Then Odysseus (Ulysses) and his companions reached the land of the Cyclops.
These were lawless brutes who trusted the Immortals so much that they neither ploughed nor sowed. The land was so fertile that it provided them with plenty of food. At home, there was no council that judged or deliberated. Without concern for each other, each dictated his own law to his children and wives. They had no ships or carpenters. But if they had had boats, what a beautiful city, what beautiful harvests and eternal vines they would have had.
Off the harbour, there was a small island covered with forests where wild goats multiplied endlessly without being disturbed by anyone. It was a god who led the twelve ships to the shore of this island where Odysseus (Ulysses) moored them, for the night was deep and foggy and one could see nothing.
The next day a goat hunt was so successful that each boat hoisted nine animals on board, ten for Odysseus (Ulysses)’. With the wine that the heroes had stolen from the Cicones, they feasted for a whole day.
Then Odysseus (Ulysses) left with his ship as a scout. He arrived at the shelter of a Cyclops, a gigantic man. A nearby cavern was used as a stable for his flocks of sheep and goats. Odysseus (Ulysses) had taken with him presents, including an excellent wine offered by a priest of Apollo whom he had spared during the raid among the Cicones.
The Cyclops Polyphemus being with his grazing flocks, Odysseus (Ulysses) and his companions entered the cavern filled with cheeses and jars of milk, lambs and young goats parked according to their age. While his men begged him to take control of these riches and to flee as quickly as possible, Odysseus (Ulysses) refused, wanting to know what gifts the Cyclops would offer him.
When the Cyclops arrived with his flock at the end of the day, he brought the females home to milk, leaving the males outside, and closed the entrance with a huge rock that only he could move. The milking and preparation of the cheeses completed, he saw the hero and his crew and asked them why they were there.
Odysseus (Ulysses), in the name of the gods and Zeus the Hospitable, proposed an exchange of presents. But the Cyclops did not care about the gods, proclaiming himself far superior to them. As he sought to know the location of the mooring of his hosts’ ship, Odysseus (Ulysses) lied to him, claiming that the ship was destroyed.
Polyphemus then seized two companions of Odysseus (Ulysses), smashed them on the ground, dismembered them and made his supper with them. Similarly, at dawn, he took two more for his lunch before going out with his beasts, placing the rock behind him.
As a plan of escape, Odysseus (Ulysses) had his men carve and polish a huge stake of olive tree, which he hardened with fire and hid under the manure. Then he told them of his plan.
When Polyphemus returned in the evening, he left no animal outside – which for Odysseus (Ulysses) was a sign of the gods – and again took two men for his supper. The hero offered his wine to the Cyclops, who asked for more until he drank three full skin bags.
As Polyphemus asked Odysseus (Ulysses) for his name, promising him a present of hospitality, he replied “Nobody” The Cyclops then told him that he would eat him last, as a gift, and then he fell asleep under the effect of drunkenness.
After reddening the tip of his spear in the fire, Odysseus (Ulysses) and his companions sunk it into the unique eye of the sleeping Cyclops and turned it. Screaming in pain, Polyphemus took it out and called the other Cyclops for help. Asked if he had been assaulted by cunning or force, he replied “by trickery” and when they inquired about the perpetrator, he shouted “Nobody”. The other Cyclops, thinking him to be struck by some illness, went away, recommending that he implores Poseidon for help. Odysseus (Ulysses) rejoiced because of his cunning, the name “Nobody” he had found and his perfect intelligence.
Polyphemus, blind, pushed the rock that closed the door and settled on the threshold, extending his hands to grab the prisoners who would try to get out with the beasts.
But Odysseus (Ulysses) found another trick. Having tied the rams three by three, he asked his men to cling to the belly of the middle ram, while he himself would come out the last, hidden under the fleece of the strongest ram.
So when rosy-fingered Dawn came, all were able to escape unharmed, although Polyphemus was astonished that the strongest of his rams came out last.
Having stocked up on sheep, the hero and his companions immediately embarked and began to row.
Barely off the shore, Odysseus (Ulysses) hailed Polyphemus and taunted him. In rage, the Cyclops tore off the top of a mountain and threw it into the sea, generating a wave that brought the hero’s boat back to shore. The men pulled forcefully on the oars to get away and, despite their entreaties, Odysseus (Ulysses) again hailed the Cyclops, revealing his true name and lineage.
