In Greek mythology and later Roman mythology, the Cyclopes (// sy-KLOH-peez; Greek: Κύκλωπες, Kýklōpes, "Circle-eyes" or "Round-eyes"; singular Cyclops // SY-klops; Κύκλωψ, Kýklōps), were giant one-eyed creatures. Three groups of Cyclopes can be distinguished. In Hesiod's Theogony, they are the brothers: Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, who provided Zeus with his weapon the thunderbolt. In Homer's Odyssey, they are an uncivilized group of shepherds, the brethren of Polyphemus encountered by Odysseus. Cyclopes were also famous as the builders of the Cyclopean walls of Mycenae and Tiryns.
The fifth-century BC playwright Euripides wrote a satyr play entitled Cyclops, about Odysseus' encounter with Polyphemus. Mentions of the Hesiodic and the wall-builder Cyclopes also figure in his plays. The third-century BC poet Callimachus makes the Hesiodic Cyclopes the assistants of smith-god Hephaestus. So does Virgil in his Latin epic Aeneid, where he seems to equate the Hesiodic and Homeric Cyclopes.
- 1 Kinds
- 2 Principal sources
- 3 Sicily and adjacent islands
- 4 Etymology
- 5 Possible origins
- 6 Legends of the Caucasus
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Three groups of Cyclopes can be distinguished: the Hesiodic, the Homeric and the wall-builders. In Hesiod's Theogony, the Cyclopes are the three brothers: Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, sons of Uranus and Gaia, who made for Zeus his characteristic weapon, the thunderbolt. In Homer's Odyssey, the Cyclopes are a uncivilized group of shepherds, one of whom, Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon, is encountered by Odysseus. Cyclopes were also said to have been the builders of the Cyclopean walls of Mycenae and Tiryns. A scholiast, quoting the fifth-century BC historian Hellanicus, tells us that, in addition to the Hesiodic Cyclopes, (whom the scholiast describes as 'the gods themselves'), and the Homeric Cyclopes, there was a third group of Cyclopes: the builders of the walls of Mycenae.
Hesiod, in the Theogony (c. 700 BC), described three Cyclopes: Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, who were the sons of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth), and the brothers of the Titans and Hundred-Handers, and who had a single eye set in the middle of their foreheads. They made for Zeus his all-powerful thunderbolt, and in so doing, the Cyclopes played a key role in the Greek succession myth, which told how the Titan Cronus overthrew his father Uranus, and how in turn Zeus overthrew Cronus and his fellow Titans, and how Zeus was eventually established as the final and permanent ruler of the cosmos. The names that Hesiod gives them: Brontes (Thunder) and Steropes (Lightning) and Arges (Bright), reflect their fundamental role as thunderbolt makers. As early as the late seventh-century BC, the Cyclopes could be used by the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus to epitomize extraodinary size and strength.
According to the accounts of Hesiod and mythographer Apollodorus, the Cyclopes had been imprisoned by their father Uranus. Zeus later freed the Cyclopes, and they repaid him by giving him the thunderbolt. The Cyclopes provided for Hesiod, and others theogony-writers, a convenient source of heavenly weaponry, since the smith-god Hephaestus—who would eventually take over that role—had not yet been born. According to Apollodorus, the Cyclopes also provided Poseidon with his trident and Hades with his cap of invisibility, and the gods used these weapons to defeat the Titans.
Although the primordial Cyclopes of the Theogony were presumably immortal (as were their brothers the Titans), the sixth-century BC Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, has them being killed by Apollo. Later sources tell us why: Apollo's son Asclepius had been killed by Zeus' thunderbolt, and Apollo killed the Cyclopes, the makers of the thunderbolt, in revenge. According to a scholiast on Euripides' Alcestis, the fifth-century BC mythographer Pherecydes supplied the same motive, but said that Apollo, rather than killing the Cyclopes, killed their sons (one of whom he named Aortes) instead. No other source mentions any offspring of the Cyclopes. A Pindar fragment suggests that Zeus himself killed the Cyclopes to prevent them from making thunderbolts for anyone else.
The Cyclopes' prowess as craftsmen is stressed by Hesiod who says "strength and force and contrivances were in their works." Being such skilled craftsmen of great size and strength, later poets, beginning with the third-century BC poet Callimachus, imagine these Cyclopes, the primordial makers of Zeus' thunderbolt, becoming the assistants of the smith-god Hephaestus, at his forge in Sicily, underneath Mount Etna, or perhaps the nearby Aeolian Islands. In his Hymn to Artemis, Callimachus has the Cyclopes on the Aeolian island of Lipari, working "at the anvils of Hephaestus", make the bows and arrows used by Apollo and Artemis. The first-century BC Latin poet Virgil in his epic Aeneid, has the Cyclopes: "Brontes and Steropes and bare-limbed Pyracmon" toil under the direction of Vulcan (Hephaestus), in caves underneath Mount Etna and the Aeolian islands. Virgil describes the Cyclopes, in Vulcan's smithy forging iron, making a thunderbolt, a chariot for Mars, and Pallas's Aegis, with Vulcan interrupting their work to command the Cyclopes to fashion arms for Aeneas. The later Latin poet Ovid also has the Hesiodic Cyclopes Brontes and Steropes (along with a third Cyclops named Acmonides), work at forges in Sicilian caves.
According to a Hellenistic astral myth, the Cyclopes were the builders of the first altar. The myth was a catasterism, which explained how the constellation the Altar (Ara) came to be in the heavens. According to the myth, the Cyclopes built an altar upon which Zeus and the other gods swore alliance before their war with the Titans. After their victory, "the gods placed the altar in the sky in commemoration", and thus began the practice, according to the myth, of men swearing oaths upon altars "as a guarantee of their good faith".
