Finding the True Self, Part 3: Navigating Beyond a Need for Power

April 29, 2019 Updated: May 20, 2019

In Part 2 of this series of articles, we saw Odysseus barely managing to escape from the land of the Lotus-Eaters, or in Enneagram personality-speak, from the sloth that can sometimes characterize the type Nine person.

We saw, too, that what seemed fairly innocuous compared with the sort of fighting and warfare that occurred at Troy was anything but innocuous: The addiction to ease and a pleasant, nonconfrontational sort of lifestyle sapped the will to achieve anything and also blocked the crew’s ability to find their way home. Home is where the soul of a human being finds its own true beauty and realizes its full potential.

In order to break the power of sloth, Odysseus has to exercise tremendous and decisive will power, and force his men (at this point, perhaps, think of these as being his “members,” his whole body, metaphorically) to launch almost directionless, but decisively away from this fatal island.

And so they come to a totally different kind of menace; indeed, a totally different kind of personality type, the Eight, on the island of the Cyclops. Here the sin is not sloth, but lust, and not only lust as understood in terms of sex but also, more importantly, lust for power, for domination.

As a reminder, Eights perceive themselves as “I am strong,” and they want to be in control. At their best, Eights are high-energy, take-charge, and responsible individuals; at their worst, they are confrontational, reckless, and vindictive.

As we will see, what worked as a strategy to overcome or break free from the Lotus-Eaters on their island would be doomed to fail here.

But notice before we move on to describe Polyphemus, the Cyclops and type Eight, that the personalities are metaphorically separated: They are islands or lands apart, distinctive, separate, and one-of-a-kind. According to the Enneagram, one can only be one type and that does not change throughout one’s life.

The Next Leg of the Journey

With Eights, we are dealing with one-eyed giants: self-sufficient, supremely confident ogres, who follow no rules and obey no gods. One of them, Polyphemus, traps Odysseus and his men in his cave, and on being informed of his need to show hospitality lest he upset the gods, promptly devours two of Odysseus’s men and falls asleep.

This brutality is a gross violation of the laws of the cosmos: Zeus himself rated hospitality as one of the most important of human virtues. And as late as Shakespeare, we find Macbeth agonizing over whether he should kill Duncan because he is Duncan’s host, as well as Duncan’s being his liege lord. So, here with Polyphemus the root sin is lust for power, strength, and dominance (as it is in “Macbeth,” whose titular character is a clear Eight).

Polyphemus’s one eye is also highly suggestive: The Cyclopes have single vision, not stereoscopic; they get focused on one thing and one thing only. They do not see depth or subtleties, and they do not have a meaningful spiritual dimension to their lives. For, it has been observed (by Sir Richard Temple, for example, and his analyses of the differing positions of the eyes of saints in icon paintings) that one eye looks out on the external world, while the other is for introspection and looking inward. Cyclopes do not introspect or have the ability to review their own actions. Odysseus had to “just do it” to break free from the Lotus-Eaters, but now he is on an island where just-doing-whatever-they-want is the norm.

Thus, having eaten (two men!), Polyphemus, satisfied, falls asleep, confident no one can hurt him, although surrounded in his cave by Odysseus and his crew.

This is a classic Eight psychology: When they are at their worst, Eights are aggressive and dominating, fearless even of the gods, and have a profound sense of their own invulnerability.

Overcoming Those Who Dominate

There are just too many hideous ways to die in Homer’s works. “Odysseus and Polyphemus,” 1896, byArnold Böcklin. (Public Domain)
Polyphemus seeks revenge on Odysseus and his crew as they escape. “Odysseus and Polyphemus,” 1896, by Arnold Böcklin. (Public Domain)

Of course, given what happens and with hindsight, we know that Polyphemus’s single vision of himself in the world, this lack of perspective and “in-sight,” as well as the hubristic and vaunting ego he displays, is a weakness. But how does Odysseus find that weakness?

Initially, he considers “immediate, decisive action”; he goes so far as to identify exactly the spot where—despite his inferior size—his sharp sword might kill the sleeping Polyphemus: to “stab his chest where the midriff packs the liver.” But something holds him back from doing so. With sloth, “immediate, decisive action” was the answer, but here it would be fatal.