Polyphemus then lamented: a prophet of the Cyclops, Telemos the Eurymides, had predicted that he would be blinded by a certain Odysseus (Ulysses), but he did not grow suspicious because he expected a man of greater stature. However he sought to win the hero’s friendship, asking him to come back, assuring that he would get his hospitality gifts and that his father Poseidon would help him on the return journey. The Cyclops also declared that only this god could, if he wanted to, heal his wound. Odysseus (Ulysses) replied that this would never be the case.
Then the Cyclops begged his father Poseidon to prevent Odysseus (Ulysses) from returning to his homes, or at least to allow only his return, without his companions, after terrible trials, on a foreign ship, and to find misfortune in his house. The god crowned with azure heard his prayer.
Then Polyphemus threw a huge rock, raising a wave that carried the boat to the island where Odysseus (Ulysses)’ fleet had remained.
After sharing the sheep taken from the Cyclops, Odysseus (Ulysses) made the sacrifice of a lamb to Zeus, but the god dismissed the offering, reflecting on the destruction of his ships and the loss of his companions.
The hero and his men feasted all day and the next day went back to sea, happy to escape death, but mourning the friends devoured by the Cyclops.
Cyclopes are giants of human appearance with a single eye in the middle of their forehead, symbol of an enlarged and non-dual vision. Their name means “spherical vision” and therefore includes an idea of totality.
They represent the same power as the Cyclopes of the second divine generation, sons of Gaia and Ouranos and brothers of the Titans, but on denser planes. If the latter represent the Omniscience of the Absolute (their brothers, the Hecatoncheires or One Hundred Arms being His Omnipotence and Omnipresence), those met by Odysseus (Ulysses) here are powers of vision from the highest vital subconscious acting swiftly in the lower levels close to nature (energy, structures and shapes). Indeed, Polyphemus “who makes many things manifest or perceptible” is a son of Poseidon (the god governing the subconscious) and the nymph Thoosa “swiftness”. Nymphs are deities of nature whose primary meaning is “covered” or “veiled.” These are therefore energies that are usually hardly perceived by humans.
The name Thoosa includes an omega in addition to the omicron (Θοωσα), implying the sense of swiftness turned towards matter. On the other hand, this nymph is a daughter of Phorcys, the third child of Pontus, who marks in vital evolution the manifestation of duality in consciousness – and therefore that of fear – and the first elements of consciousness and memory at the base of the constitution of the animal brain (Phorcys is the father of the Graeae, Gorgons and Echidna). (See Odyssey, I, 70. and Volume 1 of this study for Phorcys characteristics.)
Let’s recall that the Phorcys-Ceto couple symbolizes the birth of the animal self, in the third and fourth stages of life’s evolution, Phorcys being linked to the separating process and Ceto to that of fusion (see Tome 1, Chapter 3 and Genealogical Chart 2).
Thus, Polyphemus, issued from the Poseidon-Thoosa alliance, characterizes the action of the highest vital subconscious acting through a very swift and veiled expression of energies close to nature. This action brings about “the manifestation of many elements”, such as the organization of the powers animating living beings, the spiritual beings of nature, the subliminal planes of consciousness, the forces that populate them, etc.
This “veiled” power of vision must be clearly distinguished from that of “the perception of Truth in all the details” which is the privilege of Circe, the magician goddess, daughter of Helios “the Supramental light”. The latter restores the inherent abilities of Life in their integrity after having refined them while the former destroys those who are fascinated by powers (Siddhis).
These Cyclopes are giants because this capacity of perception seems superhuman to the ordinary man, revealing abilities that seem miraculous and the appeal of which is very difficult to overcome, if only out of curiosity or desire to experiment.
However, these powers of perception do not fall within the framework of a just surrender to the Divine (the Cyclopes claim to be superior to the gods).