According to the second-century geographer Pausanias, there was a sanctuary called the "altar of the Cyclopes" on the Isthmus of Corinth at a place sacred to Poseidon, where sacrifices were offered to the Cyclopes. There is no evidence for any other cult associated with the Cyclopes. According to a version of the story in the Iliad scholia (found nowhere else), when Zeus swallowed Metis, she was pregnant with Athena by the Cyclops Brontes.
Although described by Hesiod as having "very violent hearts" (ὑπέρβιον ἦτορ ἔχοντας), and while their extraordinary size and strength would have made them capable of great violence, there is no indication of the Hesiodic Cyclopes having behaved in any other way than as dutiful servants of the gods.
Walter Burkert suggests that groups or societies of lesser gods, like the Hesiodic Cyclopes, "mirror real cult associations (thiasoi) ... It may be surmised that smith guilds lie behind Cabeiri, Idaian Dactyloi, Telchines, and Cyclopes."
In an episode of Homer's Odyssey (c. 700 BC), the hero Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon, a one-eyed man-eating giant who lives with his fellow Cyclopes in a distant land. The relationship between these Cyclopes, and Hesiod's Cyclopes is unclear. Homer described a very different group of Cyclopes, than the skilled and subservient craftsman of Hesiod. Homer's Cyclopes live in the "world of men" rather than among the gods, as they presumably do in the Theogony. The Homeric Cyclopes are presented as uncivilized shepherds, who live in caves, savages with no regard for Zeus. They have no knowledge of agriculture, ships or craft. They live apart and lack any laws.
The fifth-century BC playwright Euripides also told the story of Odysseus' encounter with Polyphemus in his satyr play Cyclops. Euripides' Cyclopes, like Homer's, are uncultured cave dwelling shepherds. They have no agriculture, no wine, and live on milk, cheese and the meat of sheep. They live solitary lives, and have no government. They are inhospitable to strangers, slaughtering and eating all who come to their land. While Homer does not say if the other Cyclopes are like Polyphemus in their appearance and parentage, Euripides' makes it explicit, calling the Cyclopes "Poseidon’s one-eyed sons". And while Homer is vague as to their location, Euripides locates the land of the Cyclopes on the island of Sicily near Mount Etna.
Like Euripides, Virgil has the Cyclopes of Polyphemus live on Sicily near Etna. For Virgil apparently, these Homeric Cyclopes are members of the same race of Cyclopes as Hesiod's Brontes and Steropes, who live nearby.
Cyclopes were also said to have been the builders of the so-called 'Cyclopean' walls of Mycenae, Tiryns, and Argos. Although they can be seen as being distinct, the Cyclopean wall-builders share several features with the Hesiodic Cyclopes: both groups are craftsmen of supernatural skill, possessing enormous strength, who lived in primordial times. These builder Cyclopes were apparently used to explain the construction of the stupendous walls at Mycenae and Tiryns, composed of massive stones that seemed too large and heavy to have been moved by ordinary men.
These master-builders were famous in antiquity from at least the fifth-century BC onwards. The poet Pindar, has Heracles driving the cattle of Geryon through the "Cyclopean portal" of the Tirynian king Eurystheus". The mythographer Pherecydes says that Perseus brought the Cyclopes with him from Seriphos to Argos, presumably to build the walls of Mycenae. Proetus, the mythical king of ancient Argos, was said to have brought a group of seven Cyclopes from Lycia to build the walls of Tiryns.
The late fifth and early fourth-century BC comic poet Nicophon, wrote a play called either Cheirogastores or Encheirogastores (Hands-to-Mouth), which is thought to have been about these Cyclopean wall-builders. Ancient lexicographers explained the title as meaning “those who feed themselves by manual labour”, and according to Eustathius of Thessalonica, the word was used to describe the Cyclopean wall-builders, while "hands-to-mouth" was one of the three kinds of Cyclopes distinguished by scholia to Aelius Aristides. Similarly, possibly deriving from Nicophon's comedy, the first-century Greek geographer Strabo says these Cyclopes were called "Bellyhands" (gasterocheiras) because they earned their food by working with their hands.
The first-century natural philosopher Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, reported a tradition, attributed to Aristotle, that the Cyclopes were the inventors of masonry towers. In the same work Pliny also mentions the Cyclopes, as being among those credited with being the first to work with iron, as well as bronze. In addition to walls, other monuments were attributed to the Cyclopes. For example, Pausanias says that at Argos there was "a head of Medusa made of stone, which is said to be another of the works of the Cyclopes."
Then [Gaia] bore the Cyclopes, who have very violent hearts, Brontes (Thunder) and Steropes (Lightning) and strong-spirited Arges (Bright), those who gave thunder to Zeus and fashioned the thunderbolt. These were like the gods in other regards, but only one eye was set in the middle of their foreheads; and they were called Cyclopes (Circle-eyed) by name, since a single circle-shaped eye was set in their foreheads. Strength and force and contrivances were in their works.
Following the Cyclopes, Gaia next gave birth to three more monstrous brothers, the Hundred-Handers. Uranus hated his children, including the Cyclopes, and as soon as each was born, he imprisoned them underground, somewhere deep inside Gaia. Eventually Uranus' son, the Titan Cronus, castrated Uranus, freeing his fellow Titans (but not, apparently, the Cyclopes), and Cronus became the new ruler of the cosmos.
