A CYCLOPS (/ˈsaɪklɒps/ SY-klops ;
Ancient Greek : Κύκλωψ,
Kyklōps; plural CYCLOPES /saɪˈkloʊpiːz/ sy-KLOH-peez ; Ancient
Greek : Κύκλωπες, Kyklōpes), in
Greek mythology and later
Roman mythology , is a member of a primordial race of giants , each
with a single eye in the center of his forehead. The word "cyclops"
literally means "round-eyed" or "circle-eyed".
Hesiod described three one-eyed cyclopes who served as builders ,
blacksmiths , and craftsmen : Brontes, Steropes and Arges , the sons
of Uranus and Gaia , brothers of the Titans .
Homer described another
group of mortal herdsmen or shepherd cyclopes, the sons of
Other accounts were written by the playwright
Euripides , poet
Theocritus and Roman epic poet
Virgil . In
Theogony , Zeus
releases three cyclopes from the dark pit of
Tartarus . They provide
Hades ' helmet of invisibility , and
trident , and the gods use these weapons to defeat the Titans .
In an episode of
Odyssey , the hero
Odysseus encounters the
Polyphemus , the son of
Thoosa , who lives with
his fellow cyclopes in a distant country. The connection between the
two groups has been debated in antiquity and by modern scholars. It
is upon Homer's account that
Virgil based their accounts
of the mythical creatures.
Strabo describes another group of seven
Lycian cyclopes, also known as "Bellyhands" because they earned from
their handicraft. They had built the walls of
Tiryns and perhaps the
caverns and the labyrinths near
Nauplia , which are called cyclopean.
* 1 Ancient sources
* 1.7 Nonnus
* 2 Origins
* 3 Cyclopean walls
* 4 Legends of the
* 5 See also
* 6 Notes
* 7 References
* 8 External links
The Cyclops, gouache and oil by
Odilon Redon , undated
Kröller-Müller Museum )
It is often assumed that
Polyphemus lives, along with the other
cyclopes, on an island; that is a possibility, but all that is known
Odyssey is that
Polyphemus resided in a “land”
somewhere farther on from the Lotus-Eaters, in a place that is not
close or distant from an uninhabited, wooded and unexploited island,
Odysseus arrives. The map location that can be drawn from this
episode and the surrounding episodes in the
Odyssey is variously
described and discussed divergently by scholars.
Euripides in his satyr-drama, Cyclops, appears at times to follow
closely the story found in Homer, and at other times contributes
Euripides play there is no mention of the unexploited
Euripides keeps the action of the play in one location —
the place where the cyclopes live, and where Odysseus’ ship landed.
Euripides also makes a significant variation from
Homer to the
setting: he imagines the location to be
Mount Etna “where the
one-eyed sons of the sea god, the man-slaying Cyclopes, live in their
Another source for the story of
Polyphemus is Idyll XI. The Cyclops
Theocritus (circa 270 BC), in which the cyclopes’ home is,
following Euripides, near
Mount Etna in Sicily. Since
Theocritus the Sicilian location has become attached to the cyclops
It is estimated that Homer’s
Odyssey was composed sometime in the
50-year period from 725 to 675 BC., and that it shows the influence of
earlier oral poetic traditions of different peoples. In the Odyssey
the episodes that are placed on the
Black Sea , which would include
the cyclops story, appear to incorporate parts of the Gilgamesh
tradition, as well as the Caucasian myths of a one-eyed monster. There
are striking parallels between Homer's story and the Caucasian stories
of Urzmaeg, where the hero outwits a one-eyed giant, and blinds him
with a torch. It is thought that the Caucasian myths probably came to
the Greeks through the epic Anatolian song tradition. Odysseus
and his crew are blinding
Polyphemus . Detail of a Proto-Attic amphora
, circa 650 BC.
Eleusis , Archaeological Museum, Inv. 2630.
Homer does not specifically state that the cyclops,
Polyphemus , has
only one eye; some scholars suggest this is implied in the passage
Odysseus asking his men to cast lots to select a group
that will join with him “to lift the stake and grind it into his eye
when sweet sleep should come upon him.”
However others suggest that Homer’s
Polyphemus may have had two
eyes. It is pointed out that in the
Odyssey when the actual blinding
occurs there is a reference to plural brows and lids. Also Homer
describes in some detail the entire race of cyclopes, critiquing their
agricultural techniques, in what may be literature’s first
anthropological study, and never mentions their monocularity. It is
also noted that the first artistic or graphic depiction of the
blinding episode appears on an amphora that was created by the
Polyphemos Painter c. 680-650 B.C., and the artist shows the blinding
stake has two prongs, as though two eyes are being targeted.