When they appear, the seeker relies exclusively on them, to such an extent that he neglects all yoga practices, despite a very favourable terrain for yoga (the Cyclopes had so much confidence in the Immortals that they did not plough or sow although their land was very fertile). This attitude prevents the development of discernment (there is no assembly that judges). Moreover, the seeker makes no effort to open up to other spiritual horizons, merely enjoying his abilities, although they could give him so many realisations and eternal bliss if he gave himself the means (the Cyclopes had neither ship nor carpenter, but if they had had boats, what beautiful harvests and eternal vines they would have had).
Finally, these powers of vision and therefore of action related to nature seem, to the unsophisticated seeker, far superior to the powers of the mind (the Cyclops claim to be far superior to the gods).
In the further study of this myth, in order not to make the text more cumbersome in its decryption, we will use the term “vision powers” to summarize the symbolism of this Cyclops, son of Poseidon, even if the concerned perceptions cover a wide range in the field of energy structures and beings from other planes.
On the other hand, they can represent as much an emergence of personal powers as a confrontation with those who have them.
This ordeal most often occurs suddenly, without the seeker being prepared for it, led “obscurely” by the forces that direct his quest (the hero is led by a god on a dark and misty night).
He begins by contacting a place of weak-willed “aspirations” in the vital, that are neither focused nor organized, and from which he derives no profit as a result (a “small island” covered with forests where wild goats multiplied endlessly without being troubled by anyone).
These aspirations of the spiritualized vital remain sterile. Although within reach of the powers of perception-vision, they cannot use them (it is an island separate from that of the Cyclopes; they, for lack of having built boats, cannot take advantage of the goats). On the other hand, these aspirations can support the elements of the being who work for the yoga – especially in the mind – by the lasting power of vital aspiration they procure (therefore ensued a goat hunt so successful that nine animals were lifted on each boat, ten for Odysseus (Ulysses)). Moreover, they fit perfectly with the results of the hard work done to acquire the joy of union (with the wine that the heroes had taken from the Cicones, they feasted a whole day).
The seeker then wants to take only minimal risk to contact the most powerful of all these previously subconscious powers of vision (Odysseus (Ulysses) takes only twelve men with him to meet Polyphemus, the leader of the Cyclopes). These powers and the advantages they bring are kept close to the body (in a cave). These powers working in the subconscious (Polyphemus is the son of Poseidon) generate a set of benefits and aspirations extremely well organized for the proper functioning of the body and vital (the cave is filled with cheeses and jars of milk, lambs and children stored according to their age).
Then the seeker gives in to curiosity to see how these powers could be useful to him for his progress, although some parts of his being are extremely reluctant to pursue this investigation further (Odysseus (Ulysses) brought an extra wine jar but wanted to know what the Cyclops would do to him in exchange, although the twelve companions he had chosen to accompany him pressed him to return to the ship).
We can quote here a passage from Satprem in his book ‘On the way to Supermanhood’, Chapter VIII: The Change of Vision, which illustrates the illusion symbolized by Polyphemus:
“We have also been biased by what we could call the “visionary’s tradition.” It has always seemed that the privileged among men were the ones who had “visions,” who could see our everyday greyness in pink and green and blue, see apparitions and supernatural phenomena – a sort of super-cinema one enjoys free of charge in the privacy of one’s own room by pressing the psychic button. And that is all very well, there’s nothing to say, but experience shows that this sort of vision changes absolutely nothing. Tomorrow millions of men could be given the power of vision by a stroke of grace, and they would turn on their little psychic television again and again; they would see gods laden with gold (and perhaps a few hells more in accord with their natural affinities), flowers more magnificent than any rose (and a scattering of awesome serpents), flying or haloed beings (but devils imitate halos very well, they are more showy than the gods, they like tinsel), landscapes of “dream,” sumptuous fruits, crystal dwellings – but in the end, after the hundredth time, they would be as bored as before and leap avidly at the six-o’clock news. Something is sorely wanting in all that supernatural fireworks. And, to tell the truth, that something is everything. If our natural does not become truer, no amount of supernatural will remedy it; if our inner dwelling is ugly, no miraculous crystal will ever brighten our day, no fruit will ever quench our thirst. Unless Paradise is established on earth, it will never be anywhere. For we take ourselves everywhere we go, even into death, and so long as this “stupid” second is not filled with heaven, no eternity will ever be lit with any star. The transmutation must take place in the body and in everyday life; otherwise no gold will ever glitter, here or anywhere else, for ages of ages. What matters is not to see in pink or green or gold, but to see the truth of the world, which is so much more marvellous than any paradise, artificial or not, because the earth, this very small earth among millions of planets, is the experimental site where the supreme Truth of all the worlds has chosen to incarnate in what seems to be its very contradiction, and, by virtue of this very contradiction, to become all-light in darkness, all-breadth in narrowness, immortality in death, and living plenitude in each atom at each instant.”