Cronus swallowed each of his children as they were born, except for Zeus who was hidden away by his mother Rhea. When Zeus was grown, after recovering his siblings, he released the Cyclopes, and in their gratitude they repaid Zeus by giving him the thunderbolt (previously hidden by Gaia), and with the help of this weapon, Zeus was eventually able to overthrow Cronus, and establish himself as the final and permanent ruler of the cosmos.
In Book 9 of the Odyssey, Odysseus describes to his hosts the Phaeacians his encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus. Having just left the land of the Lotus-eaters, Odysseus says "Thence we sailed on, grieved at heart, and we came to the land of the Cyclopes". Homer had already (Book 6) described the Cyclopes as "men overweening in pride who plundered [their neighbors the Phaeacians] continually", driving the Phaeacians from their home. In Book 9, Homer gives a more detailed description of the Cyclopes as:
an overweening and lawless folk, who, trusting in the immortal gods, plant nothing with their hands nor plough; but all these things spring up for them without sowing or ploughing, wheat, and barley, and vines, which bear the rich clusters of wine, and the rain of Zeus gives them increase. Neither assemblies for council have they, nor appointed laws, but they dwell on the peaks of lofty mountains in hollow caves, and each one is lawgiver to his children and his wives, and they reck nothing one of another.
According to Homer, the Cyclopes have no ships, nor ship-wrights, nor other craftsman, and know nothing of agriculture. They have no regard for Zeus or the other gods, for the Cyclopes hold themselves to be "better far than they".
mingled not with others, but lived apart, with his heart set on lawlessness. For he was fashioned a wondrous monster, and was not like a man that lives by bread, but like a wooded peak of lofty mountains, which stands out to view alone, apart from the rest, ... [and as] a savage man that knew naught of justice or of law.
Although Homer does not say explicitly that Polyphemus is one-eyed, for the account of his blinding to make sense he must be. If Homer meant for the other Cyclopes to be assumed (as they usually are) to be like Polyphemus, then they too will be one-eyed sons of Poseidon; however Homer says nothing explicit about either the parentage or appearance of the other Cyclopes.
The Hesiodic Cyclopes: makers of Zeus' thunderbolts, the Homeric Cyclopes: brothers of Polyphemus, and the Cyclopean wall-builders, all figure in the plays of the fifth-century BC playwright Euripides. In his play Alcestis, where we are told that the Cyclopes who forged Zeus' thunderbolts, were killed by Apollo. The prologue of that play has Apollo explain:
House of Admetus! In you I brought myself to taste the bread of menial servitude, god though I am. Zeus was the cause: he killed my son Asclepius, striking him in the chest with the lightning bolt, and in anger at this I slew the Cyclopes who forged Zeus’s fire. As my punishment for this Zeus compelled me to be a serf in the house of a mortal.
Euripides' satyr play Cyclops tells the story of Odysseus' encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus, famously told in Homer's Odyssey. It takes place on the island of Sicily near the volcano Mount Etna where, according to the play, "Poseidon’s one-eyed sons, the man-slaying Cyclopes, dwell in their remote caves." Euripides describes the land where Polyphemus' brothers live, as having no "walls and city battlements", and a place where "no men dwell". The Cyclopes have no rulers and no government, "they are solitaries: no one is anyone’s subject." They grow no crops, living only "on milk and cheese and the flesh of sheep." They have no wine, "hence the land they dwell in knows no dancing". They show no respect for the important Greek value of Xenia ("guest friendship). When Odysseus asks "are they god-fearing and hospitable toward strangers" (φιλόξενοι δὲ χὤσιοι περὶ ξένους), he is told: "most delicious, they maintain, is the flesh of strangers ... everyone who has come here has been slaughtered."
Several of Euripides' plays also make reference to the Cyclopean wall-builders. Euripides calls their walls "heaven-high" (οὐράνια), describes "the Cyclopean foundations" of Mycenae as "fitted snug with red plumbline and mason’s hammer", and calls Mycenae "O hearth built by the Cyclopes". He calls Argos "the city built by the Cyclopes", refers to "the temples the Cyclopes built" and describes the "fortress of Perseus" as "the work of Cyclopean hands".
For the third-century BC poet Callimachus, the Hesiodic Cyclopes Brontes, Steropes and Arges, become assistants at the forge of the smith-god Hephaestus. Callimachus has the Cyclopes make Artemis' bow, arrows and quiver, just as they had (apparently) made those of Apollo. Callimachus locates the Cyclopes on the island of Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the northern coast of Sicily, where Artemis finds them "at the anvils of Hephaestus" making a horse-trough for Poseidon:
And the nymphs were affrighted when they saw the terrible monsters like unto the crags of Ossa: all had single eyes beneath their brows, like a shield of fourfold hide for size, glaring terribly from under; and when they heard the din of the anvil echoing loudly, and the great blast of the bellows and the heavy groaning of the Cyclopes themselves. For Aetna cried aloud, and Trinacia cried, the seat of the Sicanians, cried too their neighbour Italy, and Cyrnos therewithal uttered a mighty noise, when they lifted their hammers above their shoulders and smote with rhythmic swing the bronze glowing from the furnace or iron, labouring greatly. Wherefore the daughters of Oceanus could not untroubled look upon them face to face nor endure the din in their ears. No shame to them! on those not even the daughters of the Blessed look without shuddering, though long past childhood’s years. But when any of the maidens doth disobedience to her mother, the mother calls the Cyclopes to her child—Arges or Steropes; and from within the house comes Hermes, stained with burnt ashes. And straightway he plays bogey to the child and she runs into her mother’s lap, with her hands upon her eyes. But thou, Maiden, even earlier, while yet but three years old, when Leto came bearing thee in her arms at the bidding of Hephaestus that he might give thee handsel and Brontes set thee on his stout knees—thou didst pluck the shaggy hair of his great breast and tear it out by force. And even unto this day the mid part of his breast remains hairless, even as when mange settles on a man’s temples and eats away the hair.