Hesiod , the cyclopes – Brontes ("thunderer"),
Steropes ("lightning") and the "bright" Arges (Greek: Βρόντης,
Στερόπης and Ἄργης) – were the primordial sons of
Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) and brothers of the
the Titans . As such, they were blood-related to the Titan and
Olympian gods and goddesses. They were giants with a single eye in
the middle of their forehead and a foul disposition. According to
Hesiod , they were strong and stubborn. Collectively they eventually
became synonyms for brute strength and power, and their name was
invoked in connection with massive masonry or blacksmithery . They
were often pictured at their forge .
Uranus, fearing their strength, locked them in
another son of Uranus and Gaia, later freed the cyclopes, along with
Hecatoncheires , after he had overthrown Uranus.
placed them back in Tartarus, where they remained, guarded by the
Campe , until freed by Zeus. They fashioned
Zeus to use as weapons, and helped him overthrow
Cronus and the other Titans . The lightning bolts, which became Zeus'
main weapons, were forged by all three cyclopes, in that Arges added
brightness, Brontes added thunder , and Steropes added lightning .
These cyclopes also created
Poseidon 's trident ,
Artemis ' bow and
arrows of moonlight ,
Apollo 's bow and arrows of sun rays , and Hades
' helmet of darkness that was given to
Perseus on his quest to kill
Statue of a
Cyclops at the Natural History Museum in London
According to a hymn of
Callimachus , they were
Hephaestus ' helpers
at the forge. The cyclopes were said to have built the "cyclopean"
Mycenae in the
Peloponnese . The noises
proceeding from the heart of volcanoes were attributed to their
Euripides' only extant comedy is his play
Cyclops , which takes place
on the island of
Sicily near the volcano
Mount Etna . Written in 408
B.C., it is the only complete satyr play that has survived. It is
based on a story that occurs in book nine of
Odyssey . The
cyclops is portrayed on stage as a cave-dwelling , violent,
cannibalistic , oafish character; similar to Homer’s cyclops, though
it differs from the cyclops of Hesiod. Euripides’ version may also
be influenced by the comic handling of the cyclops found in Cratinus
’s play Odysseuses, which is one of many plays of ancient Greece
that are known to have lampooned Homer’s cyclops story.
According to Euripides' play Alcestis ,
Apollo killed the cyclopes,
in retaliation for
Asclepius ' murder at the hands of Zeus. For this
Apollo was then forced into the servitude of
Admetus for one
year. Other stories after
Euripides tell that
Zeus later revived
Asclepius and the cyclopes. This was after the year of Apollo's
servitude had passed.
Zeus pardoned the cyclopes and
the underworld , despite them being dead, even though
Hades is lord of
the dead and they are his prisoners.
Hades as well does not ever allow
any of his souls to leave the Underworld.
Zeus could not bear the loss
of the cyclopes, for they were the biggest reason the Olympians
assumed power. Also,
Asclepius at the request of
Apollo so that their feud would end.
Some versions of this myth have it that after
Apollo killed the
cyclopes, their ghosts dwelt in the caverns of the volcano Aetna.
The Sicilian Greek poet
Theocritus wrote two poems c. 275 BC
concerning Polyphemus' desire for Galatea , a sea nymph , and his
strategy for winning her.
Virgil , the Roman epic poet, wrote, in book three of
The Aeneid , of
Aeneas and his crew landed on the island of the cyclops after
Troy at the end of the
Trojan War .
Aeneas and his crew
land on the island, when they are approached by a desperate Greek man
Achaemenides , who was stranded on the island a few
years previously with Odysseus' expedition (as depicted in The
Virgil's account acts as a sequel to Homer's, with the fate of
Polyphemus as a blind cyclops after the escape of
Odysseus and his
crew where some cases have
Polyphemus regaining his eyesight.
