According to Greek myth, Hera was so shocked by the grotesque appearance of her baby Hephaestus that she flung him from Mount Olympus. Whether from birth, or from the fall, Hephaestus was lame, and is often represented in art with crippled or misshapen feet.
" carving a portion from the chine of a white-tusked boar "
The procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
This is the story of the Wooden Horse or Trojan Horse, a plan devised by Odysseus and used by the Greeks to finally defeat the Trojans after ten long years of war. First, the Greeks constructed a magnificent wooden horse, and secreted some of their own brave warriors inside its hollow belly. Then, after setting fire to the camp on the beach, the remainder of the Greek force sailed their ships further down the coast, giving the appearance of having abandoned the fight.
The Trojans, thinking the giant horse an offering to the gods, dragged it into their city. They rejoiced that in doing so they might bring the gods’ favour upon themselves instead. However, they had brought their own doom into Troy. Under the cover of night, the Greeks inside the horse slipped out to open the city gates, allowing the entire Greek army to launch a surprise attack on the unsuspecting city. This is what lies behind the phrase ‘beware Greeks bearing gifts.’ It did not take long after this for Troy to fall. The victorious Greeks gathered their trophies from the sacked city, took the Trojan women as slaves, and began their journey home.
" Other islands are clustered round it, Dulichium and Same and wooded Zacynthus "
Same is the ancient name for the Greek island Cephallonia, Zacynthus is the island Zakynthos, and Dulichium is generally thought to be the Echinades, though this is sometimes disputed. These are all islands clustered around Ithaca in the Ionian Sea.
" The same wind that wafted me from Ilium brought me to Ismarus, the city of the Cicones "
Map showing the locations of Cape Malea and Cythera - Credit: John Eckert
These are the last real locations mentioned by Odysseus in his story to the Phaeacians. From this point on, all places are mythical and their locations on a real map of the Mediterranean is only guesswork (if indeed they are even supposed to represent real areas).
" the Lotus-eaters, a race that eat the flowery lotus fruit "
The Cyclopes are mythical, brutish one-eyed giants. In The Odyssey, they represent everything that Homer thinks of as barbarous, everything that the civilised Greeks should not be. They have no assemblies, no laws, no cultivation, no real community to speak of or interest in their neighbours, and do not respect the laws of hospitality. The monstrous nature of these terrifying giants has captured many storytellers’ imaginations over the centuries.
" nine goats were allotted to each of the twelve ships under my command, but to me alone they made an allotment of ten. "
This kind of distinction was common, and in fact expected, amongst a Homeric hero and his men. It was a hero’s right as a skilful fighter and leader of men to receive certain honours and tribute, and a deep insult if this was neglected. In fact, it was over the issue of whose right to the highest honour trumped who’s that Achilles and Agamemnon famously argued so fiercely at Troy.
" He then curdled half the white milk, collected the whey, and stored it in wicker cheese-baskets "
Milk left to sour, or forced to curdle using an acidic substance such as vinegar or lemon-juice, will produce curds and a liquid called whey. Both curds and whey can be used to make cheese. Cheese made in this way would have been a common part of a Greek’s diet, especially in islands like Ithaca where the rocky terrain supports the rearing of sheep and goats more easily than farming.
" the wind had carried us on to a lee shore "
When forging weapons, the smith pounds red-hot metal into shape, then plunges it into cold water. The rapid change in temperature helps to make the weapon stronger. The process of reheating and cooling metal to toughen it is called tempering.
Watch this video to see a traditional katana (Japanese sword) being forged. Skip to 1:12 for the hiss as the blade is plunged into cold water.
" tell him your eye was put out by Odysseus, sacker of cities, the son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca. "
The foolish Odysseus has just given his name and address to the Cyclops, who promptly curses him and calls down the vengeance of his father, Poseidon. Odysseus has allowed his pride and desire for everlasting fame to get the better of him, to the detriment of himself and his entire crew. Poseidon will now not stop in his pursuit of bitter revenge against the hero and his men.