But as soon as the contact is established with these powers (or with those who wield them), the seeker realizes that they imprison him and that they have strong control over him (Odysseus (Ulysses) cannot move the heavy stone placed in front of the door). Even if he could remove the cause, he would not be able to escape: he must wait for the rise of intuition for the right action and an opportunity brought about by the very cause that keeps him imprisoned, without rushing (even if he kills the Cyclops by piercing his liver, he will remain prisoner in the cavern whose door is obstructed).
On the other hand, he feels that his curiosity-fascination risks interrupting the yoga, which he does not want at any cost (As he sought to know the location of the mooring of the ship of his hosts, Odysseus (Ulysses) lied to him, claiming that the latter was destroyed). If one part of the seeker can “lie” to a capacity of vision, it is because the latter does not belong to the same plane, and therefore cannot detect the lie. This means that despite his imprisonment, the seeker still has free will.
This “power of vision” feeds and strengthens itself by using certain practices for its own sake and no longer for the yoga, thus weakening the forces put at the service of the essential purpose (Polyphemus killed two companions of Odysseus (Ulysses) and two others the next day).
To get out of this difficult situation, the seeker must use discernment, using both his intuitive abilities and the organization of consciousness, while remaining attentive to the “signs”. The weapon chosen is a “will of purification” (the tip of a huge olive tree stake) reinforced by the fire of purification (whose tip he hardens by fire) and which must be hidden for a time in what cannot attract attention (and which he hid under the manure), and which must strike at the heart of the system of vision-powers (which was to be planted into the eye of the Cyclops).
Before he even knows how he would escape, he prepares the weapon, thus triggering divine help (Polyphemus brings his rams into the cave).
To the strength of these “powers of vision”, the seeker opposes not only a powerful will of purification turned towards the goal but also, on the one hand, the means developed by the psychic light that provides divine intoxication (the powers of vision were “cancelled” while they were asleep under the effect of the wine of the priest of Apollo, which Polyphemus asks for again), on the other hand, the abdication of oneself and great humility. In the final phase of this experiment, it is the disappearance of the ego, and therefore of any movement of appropriation: the seeker has become “Nobody” and the “powers” no longer have any control over him (Blind Polyphemus can no longer “see” Odysseus (Ulysses) and the others Cyclops can’t help Polyphemus, nor even understand what’s going on).
Now, the seeker realizes the benefits of this intrusion into the “impersonal”, the liberation in the spirit which many consider to be the end of the path (Odysseus (Ulysses) rejoiced because of his cunning, the name “Nobody” he had found and his perfect intelligence).
This “cunning” of Odysseus (Ulysses) can be compared to the following sentence of the Bhagavad Gita: “Yoga is skill in action.”
It should be remembered that Odysseus (Ulysses) is by his mother a descendant of Hermes and Maia, that is to say of the Knowledge derived from the Overmind, and by his father either of Zeus or of Deion, in both cases realisations in the ascent of the planes of consciousness. This is therefore the expression of a purified intelligence.
The reader can refer to Sri Aurobindo’s Essay on The Gita. Pavitra, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, has extracted some excerpts in The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, two of which are reproduced below:
- Action is inferior to the yoga of intelligence; take refuge in intelligence, O Conqueror of riches; wretched are those who carry out the action for its fruits.
Acting with the right intelligence and therefore the right will, firmly established in the One, aware of the Self in all and acting from its serene equality, without running in all directions under the thousand impulses of the superficial mental self, such is the yoga of Intelligent will.
- He who, by intelligence has attained union [with the Self], rises here below above good as well as bad action. So strive to reach yoga; yoga is skill in (divine) works.
(Buddhi-yukta can also be translated: one who by intelligence has attained unity by uniting with the Self.)