And Artemis asks:
Cyclopes, for me too fashion ye a Cydonian bow and arrows and a hollow casket for my shafts; for I also am a child of Leto, even as Apollo. And if I with my bow shall slay some wild creature or monstrous beast, that shall the Cyclopes eat.
The first-century BC Roman poet Virgil seems to combine the Cyclopes of Hesiod with those of Homer, having them live alongside each other in the same part of Sicily. In his Latin epic Aeneid, Virgil has the hero Aeneas follow in the footsteps of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey. Approaching Sicily (Trinacria) and Mount Etna, in Book 3 of the Aeneid, Aeneas manages to survive the dangerous Charybdis, and at sundown comes to the land of the Cyclopes, while "near at hand Aetna thunders". The Cyclopes are described as being "in shape and size like Polyphemus ... a hundred other monstrous Cyclopes [who] dwell all along these curved shores and roam the high mountains." After narrowly escaping from Polyphemus, Aeneas tells how, responding to the Cyclops' "mighty roar":
the race of the Cyclopes, roused from the woods and high mountains, rush to the harbour and throng the shores. We see them, standing impotent with glaring eye, the Aetnean brotherhood, their heads towering to the sky, a grim conclave: even as when on a mountaintop lofty oaks or cone-clad cypresses stand in mass, a high forest of Jove or grove of Diana.
Later, in Book 8 of the same poem, Virgil has the Hesiodic Cyclopes Brontes and Steropes, along with a third Cyclopes which he names Pyracmon, work in an extensive network of caverns stretching from Mount Etna to the Aeolian Islands. As the assistants of the smith-god Vulcan, they forge various items for the gods: thunderbolts for Jupiter, a chariot for Mars, and armor for Minerva:
In the vast cave the Cyclopes were forging iron—Brontes and Steropes and bare-limbed Pyracmon. They had a thunderbolt, which their hands had shaped, like the many that the Father hurls down from all over heaven upon earth, in part already polished, while part remained unfinished. Three shafts of twisted hail they had added to it, three of watery cloud, three of ruddy flame and the winged South Wind; now they were blending into the work terrifying flashes, noise, and fear, and wrath with pursuing flames. Elsewhere they were hurrying on for Mars a chariot and flying wheels, with which he stirs upmen and cities; and eagerly with golden scales of serpents were burnishing the awful aegis, armour of wrathful Pallas, the interwoven snakes, and on the breast of the goddess the Gorgon herself, with neck severed and eyes revolving.
The mythographer Apollodorus, gives an account of the Hesiodic Cyclopes similar to that of Hesiod's, but with some differences, and additional details. According to Apollodorus, the Cyclopes were born after the Hundred-Handers, but before the Titans (unlike Hesiod who makes the Titans the eldest and the Hundred-Handers the youngest).
Uranus bound the Hundred-Handers and the Cyclopes, and cast them all into Tartarus, "a gloomy place in Hades as far distant from earth as earth is distant from the sky." But the Titans are, apparently, allowed to remain free (unlike in Hesiod). When the Titans overthrew Uranus, they freed the Hundred-Handers and Cyclopes (unlike in Hesiod, where they apparently remained imprisoned), and made Cronus their sovereign. But Cronus once again bound the six brothers, and reimprisoned them in Tartarus.
As in Hesiod's account, Rhea saved Zeus from being swallowed by Cronus, and Zeus was eventually able to free his siblings, and together they waged war against the Titans. According to Apollodorus, in the tenth year of that war, Zeus learned from Gaia, that he would be victorious if he had the Hundred-Handers and the Cyclopes as allies. So Zeus slew their warder Campe (a detail not found in Hesiod) and released them, and in addition to giving Zeus his thunderbolt (as in Hesiod), the Cyclopes also gave Poseidon his trident, and Hades a helmet (presumably the same cap of invisibility which Athena borrowed in the Iliad), and "with these weapons the gods overcame the Titans".
Dionysiaca, composed in the 4th or 5th century BC, is the longest surviving poem from antiquity – 20,426 lines. It is written by the poet Nonnus in the Homeric dialect, and its main subject is the life of Dionysus. It describes a war that occurred between Dionysus' troops and those of the Indian king Deriades. In book 28 of the Dionysiaca the Cyclopes join with Dionysian troops, and the prove to be great warriors and crush most of the Indian king's troops.
Philoxenus of Cythera
Philoxenus of Cythera (c. 435 – 380 BC) was a poet of ancient Greece, who wrote more than three centuries after the Odyssey is thought to have been composed. Philoxenus took up and added to the myth of Polyphemus in his most popular poem Cyclops or Galatea. He composed the poem to be performed in a wild and ecstatic song-and-dance form — the dithyramb. The poem has not survived intact, but in fragments. Philoxenus of Cythera’s story occurs well before the one-eyed monster was blinded by Odysseus. The poet adds something new to the myth — a romance for the Cyclops. The object of Polyphemus’ romantic desire is a beautiful sea nymph named Galatea. She does not return his love — preferring a handsome young man named Acis — the son of Faunus and the river-nymph Symaethis. Polyphemus, furious, and being a monster, murders Acis by crushing him with an enormous rock.
The date of composition for Philoxenus of Cythera’s Cyclops is not precisely known, but it must be prior to 388 BC, when Aristophanes parodied it in his play Plautus; and after 406 BC, when Dionyseus I became tyrant of Syracuse — Philoxenus served as his court poet. The parody by Aristophanes suggests that there had been a recent performance of Philoxenus of Cythera’s Cyclops.