The Indian war of
Dionysus was told about when Rhea , the mother of
Zeus, asked a large group of rustic gods and spirits to join Dionysus
' army. The cyclopes played a big part. King Deriades was the leader
of the nation of
India and the cyclopes were said to crush most of his
troops. It is explained in Nonnus
Dionysiaca that the cyclopes killed
many men in the war, which is also the only story that tells how they
Museo archeologico regionale Paolo Orsi –
Walter Burkert among others suggests that the archaic groups or
societies of lesser gods mirror real cult associations: "It may be
surmised that smith guilds lie behind
Cabeiri , Idaian Dactyloi ,
Telchines , and Cyclopes." Given their penchant for blacksmithing ,
many scholars believe the legend of the cyclopes' single eye arose
from an actual practice of blacksmiths wearing an eyepatch over one
eye to prevent flying sparks from blinding them in both eyes. The
cyclopes seen in Homer's
Odyssey are of a different type from those in
Theogony and they have no connection to blacksmithing. It is
possible that independent legends associated with
Polyphemus did not
make him a cyclops before
Polyphemus may have been
some sort of local daemon or monster in original stories.
Another possible origin for the cyclops legend, advanced by the
Othenio Abel in 1914, is the prehistoric dwarf
elephant skulls – about twice the size of a human skull – that may
have been found by the Greeks on
Abel suggested that the large, central nasal cavity (for the trunk) in
the skull might have been interpreted as a large single eye-socket.
Given the inexperience of the locals with living elephants , they were
unlikely to recognize the skull for what it actually was.
Veratrum album , or white hellebore , an herbal medicine used by
Ancient Greeks and described by
Hippocrates before 400 BC, contains
the alkaloids cyclopamine and jervine , which are teratogens capable
of causing cyclopia and holoprosencephaly , severe birth defects in
which a fetus can be born with a single eye. Students of teratology
have raised the possibility of a link between this developmental
Ancient Greek infants and the myth for which it was
named. Regardless of the connection between the herb and the birth
abnormalities, it is possible these rare birth defects may have
contributed to the myth. However, a study of deformed humans born with
a single eye all have a nose above the single eye, not below.
Using phylogenetics tools, Julien d'Huy has reconstructed the history
and prehistory of the versions of
Polyphemus back to the Paleolithic
Cyclopean walls at Mycenae. Main article:
After the "Dark Age", when Hellenes looked with awe at the vast
dressed blocks, known as
Cyclopean structures , which had been used in
Mycenaean masonry (at sites such as
Tiryns or on
they concluded that only the cyclopes had the combination of skill and
strength to build in such a monumental manner.
LEGENDS OF THE CAUCASUS
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 the
Cyclops stories. In
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
Nart saga and the Uryzmaeg stories.
In the cyclops stories of the Caucasus, the cyclops 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
motifs are also found in the cyclops stories of Homer, Euripides, and
One example in a story from Georgia , describes two brothers trapped
in the cave of "One-eye". They take the wooden spit from One-eye’s
fire, heat it up, stab it into his eye, and escape.
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.
Cyclops , one of the founding members of the
X-Men from Marvel
* ^ Female cyclopes do not occur in any classical sources.
* ^ Entry: Κύκλωψ at
* ^ As with many Greek mythic names, however, this might be a folk
etymology . Another proposal holds that the word is derived from PIE
pḱu-klōps "sheep thief". See: Paul Thieme, "Etymologische
Vexierbilder", Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 69
(1951): 177-78; Burkert (1982), p. 157; J.P.S. Beekes, Indo-European
Etymological Project, s.v. Cyclops. Note that this would mean that the
Cyclopes were regular giants, and the depictions with a singular eye,
secondarily motivated by the folk etymology.
Theogony , 139–146
* ^ 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."
Strabo , Geography, 373
* ^ 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) p. 30f; 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.
* ^ Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and
Artistic Sources. Johns Hopkins University Press (June 19, 1996) ISBN
* ^ Walbank, F.W. A Historical Commentary on Polybius, Vol III.
Oxford (1979). ISBN 978-0198140115 . page 577.
* ^ Hawes, Greta, editor. Myths on the Map: The Storied Landscapes
of Ancient Greece. Oxford University Press, 2017. ISBN 9780191062209 .
pages 56 - 61.
* ^ Theocritus. Emonds, John Maxwell, editor and translator. The
Greek Bucolic Poets, Volume 28 of Loeb classical library. Publisher W.
Heinemann, 1912. ASIN: B000J32Z2O
* ^ Homer. The Odyssey. "Introduction" and translation by Fagles,
Robert. Penguin, 1997. ISBN 9780140268867 . Page 3 - 32.