“Even in this world of opposites (II, 45), one who has attained divine union rises, beyond good and evil, to a higher law based on the freedom that self-knowledge brings. One might think that the actions carried out without desire of the fruit are ineffective, without efficient motive, without vast and vigorous creative power. Not so, the action done in yoga is not only the highest, but also the wisest, most powerful and most effective, even for the affairs of this world; for it is inspired by the knowledge and will of the Master of Works: “The yoga is true skill in the (divine) works.”
It is this skill in works that the seeker applies here, to get out of a bad situation where a desire to use for his yoga certain powers that confer vision, has led him.
He must have the intelligence to get out of the trap in a soft way. For a while he unites yoga with this particular sensibility generated by these powers, while carefully protecting himself from the fascination they exert (Odysseus (Ulysses) and his men escape, concealed by the rams’ fleece, slipping away from Polyphemus’ hold). This episode can be compared to the search for the Golden Fleece that Jason went to find in Colchide. The ram’s fleece is a symbol of sensibility, that is, of consciousness. It is by using his conscious sensibility that the seeker can escape from the death trap.
From this experience the seeker retains some realisations (Having stocked sheep), but not yet fully convinced of the futility of these particular perceptions, he needs to discredit them in his own eyes when he is a little detached (Odysseus (Ulysses) starts taunting Polyphemus when he is already at a good distance). By doing so, he risks falling under their influence again, for this subconscious force throws on him the summit of the aspiration in the vital, creating a powerful swirl (Polyphemus tore off the top of a mountain and threw it into the sea, and a wave brought them back to the shore).
When he has sufficiently detached himself while not permanently safe, he must be persuaded that the role of these “vision powers” is over and that what excludes them from yoga is the result of a work towards mind-matter transparency (Odysseus (Ulysses) reveals his parentage to Polyphemus). Although the seeker had for a long time the intuition of their disappearance at some point on the Path, he did not think that it would be the result of a yoga which does not seem like much (Although he was warned by a prophet of the Cyclopes – Telemos, the one who prepares “the consecration of the future” – Polyphemus did not expect to be blinded by a dwarf, a scoundrel, a cripple).
We must refer here to Mother’s many remarks about the new yoga that works on (seemingly) totally insignificant things.
However, this perception tries to persuade the seeker that he could obtain the desired powers, and that they could be activated again by the action of the spiritual power that governs the subconscious mind and from which they originate, power that could also help to smoothen the Path (Polyphemus sought nevertheless to win the hero’s friendship, asking him to come back to him, assuring that he would get his gifts of hospitality and that his father Poseidon would help him for the return trip. The Cyclops also affirmed that only this god could, if he so pleased, heal his wound).
But the seeker does not give in and makes the decision never to get back these powers again (Odysseus (Ulysses) refuses any reconciliation, even claiming that he would gladly kill the Cyclops).
Having succumbed to curiosity, and not able to use these somewhat superhuman perceptions any longer, he will be at the mercy of the powers of the subconscious for the rest of the journey (Poseidon accedes to the Cyclops’ request to torment Odysseus (Ulysses) a lot and not allow his return, which he finally accomplishes, but without his companions, after terrible trials, on a foreign ship, only to find misfortune at home).
For the continuation of the quest and deprived of the natural but subconscious perceptual possibilities, not only does the seeker have to confront many attacks of the subconscious for its purification, but also the help he could have legitimately expected from the superconscious is denied to him (Odysseus (Ulysses) sacrifices a lamb to Zeus but the god disdained the offering, meditating on the destruction of his ships and the loss of his companions).
This last part of the story might suggest that the seeker could have chosen a brighter path if he had agreed to reconnect with his capacities of vision in a relationship of equality, rather than fascination, in perfect consecration (accepting the presents proposed by Polyphemus). However, this understanding did not come until much later (when Odysseus (Ulysses) recounted his adventures in Phaeacia). Then he sees what this still dissociating attitude has cost him: his whole external being will be destroyed and even his yoga, in its various aspects, will become useless (his whole fleet will be destroyed, including his own boat, and he will return alone, all his companions having died). Taking full advantage of the experience can probably only take place if the seeker is free from any fascination, that is, fearless, without desire and ego, free from attraction, repulsion and free from the three gunas.