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4.20.2012

Odysseus and the Cyclops (1995)

Odysseus and the Cyclops
Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Watercolor and pen on paper

Text set in Palatino

Margaret K. McElderry Books

I’ve said before that Warwick Hutton enjoys showing how small humans are in comparison to larger forces. This book is no different.

In other stories in which a protagonist faces a giant, the protagonist is often drawn normally, while the giant is enormous and fills the page. Or perhaps we only see the foot of the beast, or the eye.

In Hutton’s illustrative world, the giant is the normal-sized one, and it is the rest of the humans which are puny. In fact, we can often barely make out their expressions.

This cyclops is not nearly so monstrous. Were it not for his size and his single eye, he might not even be considered a monster. He is rather sensibly dressed and well-kempt, and appears to make his livelihood as a shepherd. We see him with his shepherding staff and flock of sheep, being led in and out of his cave. In fact, he seems so sensible, that Odysseus at first attempts to reason with him.

“Good sir, we are travelers on our way home. The great god Zeus respects all those who help travelers, and we wonder if you will sell us some of your cheese and let us go on our way?”

Polyphemus the Cyclops does not take Odysseus up on this good-natured offer, however, adding as an afterthought, “You might be good enough to eat, though.”

Odysseus and the Cyclops

I counted six men consumed over the course of the next two days of entrapment, two at a time, so that the bones decorating the cave floor gradually increase. The dwindling men must make their escape, and they must do so using their cunning. I got a real sense of the claustrophobia the men felt, their powerlessness. The only thing they have going for them is the fact that after two men, the cyclops seems too full to eat any more.

So. You have a jar of wine, a burning fire, a flock of sheep, and only one entrance with a cyclops guarding it. How would you escape?

Odysseus and the Cyclops
Hint: Go for the eye.

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