* ^ Bachvarova, Mary R. From Hittite to Homer: The Anatolian
Ancient Greek Epic. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
ISBN 9780521509794 . page 99 - 106, and 299
* ^ Bremmer, J. N.
Odysseus versus the Cyclops, in Myth and Symbol.
Ed. S. des Bouvrie. The Norwegian Institute. (1987) page 135–52.
Theogony , 139–146. Arges was elsewhere called
Ovid , Fasti iv. 288), or Pyraemon (
* ^ To Artemis, 46f. See also Virgil's Georgics 4.173 and Aeneid
* ^ Euripides. The Cyclops. Text online. Translated by E. P.
Coleridge. Digireads. (2012) ISBN 9781420904154
* ^ Euripides. Preface by Patterson, John Letcher. The
Euripides. Macmillan. (1900)
* ^ Graves, Robert (1960). The Greek Myths. London: Penguin Books.
p. 31. ISBN 9780140171990 .
* ^ Burkert (1991), p. 173.
* ^ Abel's surmise is noted by
Adrienne Mayor , The First Fossil
Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton University
Press) 2000 ISBN 1400838444 .
* ^ The smaller, actual eye-sockets are on the sides and, being
very shallow, were hardly noticeable as such
* ^ "Meet the original Cyclops". Retrieved 18 May 2007.
* ^ "1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, citing Codronchius (Comm.... de
elleb., 1610), Castellus (De helleb. epistola, 1622), Horace (Sat. ii.
3.80-83, Ep. ad Pis. 300).".
* ^ Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants; On the Form, Varieties and Errors
of the Human Body, 2005:68.
* ^ Nelson, Edward. 1958. The One-Eyed Ones. Journal of American
Folklore Vol. 71, No. 280: 159-161.
* ^ Julien d'Huy,
Polyphemus (Aa. Th. 1137) A phylogenetic
reconstruction of a prehistoric tale, New Comparative Mythology, 1,
* ^ Hunt, David. Legends of the Caucasus. London: Saqi Books.
(2012). ISBN 9780863568237 . p. 13
* ^ Ratcliffe, Jonathan. Arimaspians and Cyclopes: The Mythos of
the One-Eyed Man in Greek and Inner Asian Thought. Editor: Mair,
Victor. Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 249. University of Pennsylvania
* ^ Bachvarova, Mary R. From Hittite to Homer: The Anatolian
Ancient Greek Epic. Cambridge University Press (2016).
ISBN 9780521509794 . p. 106
* ^ Rashidvash, Vahid. “The Caucasus, Its Peoples, and Its
History”. International Research Journal of Interdisciplinary &
Multidisciplinary Studies (IRJIMS). Vol I, Is. IV, February 2015,
Scholar Publications. Page No. 30-36. SSN: 2394-7950
* ^ Colarusso, John. Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and
Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs. Princeton
University Press (2002) ISBN 9780691026473
* ^ Hunt, David. Legends of the Caucasus. London: Saqi Books.
(2012) p. 220
* Bachvarova, Mary (2016). From Hittite to Homer: The Anatolian
Ancient Greek Epic. Cambridge University Press. ISBN
* Bremmer, J.N. (1987).
Odysseus versus the Cyclops, in Myth and
Symbol. The Norwegian Institute.
* Burkert, Walter (1982). Structure and History in Greek Mythology
and Ritual. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-04770-9 .
* Burkert, Walter (1991). Greek Religion. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN
* Colarusso, John (2002). Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and
Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs. Princeton
University Press. ISBN 9780691026473 .
Euripides (1900). The Cyclops. Macmillan.
Euripides (2012). The Cyclops. Digireads. ISBN 9781420904154 .
Theogony , in The
Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an
English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA., Harvard
University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Online version
Perseus Digital Library.
Homer , The
Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray,
PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press;
London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919. Online version at the Perseus
* Homer. The Odyssey. Introduction and translation by Fagles,
Robert. Penguin, 1997. ISBN 9780140268867 .
* Hunt, David (2012). Legends of the Caucasus. Saqi Books. ISBN
* Mondi, Robert "The Homeric Cyclopes: Folktale, Tradition, and
Theme" Transactions of the American Philological Association 113 Vol.
113 (1983), pp. 17–38.
* Rashidvash, Vahid (2015). The Caucasus, Its Peoples, and Its
History. Scholar Publications.
* Ratcliffe, Jonathan (2014). Arimaspians and Cyclopes: The Mythos
of the One-Eyed Man in Greek and Inner Asian Thought. University of
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