Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A question of scale

Just how big was the Cyclops, anyway? Homer doesn't say, exactly, but we get some clues. And those clues are a good example of one of the problems you face when you try to update a classic. For example, we know the Cyclops is big enough to pick up "the top of a mountain" and thrown it far enough out to sea that it lands in front of the Greek ship, thereby causing a wave big enough to wash the ship back to shore.

Pretty big, eh? On the other hand, he keeps large herds of sheep and goats in his cave. Which he milks. If the Cyclops is really as big as he sounds elsewhere, that'd  be like us milking mice! So which is it? And what's a poor author do to reconcile the two?

If you're like me, you look for more information. We know he eats two of Odysseus's men for supper, and another two for breakfast. Assuming he skips lunch, that's four men. At 180 lbs apiece, that's 720 lbs of meat a day. Assuming that the Cyclops is shaped like a man, but bigger, and assuming that an average six-foot Greek warrior would eat a pound and a half of food a day, then the square-cube law says he would be about 7.8 times as tall as a man, or about 47 feet tall  (14.5 metres).

Okay, that's pretty tall! That's just shy of a five-story building. Is that tall enough to heave a boulder that big? Probably not. And what about milking those goats? I dodged that one. I left them there but didn't mention them getting milked. On the other hand, I did mention giant wheels of cheese in the Cyclops's cave, so he had to be getting milk from somewhere. Maybe he went down to the local Loblaws. (Albertson's, for my American readers.)

There are plenty of issues like that throughout the Odyssey. It's a fun read, and even more fun to rewrite, but consistency wasn't valued that highly in Homer's day. In future posts I'll talk about some of the issues from the second book, The Sea God's Curse, coming out from Ronsdale Press this February (2013).