The parody of Philoxenus’ Cyclops occurs early in Aristophanes’ play Plautus (or Wealth). It is performed by a group of elderly men, who with their movement and voices imitate goats and sheep. The parody has such an insignificant connection with the plot of Aristophanes’ play, that it is thought that the satiric point may be a humorous criticizing of the older theatrical form, with a demonstration that a dithyramb doesn’t fit comfortably embedded in a comic drama.
Philoxenus of Cythera’s Cyclops is mentioned in Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle discusses representations of people in tragedy and comedy (“tragedy differs from comedy. The latter sets out to represent people as worse than they are to-day, the former as better”). Before making this point, he has indicated that as in comedy, it is the same in dithyrambic poetry, and cites as examples the Cyclops of both Timotheus and Philoxenus.
Sicily and adjacent islands
From at least the fifth-century BC onwards, Cyclopes have been associated with the island of Sicily, or the volcanic Aeolian islands just off Sicily's north coast. The fifth-century BC historian Thucydides says that the "earliest inhabitants" of Sicily were reputed to be the Cyclopes and Laestrygones (another group of man-eating giants encountered by Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey). Thucydides also reports the local belief that Hephaestus (along with his Cyclopean assistants?) had his forge on the Aeolian island of Vulcano.
Euripides locates Odysseus' Cyclopes on the island of Sicily, near the volcano Mount Etna, and in the same play addresses Hephaestus as "lord of Aetna". The poet Callimachus locates the Cyclopes' forge on the island of Lipari, the largest of the Aeolians. Virgil associates both the Hesiodic and the Homeric Cyclopes with Sicily. He has the thunderbolt makers: "Brontes and Steropes and bare-limbed Pyracmon", work in vast caverns extending underground from Mount Etna to the island of Vulcano, while the Cyclops brethren of Polyphemus live on Sicily where "near at hand Aetna thunders".
As Thucydides notes, in the case of Hephaestus' forge on Vulcano, locating the Cyclopes' forge underneath active volcanoes provided an explanation for the fire and smoke often seen rising from them.
Hesiod, in the Theogony, provides an etymology for the name Cyclopes, explaining that they were called that "since a single circle-shaped eye was set in their foreheads". Hesiod's meaning of the name Cyclopes as "Circle-eyes" or "Round-eyes" has found general acceptance, though other etymologies have been suggested.
A possible origin for one-eyed Cyclopes was advanced by the paleontologist Othenio Abel in 1914. Abel proposed that fossil skulls of Pleistocene dwarf elephants, commonly found in coastal caves of Italy and Greece, may have given rise to the Polyphemus story. Abel suggested that the large, central nasal cavity (for the trunk) in the skull might have been interpreted as a large single eye-socket.
A rare birth defect can result in foetuses (both human and animal) which have a single eye located in the middle of their foreheads. Students of teratology have raised the possibility of a link between this deformity and the myth of the one-eyed Cyclopes. However, in the case of humans with a single eye, they have a nose above the single eye, rather than below, as in ancient Greek depictions of the Cyclops Polyphemus.
Legends of the Caucasus
The Caucasus region near the Black Sea is rich in a folk literature that contains stories seen as variations of the myths of the ancient Greeks, including stories of one-eyed monsters. In the Caucasus these tales have been handed down as songs and narrative poems by a strong oral tradition – which is also the tradition of Homer. One reason the oral tradition is strong is that for most of the languages spoken in this mountainous region there was no written alphabet until relatively recently. The stories are not well known to the English speaking world. They began to be written down and collected in the 1890s, as the Nart saga and the Uryzmaeg stories.
In the so called "Cyclops legends" of the Caucasus, the one-eyed monster is almost always a shepherd, and he is also variously presented as a one-eyed, rock-throwing, cannibalistic giant, who says his name is "nobody", who lives in a cave, whose door is blocked by a large stone, who is a threat to the hero of the story, who is blinded by a hot stake, and whose flock of sheep is stolen by the hero and his men. These are the same motifs found in the Polyphemus story of Homer.
- List of one-eyed creatures in mythology and fiction
- Stereopsis, the ability to see with two eyes information that is hidden from each eye alone.
- Cyclopia, congenital disorder
- Cyclops, one of the founding members of the X-Men from Marvel Comics.
- Hard, p. 66: "KYKLOPES (Round-eyes)"; West 1988, p. 64: "The name [Cyclopes] means Circle-eyes"; LSJ, s.v. Κύκλωψ: "Round-eyed"
- For a detailed discussion of the Cyclopes see Fowler 2013, pp. 53–56; for general summaries see: Hansen, pp. 143–144; Grimal, s.v. Cyclopes, pp. 118–119; Tripp, s.v. Cyclopes, p. 181; Rose, s.v. Cyclopes, p. 304 (Oxford Classical Dictionary 2nd edition).
- Hard, p. 66. Apparently, such a three-fold distinction was already made as early as the fifth-century BC, by the historian Hellanicus, see Fowler 2013, pp. 35–36, p. 55; Hellanicus, fr. 88 Fowler [= FGrHist 4 fr. 88]; a scholiast to Aelius Aristides 52.10 Dindorf p. 408 describes a similar three-fold distinction, see Storey, p. 401.
- Fowler 2013, p. 53; Bremmer, p. 140.
- Fowler 2013, pp. 35–36, p. 55; Hellanicus, fr. 88 Fowler [= FGrHist 4 fr. 88]. According to Hellanicus, the Cyclopes were named after Cyclops the son of Uranus.
