The Olympic god Poseidon is one of the many foes of Odysseus. His hatred for the epic hero began after the famous Greek blinded Poseidon’s son, Polyphemus. His son’s humiliation prompted the god of the sea to use his powers to prevent the hero from returning home to Ithaca.
Poseidon’s wrath is one of the main obstacles on Odysseus’s journey home after the triumph in the Trojan War. Homer’s poem presents the hero with many antagonists who want to stop him from getting home. However, there is no opponent more imposing and dangerous than the god of the sea himself. Poseidon, the brother of Zeus and one of the Olympic gods, takes offense at Odysseus’s treatment of his son, Polyphemus. He cannot forgive the embarrassment his child bears at the hands of the hero and his crew.
Polyphemus, the son of the god of the sea and a sea nymph, is the most well-known Cyclops in Greek mythology. Cyclopes are described in myths as human-like giants with one great eye on their forehead. They are skilled workers but prefer to stay away from humans. Homer introduces Polyphemus in Book 9 of the epic. He describes him as a cruel and savage cannibal who does not concern himself with men’s conflicts and wars. The giant is depicted living on the island of Sicily. There he tends to his sheep and prays on the passing ships.
In The Odyssey, Odysseus and his men meet Polyphemus at the beginning of their journey back to Ithaca. After their encounter with the lotus-eaters, the Greeks sail north to Sicily. They stop there to look for more provisions. On the island, the hero and his crew find a cave stocked with wine and food. They enter the lair without realizing that it belongs to a vicious giant. Polyphemus later blocks them. The Cyclops does not grant the intruders the custom of hospitality and eats some of Odysseus’ men. Some of them are held hostage.
Claiming that his real name is “Nobody,” Odysseus tricks the giant into getting drunk. As Polyphemus falls asleep, he blinds him with a burning spear. The following morning, the hero and his remaining men cling to the sheep’s underbellies and manage to escape the enraged Cyclops. In his hubris, Odysseus boasts and tells the giant his real name. Therefore, adding insult to injury. Blinded and embarrassed, Polyphemus prays to his father to avenge him. Angry at the humiliation his son has suffered, Poseidon complies.
Poseidon in The Odyssey is portrayed as the embodiment of divine wrath. He is angry with Odysseus but does not kill him. Instead, the Olympic god ensures the hero and his family suffer. He makes his excruciating journey back home longer and more challenging. Poseidon punishes the Greek by preventing him from getting what he wants – seeing his family again. God does not consider killing Odysseus. Death is not a fitting punishment for the indignity the hero installed upon Polyphemus. Instead, Poseidon controls the seas so that Ithaca’s king is driven away from his home and family.