Odysseus realizes that such a move would be fatal to his own safety, for not “22 four-wheeled wagons” could move the stone that blocked the exit to the cave that they were now trapped in. (Notice, that 22 x 4 is 88 or the power of Eight doubled!)

Put another way: When dealing with Eights, one must not attack directly, for they are stronger than you are. Here, as in dealing with Troy, Odysseus has to come up with a stratagem that turns the Cyclops’s own strength against it. And this is exactly what Odysseus does: The very excessive appetite that fuels the Cyclops’s power is now the point of Polyphemus’s weakness.

Odysseus seems to befriend Polyphemus when he awakes, so much so that Polyphemus promises to eat him last! And Odysseus, meanwhile, feeds the Cyclops’s insatiable appetite a very strong wine, which the giant demands to surfeit. Then, with the Cyclops drunk, Odysseus with four (half of 8, of course, as if reducing the power of Eight) of his men drive a sharp stake into his one eye, thus blinding him.

Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops. Marble, copy of the Flavian era after an original of the late Hellenistic period. Museo Chiaramonti. (Public Domain)

So, not killing, but wounding and maiming the Cyclops, is the trick to defeat Polyphemus’s overwhelming strength. Now the Cyclops cannot see at all; from single vision, he has no vision.

Having done this, Odysseus outwits him further in a series of other small maneuvers. Notice “small” maneuvers, as in links in a chain, each necessary but each small, not like the big decisive step on the island of the Lotus-Eaters. First, Odysseus deploys a false name, “Nobody.” Then, he uses Polyphemus’s own sheep as a disguise and vehicle to escape, and finally and critically gets Polyphemus to unroll the huge stone that blocks their exit.

The key thing in overcoming the lust for power is not by matching power with power, but by holding back, using guile, hiding’s one’s true intentions, and taking a middle position between overboldness and resignation to fate. In this way, Odysseus is able to escape.

And the key for Eights to master themselves is to develop that second eye of “in-sight,” which is essential if they are to keep a tight rein on their emotional states, whose very intensity will betray and blind them.

Odysseus’s Flaw

Odysseus, however, does make one mistake: Having got away and sailing off, he cannot resist boasting—yelling out his true name to Polyphemus—that it is Odysseus who has “blinded you, shamed you so.” In doing so, he allows the Cyclops to pray to his father, Poseidon, the god of the sea, to punish Odysseus and his crew, which Poseidon does with true vengeance.

Without the correct name, of course, Polyphemus could not make that prayer, or would sound ridiculous in praying that his father punish “Nobody.”

Poseidon, we see, is the deadly enemy of the man of many stratagems, the sort of stratagems that come from Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, who more than any other god supports and sustains Odysseus.

It is interesting to note that although Athena and Poseidon are both part of the Olympian 12-god setup, they were by their natures in conflict: most famously in the naming of the city of Athens, which was named after Athena because the Athenians judged her gift to the city superior to Poseidon’s.

Dispute between Minerva and Neptune
A painting by René-Antoine Houasse captures the dispute between Athena and Poseidon. (Public Domain)

But the actual conflict occurs deeper. Poseidon is the god of the seas, and the seas are a metaphor for our subconscious, our emotions, and darker aspects. If we veer, therefore, from the logic of the mind in dealing with an Eight, as Odysseus did in taunting Polyphemus—in other words, allowing our sea of more primitive emotions free expression—then we cloud our judgment; and for that, a dreadful penalty will be exacted, including potential defeat.

But just as the threat of the Lotus-Eaters at position Nine (sloth) of the Enneagram is entirely different from the threat of the Cyclops at position Eight (lust), so now an entirely different kind of problem surfaces at position Seven (gluttony), and this is Odysseus meeting with Aeolus, master of the winds, at Aeolia, which is where we journey next.

In this multipart series, “Finding the True Self,” we will discuss nine types of personalities, their flaws, and show how Odysseus, through his adventures, overcame them to find his way back home.

James Sale is a poet and businessman whose company, Motivational Maps Ltd., operates in 14 countries. James will be appearing in New York to do talks and poetry readings for The Society of Classical Poets on June 17, 2019, at Bryant Park and The Princeton Club. To meet James and for more information, go to