- Dated before 1905, possibly a replica of a pastel, according to Klaus Berger, "The Pastels of Odilon Redon", College Art Journal 16.1 (Autumn 1956:23-33) pp. 30ff; dated 1898-1900 by David H. Porter, "Metamorphoses and Metamorphosis: A Brief Response", American Journal of Philology 124.3 (Fall 2003:473–76); illus. in Sven Sandström, Le Monde imaginaire d'Odilon Redon: étude iconologique,1955:69.
- Hard, p. 32; Gantz, p. 10; Hesiod, Theogony, 139–146; cf. Apollodorus, 1.1.2. These Hesiodic Cyclopes are sometimes called the "Uranian" (or "Ouranian") Cyclopes after their father Uranus (Ouranos), see Caldwell, p. 36 on lines 139–160; Grimal s.v. Cyclopes p. 119.
- Hard, pp. 65–69; Hansen, pp. 66–67, 293–294; West 1966, pp. 18–19; Dowden, pp. 35–36.
- Most 2018a, p. 15; Hard, p. 66. According to West 1966, p. 207 on line 140, the three names represent different aspects of the same thing: a lightning bolt, i.e. that which is heard: Brontes, from βροντή ("thunder", see LSJ s.v. βροντ-ή , ἡ,) , that which is seen: Steropes, from στεροπή ("flash of lightning", see LSJ s.v. στεροπ-ή , ἡ) and that which strikes: Arges, a "formulaic epithet of κεραυνός" ("thunderbolt", see LSJ s.v. κεραυνός , ὁ,).
- West 1966, p. 207 on line 139; Bremmer, p. 140; Tyrtaeus, 12.2–3: "... not even if / he had the size and strength of the Cyclopes".
- Hesiod, Theogony 154–158, says that Uranus "put them all away out of sight in a hiding place in Earth and did not let them come up into the light", while according to Apollodorus, 1.1.2, Uranus "bound and cast [them] into Tartarus", the two places perhaps being the same (see West 1966, p. 338 on line 618, and Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160).
- Hesiod, Theogony 501–506.
- Fowler 2013, p. 54: the Cyclopes "would supply the obvious answer any theogony-writer would pose: who made the weapons in the early wars, before even Hephaistos was born?"; see also West 1966, p. 207 on line 139, who, after mentioning that "for Hesiod [the Cyclopes] are simply one-eyed craftsmen who made Zeus' thunder", notes parenthetically by way of explanation, "Hephaestus had not yet been born".
- Hard, p. 69; Apollodorus, 1.2.1. The hat given to Hades in Apollodorus is presumably the same "cap of Hades" mentioned in the Iliad 5.844–845, that Athena wore so that "mighty Ares should not see her", see Gantz, p. 71.
- Hard, pp. 66, 151 Gantz, pp. 13, 92; Hesiod fr. 57 Most [= fr. 52 MW], fr. 58 Most [= frr. 54a + 57 MW], fr. 59 Most [= frr. 54c, b MW]. For further discussion of the story around Apollo's killing the Cyclopes, see Fowler 2013, pp. 74–79; Hard, pp. 151–152.
- Euripides, Alcestis 5–7; Apollodorus, 3.10.4; Diodorus Siculus, 4.71.3; Hyginus, Fabulae 49, which adds that Apollo, because he could not attack his father directly, chose to exact his revenge on the Cyclopes "instead".
- Fowler 2013, p. 54; Hard, p. 151; Bremmer, p. 139; Gantz, p. 13; Pherecydes fr. 35 Fowler [= FGrHist 3 fr. 35]; Frazer's note 2 to Apollodorus 3.10.4. Fowler, notes that Pherecydes having Apollo kill—not the Cyclopes themselves—but their mortal offspring, solves the "difficulty" in killing the immortal Cyclopes of the Theogony, as well as ensuring the continued supply of Zeus' thunderbolts.
- Gantz, p. 13.
- Fowler 2013, p. 54; Hard, p. 66; Gantz, p. 13.
- Hesiod, Theogony 146.
- Hard, pp. 66, p. 166; Fowler 2013, p. 54; Bremmer, p. 139; Grimal, p. 119 s.v. Cyclopes.
- Callimachus, Hymn III to Artemis 8-10.
- Virgil, Aeneid 8.425.
- Virgil, Aeneid 8.416–422.
- Virgil, Aeneid 8.424–443.
- Ovid, Fasti 4.287–288, 4.473.
- Hard, p. 66; Bremmer, p. 140; Eratosthenes, 39; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.39.
- Pausanias, 2.2.1.
- Hard, p. 66; West 1966, p. 207 on line 139.
- Gantz, p. 51; Yasumura, p. 89; scholia bT to Iliad 8.39.
- Hesiod, Theogony 139.
- Fowler 2103, p. 54.
- Burkert 1991, p. 173.
- Homer, Odyssey 9.82–566.
- Fowler 2013, p. 55: "It has long been a puzzle what Polyphemus and his fellow Kyklopes have to do with the smiths of the Titanomachy"; Heubeck and Hoekstra, p. 20 on lines 106-15: "The exact relationship between these Hesiodic and the Homeric Cyclopes has not yet been established, despite many attempts"; Tripp, s.v. Cyclopes, p. 181: "The relationship between these semidivine figures and the uncivilized shepherds encountered by Odysseus is not clear."
