Ulysses blinding Polyphemus: the Odyssey in Sperlonga
This grand sculptural group, titled “Ulysses blinding Polyphemus”, was found in 1957 in the grotto of Tiberius’s Villa in Sperlonga and is currently on display at the local Archaeological Museum.
The marble work dates back to the 1st century BC and is attributed to three artists from Rhodes – Agesander, Athenodorus, and Polydorus; it represents an episode from Book 9 of Homer’s “Odyssey”, in which Ulysses gives the Cyclops wine to dull his senses, and then blinds him with a pole his men had made red-hot.
Then I thrust the beam of wood far into the embers to heat it, and encouraged my men lest any of them should turn faint-hearted. When the wood, green though it was, was about to blaze, I drew it out of the fire glowing with heat, and my men gathered round me, for heaven had filled their hearts with courage. We drove the sharp end of the beam into the monster’s eye, and bearing upon it with all my weight I kept turning it round and round as though I were boring a hole in a ship’s plank with an auger, which two men with a wheel and strap can keep on turning as long as they choose. Even thus did we bore the red hot beam into his eye, till the boiling blood bubbled all over it as we worked it round and round, so that the steam from the burning eyeball scalded his eyelids and eyebrows, and the roots of the eye sputtered in the fire (Homer, “Odyssey”, translated by Samuel Butler).