been their prison slowly shrunk in the distance and vanished.
It wasn’t until they had been out of sight of the island for several minutes that he even allowed his men to cheer.
“Set sail for Ithaca”, he told the helmsmen, “Let us make an offering to the gods in the hopes that Poseidon will send us favorable winds to speed us in our journey. We must be grateful for the fact that we were protected from harm. It could easily have gone another way.”

A month later, Odysseus and his men made it into the harbor of the island of Ithaca. They had returned home, victorious and safe. They were alive. As Odysseus jumped over the side and swam the remaining yards to his wife and son, tears of relief streamed down his face. How his son had changed!! Telemacus was almost a man now, standing tall and strong in the surf. His wife, however, seemed to shed years as she gazed at Odysseus. They took his hands and led him back to the palace as the sun set behind them. As he walked up the beach with them, a lingering thought sat in the back of his mind. What would have happened to them if he hadn’t resisted the urge to taunt the blind cyclops?



PS. I rewrote this legend because I’ve ALWAYS wished that Odysseus had done the smart thing and kept his mouth shut. It always irked me that he’d taunted Polyphemus and thus sentenced his entire crew and himself to another almost ten long years of torture and torment under the curse of the gods. Him staying quiet in this angle of the story was much more satisfying.
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