- According to Gantz, p. 12, "the Kyclopes [of Hesiod] could scarcely be more different from those encountered by Odysseus in Book 9 of the Odyssey". Gantz, p. 13, further points out that even the feature of a single eye is only explicitly attributed by Homer to Polyphemus. According to Mondi, pp. 17–18: "Why is there such a discrepancy between the nature of the Homeric Cyclopes and the nature of those found in Hesiod's Theogony? Ancient commentators were so exercised by this problem that they supposed there to be more than one type of Cyclops, and we must agree that, on the surface at least, these two groups could hardly have less in common." Fowler 2013, p. 55, regarding the "puzzle" of the dissimilarity of Homer's Cyclopes to other Cyclopes says: "We should probably recognize the free invention of an epic poet."
- West 1966, p. 207 on line 139.
- Gantz, pp. 12–13, 703; Hard, p. 66.
- Euripides, Cyclops 114–128.
- Euripides, Cyclops 20–22.
- Euripides, Cyclops 114.
- Tripp, s.v. Cyclopes, p. 181.
- Fowler 2013, p. 53; p. 66; Bremmer, p. 140; Mondi, p. 18; for Mycenae, see Pherecydes fr. 12 Fowler [= FGrHist 3 fr. 12]; Euripides, Electra 1159, Heracles 943–946, Iphigenia in Aulis, 152, 1500–1501, Iphigenia in Tauris 845–846; Pausanias, 2.16.5, 7.25.5–6; for Tiryns, see Bacchylides, 11.77; Strabo, 8.6.11; Apollodorus 2.2.1; Pausanias, 2.16.5, 2.25.8, 7.25.5–6; for Argos, see Euripides, Heracles, 15, Trojan Women 1087–1088; for other ancient sources see Fowler 2013, p. 53 n. 206.
- Fowler 2013, p. 53.
- p. 66; Tripp, s.v. Cyclopes, p. 181; Grimal, s.v. Cyclopes p. 119.
- Bremmer, p. 140.
- Pindar, fr. 169a7; Fowler 2013, p. 53 n. 206; Bremmer, p. 140 n. 21. Apollodorus, 2.5.8 would seem to locate Eurystheus' "portal" in Mycenae, see Race, p. 403 n. 13. See also Strabo,8.6.2, which says that "Next after Nauplia one comes to the caverns and the labyrinths built in them, which are called Cyclopeian".
- Fowler 2013, p. 36; Gantz, p. 310; Hard, p. 243; Pherecydes fr. 12 Fowler [= FGrHist 3 fr. 12].
- Hard, p. 237; Strabo, 8.6.11. Compare with Apollodorus 2.2.1 which also connects these Cyclopes with Lycia, see Fowler 2013, p. 36 n. 121.
- Storey, pp. 397,401.
- Storey, p. 401; Scholia to Aelius Aristides 52.10 Dindorf p. 408.
- Strabo, 8.6.11; Roller, p. 472 note on Strabo 8.6.11. Tiryns. According to Bremmer, p. 140, "Cyclopes were disparagingly named 'Bellyhands,'" because "the Greek upper-classes looked down upon those who had to work for a living."
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.195.
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.198.
- Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.197.
- Pausanias, 2.20.7.
- Hard, pp. 65–66; Gantz, p. 10; Hesiod, Theogony 126–153. Compare with Apollodorus, 1.1.1–3
- According to west 1966 on line 142 φεοῖς ἐναλίγκιοι: "Hesiod does not mean that they are not themselves gods, only that in most respects their physique is like that of an ordinary god".
- Hesiod, Theogony 139–146.
- Hesiod, Theogony 154–155. Exactly which of these eighteen children Hesiod meant that Uranus hated is not entirely clear, all eighteen, or perhaps just the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers. Hard, p. 67, West 1988, p. 7, and Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160, make it all eighteen, while Gantz, p. 10, says "likely all eighteen", and Most 2018a, p. 15 n. 8, says "apparently only the ... Cyclopes and Hundred-Handers are meant" and not the twelve Titans. See also West 1966, p. 206 on lines 139–53, p. 213 line 154 γὰρ. Why Uranus hated his children is also not clear. Gantz, p. 10 says: "The reason for [Uranus'] hatred may be [his children's] horrible appearance, though Hesiod does not quite say this"; while Hard, p. 67 says: "Although Hesiod is vague about the cause of his hatred, it would seem that he took a dislike to them because they were terrible to behold". However, West 1966, p. 213 on line 155, says that Uranus hated his children because of their "fearsome nature".
- Hesiod, Theogony 156–158. Aside from their being hated by Uranus, Hesiod does not say why the Cyclopes were imprisoned by Uranus, but the reason may have been the same as the reason Hesiod gives for the Hundred-Handers' imprisonment, Uranus being afraid of their power, see Fowler 2013, p. 53. The hiding place inside Gaia is presumably her womb, see West 1966, p. 214 on line 158; Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160; Gantz, p. 10. This place seems also to be the same place as Tartarus, see West 1966, p. 338 on line 618, and Caldwell, p. 37 on lines 154–160.
- Hesiod, Theogony 173–182. Although the castration of Uranus results in the release of the Titans, it did not, apparently, also result in the release of the Cyclopes or the Hundred-Handers, see Fowler 2013, p. 26; Hard, pp. 67, 68; West 1966, p. 206 on lines on lines 139–53.
- Gantz, p. 44; Hesiod, Theogony 501–506.
- According to Mondi, p. 17, it is the general consensus that Homer's Polyphemus story is drawn from an older folk tradition "attested throughout Europe as well as parts of northern Africa and the Near East" of "the escape from a blinded ogre".
