Cyclopes were giants of the Greek Mythology with only one eye in their forehead, children of the earth, Gaea. They ate humans, were huge and strong and had given Zeus the thunder and lightning as a sign of gratitude when he released them from the underworld. They worked as Hephaestus helpers under the volcano Etna making Zeus’s lightning’s, but were killed by Apollo as a revenge for Zeus’s killing his son Aclepius.
The most famous Cyclops was Polyphemus who Odysseus blinded after making him drunk.
In general, Homer described the Cyclopes as wild savages who did not use agriculture or laws other than each man to himself. This can be seen as an allegory of the barbarians, the non-Greeks. Other named Cyclopes were Brontes, Steropes and Arges.
After an exciting and agitating tragedy, it was the Greek custom to calm and sooth the audience with a cheerful and ironical piece, designated satyric drama of which Homer’s story of the Cyclopes is a sample.
The Homeric story of Odysseus and the Cyclops was of course as familiar as it was popular. Polyphemus enters, made up as a giant, with one enormous eye, and a “stentorian” voice, whilst his man Silenus and his companions were probably caricatures of Socrates and other philosophers.
The Cyclops has been hunting on Mount Etna and calls lustily for his dinner. Discovering that something unusual has happened in his absence, he threatens to beat Silenus, until he rains tears, unless he promptly explains. Then his eye lights on the strangers, and he observes bruises and stripes on his servant, who declares he has been beaten in defence of his master’s goods. On hearing this Polyphemus declares he will eat the rascals.
In vain Ulysses assures him he has not touched Silenus, but that he purchased some lambs for wine, as the lying fellow’s nose will vouch, and as the Chorus, who intervene, assert to be the truth. You lie, exclaims the giant, I believe this old fellow’s story. For a while, however, he forgets his hunger and insists upon. Odysseus giving him a full account of himself. He conceals his name, but tells his adventures and attempts to appease his host by professing that he and his companions are all worshippers of Neptune and have built the god many temples in Greece. A fig for your temples and gods, replies the monster, the wise worship nothing except wealth, I have a weather-proof cave for my flocks, and care as little as they do for Jupiter, in short, I will not cheat my soul of its delight, or hesitate in dining upon you.
Odysseus begins to feel that this is the worst dilemma he was ever in, and recounts some of his previous escapes. Then the Chorus sing how the giant demolishes his human prey.
Odysseus returns and relates that he has seen Polyphemus in his kitchen, piling three wagon loads of Oak on the hearth, filling an enormous bowl with the milk of his cows, setting a huge pot on the fire, and heating several spits after he seized two of the Ithacans, whilst he, Ulysses, was compelled to minister to the monster. He left him talking of sharing his wine with some brother giants and he now comes in, shouting to the stranger to bring the cask. Silenus, however, persuades him to enjoy his drink alone, and he so far relents towards Ulysses as to ask his name, and to promise to eat him last. My name is “Nobody” Odysseus tells him, and plies him so well with wine that he is soon sound asleep, when the travellers, seizing the pointed trunk of an olive tree heated in the fire, thrust it into the eye of the insensible barbarian, whilst the Chorus sing an appropriate and encouraging accompaniment to the operation. Rousing up in pain and fury, the giant strives to bar the way and catch them as they make their escape, but he only strikes his head against the rocky walls, or is misguided by the Chorus, who taunt him that ‘Nobody’ has blinded him, and therefore no one is to blame.
Odysseus now tells his real name to the baffled monster, who confesses that an ancient oracle foretold that he would lose his sight by the hero’s hand, but adds that it predicted also that he should pay the penalty by a long wandering over the homeless sea.
Of the other plays of Euripides, several contain some beautiful poetry, and some effective scenes ; but they were either written for special occasions, or relate entirely to the politics of the day and, consequently, none of them are sufficiently national in plot or allusions to be interesting to a modern general reader.