Height: 47.000 cm
Room 69: Greek and Roman life
Red-figured wine bowl (calyx-krater)
Greek, about 420-400 BC
From Lucania, southern Italy
The blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus and his crew
After the sack of Troy, it took the Greek hero Odysseus ten years to reach his native land of Ithaca. For ten years he endured all kinds of adventures, hardships and tragedies: he lost all his ships and all his comrades before he regained his native land.
Polyphemos, the one-eyed Cyclops, lived in a fertile island paradise of lush vegetation, heavy crops and fat cattle. While exploring the island, Odysseus and his companions found themselves trapped in his cave. Every night Polyphemos devoured a couple of Odysseus's men, until Odysseus thought of a cunning plan, shown on this vase. First Odysseus made the Cyclops very drunk with strong wine that sent him into a deep sleep - the wine cup is shown by his left elbow. Then, he and his men sharpened and hardened the end of a tree-trunk in the fire before plunging it into the Cyclops' one eye, and twisting it until he was blinded. Here they are shown manoeuvring their enormous weapon into position. The next morning Odysseus and his men escaped from the cave, in a brilliant trick on the blinded monster. Their escape can be seen on a lekythos (oil- or perfume-jar), also in The British Museum's collection.
The two satyrs at the right-hand side of the scene suggest that the painter of this vase (known as the Cyclops Painter) may have been inspired by the production of a satyr play, perhaps Euripides' Cyclops (around 408 BC).
D. Williams, Greek vases (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)