- Homer, Odyssey 9.105–106. Heubeck and Hoekstra, p. 19 on lines 105–566; "After the Lotus-eaters Odysseus comes to the Cyclopes presumably on the same day." As Fowler 2013, p. 53 describes it, the Homeric Cyclopes "inhabit a world outside space and time; the adventure comes in the geographically indeterminate part of the poem, and its inhabitants have been on their island presumably for ever."
- Homer, Odyssey 6.4–8.
- Homer, Odyssey 9.105–115.
- Homer, Odyssey 9.125–135.
- Homer, Odyssey 9.275–278.
- Homer, Odyssey, 1.68–73. Heubeck, Hainsworth and West, p. 69 on line 71-3, notes that "Thoosa seems to be an ad hoc invention".
- Homer Odyssey 9.187–192.
- Homer, Odyssey 9.215.
- West 1966 on line 139, "the story of [Polyphemus'] blinding presupposes that he is one-eyed like Hesiod's Cyclopes, though this is not explicitly stated"; Heubeck and Hoekstra, p. 20 on lines 106-15: "the account of the blinding presupposes a one-eyed Cyclopes, even though the poet, surely intentionally ... omits any direct reference to this detail."
- Gantz, pp. 12–13 says that the Homeric Cyclopes are: "sons of Poseidon (actually Homer says only that Polyphemos is a son of Poseidon), who ... share with their Hesiodic namesakes just the feature of the single eye (if in fact they are so equipped and not just Polyphemos: the general description at Od 9.106-15 says nothing on the subject)." See also Hard, p. 66, p. 611 n. 10; Heubeck, Hainsworth, and West, p. 84 on line 69. However for example, Hansen, p. 144; Grimal, p. 119; Tripp, p. 181; and Rose, p. 304; all simply describe the Homeric Cyclopes as one-eyed, without further qualification.
- Euripides, Alcestis 5–7. Compare with Apollodorus, 3.10.4, which says that Zeus killed Asclepius with his thunderbolt, and "Angry on that account, Apollo slew the Cyclopes who had fashioned the thunderbolt for Zeus". See also Diodorus Siculus, 4.71.3; Hyginus, Fabulae 49.
- Euripides, Cyclops 20–22.
- Euripides, Cyclops 114–116.
- Euripides, Cyclops 119–120.
- Euripides, Cyclops 121–122.
- Euripides, Cyclops 123–124.
- Euripides, Cyclops 125–128.
- Euripides, Electra 1159, Trojan Women 1087–1088.
- Euripides, Heracles 943–946.
- Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris 845–846.
- Euripides, Heracles 15.
- Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 152.
- Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 1500–1501.
- Callimachus, Hymn III to Artemis 8-10; 80–83.
- Callimachus, Hymn III to Artemis 46–79.
- Callimachus, Hymn III to Artemis 81–85.
- Tripp, s.v. Cyclopes, p. 181.
- Virgil, Aeneid 3.554–571.
- Virgil, Aeneid 3.641–644.
- Virgil, Aeneid 3.672–681.
- Virgil, Aeneid 8.416–423.
- Virgil, Aeneid 8.424–438.
- Hard, pp. 68–69; Gantz, pp. 2, 45. As for Apollodorus' sources, Hard, p. 68, says that Apollodorus' version "perhaps derived from the lost Titanomachia or from the Orphic literature"; see also Gantz, p. 2; for a detailed discussion of Apollodorus' sources for his account of the early history of the gods, see West 1983, pp. 121–126.
- Apollodorus, 1.1.1–3.
- Hard, p. 68; Apollodorus, 1.1.2.
- Apollodorus, 1.1.4.
- Apollodorus, 1.1.5. The release and reimprisonment of the Hundred-Handers and Cyclopes, was perhaps a way to solve the problem in Hesiod's account of why the castration of Uranus, which released the Titans, did not also apparently release the six brothers, see Fowler 2013, p. 26; West 1966, p. 206 on lines on lines 139–53.
- Apollodorus, 1.1.5–1.2.1.
- Apollodorus, 1.2.1.
- Apollodorus, 3.15.8.
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- Fowler 2013, p. 53; Heubeck and Hoekstra, p. 19 on lines 105-556; Thucydides, 6.2.1.
- Thucydides, 3.88.
- Euripides, Cyclops 114.
- Euripides, Cyclops 599.
- Callimachus, Hymn III to Artemis 8-10. Compare with the third-century BC Sicilian poet Theocritus, 2.133–134, which locates Hephaestus' forge on Lipari, and 11.7–8, which calls the Cyclops Polyphemus his "countryman".
- Virgil, Aeneid 8.416–422. Compare with Ovid, Fasti 4.287–288, 4.473, which also has the Hesiodic thunderbolt makers work in Sicilian caves.
- Virgil, Aeneid 3.554–571.
- Thucydides, 3.88: "the people in those parts believe that Hephaestus has his forge, from the quantity of flame which they see it send out by night, and of smoke by day".
- Hard, p. 166.
- Hesiod, Theogony 144–145.
- Heubeck and Hoekstra, p. 20 "Hes Th 144-45 has surely given the correct explanation for the Cyclopes' name"; Hard, p. 66: "KYKLOPES (Round-eyes)"; West 1988, p. 64: "The name [Cyclopes] means Circle-eyes"; LSJ, s.v. Κύκλωψ: "Round-eyed".
- See Burkert 1982, p. 157 n. 30, which describing Hesiod's etymology as "not too attractive", gives other interpretations.
- Mayor, pp. 35–36.
- The smaller, actual eye-sockets are on the sides and, being very shallow, were hardly noticeable as such.
- Leroi, p. 67.
- Leroi, p. 68.
- Nelson, pp. 160–161.
- Leroi, pp. 68–69.
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