You know Polyphemus mostly as the cyclops blinded by Odysseus. But did you know that in some variants of the myth he was also an anguished lover of the sea nymph Galatea? Well now you do.
In Ovid’s version, Galatea is in love with a young man named Acis, who is then killed by Polyphemus in a jealous rage. So Galatea turns Acis into a river — because transforming your dead beloved into a river/tree/flower/rock is the mythological equivalent of the modern post-breakup pint of Haagen-Dazs. It’s just the thing you do, and then you move on.
However, there is a frieze found in Pompeii that suggests Polyphemus was a more successful lover than Ovid allows him to be.
The back cover copy might read:
Cursed by mankind as a monster, one-eyed Polyphemus broods on the coastline and shuns society in favor of the solace of nature. His only companions are the animals he raises for wool and food — until he meets Galatea.
The sea nymph’s beauty and warmth awaken a powerful longing. But she only has eyes for the handsome and superficial Acis. Can the rugged cyclops shed his rough habits enough to charm his beloved?
Here at Olivia Waite, we believe in happy endings. We also have a long-standing fascination with Greek and Roman mythology (and in the abuse of the royal we). These things do not often combine.
The closest classical analogue to a happy ending, in one mythophile’s humble opinion, is the story of Bacchus and Ariadne, which involves the god of wine and a lovelorn maiden whose first lover ditched her on an island. This is perhaps the worst one-night-stand in history. But in the end she gets to marry a god — and one of the fun, young, handsome gods at that! — and have her diadem set as a constellation into the sky for all eternity.
Living well is truly the best revenge.
If this story were turned into a romance novel, the cover text might go something like this:
Ariadne gave her heart and her half-brother’s life to a handsome Athenian hero — and how does he repay her? By leaving her to wake up alone on a rocky beach, while the jerk sails too far away to hear the curses she shouts after him.
Bacchus, god of wine and revelry, is no stranger to the sight of a beautiful woman losing control. (Mmm, those Maenads!) But this lonely Cretan princess sparks something deeper and more protective in his heart. Can he repair her broken trust in love? Or will memories of the past be too heavy even for a god to lift?