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Polyphemus the Cyclops.

In Greek mythology a Cyclops, or Kyklops (Greek Κύκλωψ), is a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of his forehead. The plural is Cyclopes or Kyklopes (Greek]] Κύκλωπες).

There are two distinct groups of Cyclopes. In Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus releases the Cyclopes, the sons of Uranus and Gaia, from Tartarus, and receives his characteristic weapon, the thunderbolt, from them; in one of the most famous passages of Homer's Odyssey, the hero Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and 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.

Hesiod's Cyclopes

In the Theogony, the Cyclopes—Brontes (thunderer), Steropes (flasher) and Arges (brightener)—were the sons of Uranus ("Sky") and Gaia ("Earth"). Like their brothers, the Hecatonchires ("hundred-handers"), they were primordial sons of Sky and Earth. They were giants with a single eye in the middle of their forehead and a foul disposition. According to Hesiod, they were strong, stubborn, and "abrupt of emotion". Collectively they eventually became synonyms for strength and power, and were used to signify especially well-crafted weapons.

Uranus, fearing their strength, locked them in Tartarus. Cronus, another son of Uranus and Gaia, later freed the Cyclopes, along with the Hecatonchires, after Uranus was castrated and overthrown by Cronus. But Cronus then placed them back in Tartarus, where they remained, guarded by Campe, until freed by Zeus. They fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus to use as weapons, and helped him overthrow Cronus and the other Titans. The thunderbolts, which became Zeus' signature weapons, were forged by all three Cyclopes: Arges added brightness, Brontes added thunder, and Steropes added lightning.

These Cyclopes also created Poseidon's trident, Artemis' bow and arrow, and the helmet that Hades gave to Perseus on his quest to kill Medusa. According to a hymn of Callimachus they were Hephaestus' helpers. The Cyclopes were said to have built the "cyclopean" fortifications at Tiryns and Mycenae in the Peloponnese. The noises proceeding from the heart of volcanoes were attributed to their operations.

It is said that these Cyclopes were later killed by Apollo after Zeus killed his son, Asclepius, with a Cyclopes-forged thunderbolt.

Homer's Cyclopes

The Cyclopes were a race of huge one-eyed monsters that resided on an island with the same name. Commonly, the term "Cyclops" refers to a particular son of Poseidon and Thoosa named Polyphemus who was a Cyclops. Another member of this group of Cyclopes was Telemus, a seer.


In Homer's Odyssey (book ix), a scouting party led by the Trojan War hero Odysseus lands on the Island of the Cyclopes and ventures upon a large cave. They enter into the cave and proceed to feast on some food they find there. Unknown to them, this cave is the home of Polyphemus who soon comes upon the trespassers and traps them in his cave. He proceeds to eat several crew members, but Odysseus devised a cunning plan for escape.

To make Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gave him a barrel of very strong, unwatered wine. When Polyphemus asked for Odysseus' name, he told him that it was 'Outis', Greek for 'no man' or 'nobody'. Once the giant fell asleep drunk, Odysseus and his men took a spear and destroyed Polyphemus' only eye. Polyphemus' cries of help were ignored by fellow Cyclopes on the island, when they asked Polyphemus, who is troubling you? and Polyphemus answered, "Nobody!" In the morning, Odysseus tied his men and himself to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the Cyclops let the sheep out to graze, the men were carried out. Since Polyphemus was blinded, he didn't see the men, but felt the tops of his sheep to make sure the men weren't riding them. As he sailed away, Odysseus shouted his name and declared his own victory, incurring the wrath of Poseidon.

This tale from the Odyssey is more humorously told in the only surviving satyr play, entitled Cyclops by Euripides.

The Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus wrote two poems circa 275 BC concerning Polyphemus' love for Galatea, a sea nymph. When Galatea instead loved Acis, a Sicilian mortal, a jealous Polyphemus killed him with a boulder. Galatea turned Acis' blood into a river of the same name in Sicily.


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 Kabeiroi, 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 the Theogony; they were most likely much later additions to the pantheon and have no connection to blacksmithing. It is possible that legends associated with Polyphemus did not make him a Cyclops before Homer's Odyssey; Polyphemus may have been some sort of local daemon or monster originally. The Triamantes in Cretan legend have been suggested - they were a rural race of man-eating ogres who had a third eye on the back of their head. Other than the detail of the eyes, they sound very similar to the Cyclopes of Homer.

Another possible origin for the Cyclops legend is that prehistoric dwarf elephant skulls - about twice the size of a human skull were found by the Greeks on Crete. Due to the large central nasal cavity (for the trunk) in the skull, it might have been believed that this was a large, single, eye-socket. The smaller, actual, eye-sockets are on the sides and, being very shallow, hardly noticeable as such. Given the paucity of experience that the locals likely had with living elephants, they were unlikely to recognize the skull for what it actually was.

"Cyclopean" walls

After the "Dark Age" Hellenes looked with awe at the vast dressed blocks, known as Cyclopean structures that had been used in Mycenaean masonry, at sites like Mycenae and Tiryns or on Cyprus, he then concluded that only the Cyclopes had the combination of skill and strength to build in such a monumental fashion.

In popular culture

In the television series Futurama, one of the main characters, Leela, has a single eye, and is therefore called a cyclops (although she embodies no other traits of a cyclops - notably, she is the same size as a human). However in the episode Leela's Homeworld, it is revealed that Leela is a mutated human.

"Cyclops" is one of The Infershia Pantheon in "Mahou Sentai Magiranger" as well as his Power Rangers: Mystic Force counterpart, Oculous.

In the 1958 Ray Harryhausen film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, two giant cyclopses appear in the film. The first cyclops appears at the beginning of the film, and attacks Sinbad and his crewmembers, while the second appears in the film's climax, where it fights a losing battle with another mythological beast, a Dragon.

There's a female cyclops by the name of Turpsik in Back to the Divide, by Elizabeth Kay. She writes extremely depressing poetry, looks like a bag lady, and finds everyone else far less interesting than herself.

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