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Cyclopes

Cyclopes

In Greek mythology, the Cyclopes were a group of giants who possessed only one eye set in the middle of their forehead. They were said to be skilled workers, and the Greeks credited them with building the walls of several ancient cities. The Romans believed that the Cyclopes worked at Mount Etna with Vulcan, the god of fire and metalworking.

The Greek poet Hesiod wrote about three of the Cyclopes: Brontes (thunder), Steropes (lightning), and Arges (brightness). The sons of Uranus (sky) and Gaia (earth), these Cyclopes gave Zeus* the gifts of thunder and lightning with which he defeated the Titans* and became ruler of the universe. Later authors related that Zeus killed Apollo's* son Asclepius, causing Apollo to kill the Cyclopes in revenge.

In the Odyssey *, Homer* described how Odysseus* was captured by the cruel and barbaric Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon*. Polyphemus ate six of Odysseus's crew members. However, Odysseus and the rest of his crew managed to escape by blinding the single eye of Polyphemus.

See also Asclepius; Odysseus; Vulcan.

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Cyclopes

Cyclopes In Greek mythology, three demons, each having one eye in the centre of its forehead, who forged the thunderbolts of Zeus. They were depicted by Homer as giant herdsmen living on an island. Odysseus escaped from the cannabalistic Cyclops Polyphemus by blinding him.

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Cyclopes

Cyclopes

Nationality/Culture

Greek/Roman

Pronunciation

sigh-KLOH-peez

Alternate Names

Kyklopes

Appears In

Hesiod's Theogony, Homer's Odyssey

Lineage

Sons of Uranus and Gaia

Character Overview

In Greek mythology , the Cyclopes were a group of giants who possessed only one eye set in the middle of their forehead. They were said to be skilled workers, and the Greeks credited them with building the walls of several ancient cities. The Romans believed that the Cyclopes worked at Mount Etna with Hephaestus (pronounced hi-FES-tuhs), the god of fire and metalworking.

The Greek poet Hesiod wrote about three of the Cyclopes: Brontes (pronounced BRON-teez; thunder), Steropes (pronounced stuh-ROH-peez; lightning), and Arges (pronounced AR-jeez; brightness). The sons of Uranus (sky) and Gaia (earth), these Cyclopes were banished by their father to Tartarus after they were born. They eventually gave Zeus the gifts of thunder and lightning with which he defeated the Titans and became ruler of the universe. Later authors related that Zeus killed Apollo's son Asclepius, causing Apollo to kill the Cyclopes in revenge.

In the Odyssey , Homer described how Odysseus (pronounced oh-DIS-ee-uhs) was captured by the cruel and barbaric Cyclops named Polyphemus (pronounced pol-uh-FEE-muhs), the son of Poseidon . Polyphemus ate six of Odysseus's crew members. However, Odysseus and the rest of his crew managed to escape by blinding the single eye of Polyphemus with a long, sharpened pole.

Cyclopes in Context

The notion of Cyclopes may have originated from the practice of ancient metalworkers wearing an eye patch for protection from sparks while working. This explains the Cyclopes' close association with metalworking and the god Hephaestus.

Another theory, first suggested by paleontologist Othenio Abel in the early twentieth century, is that dwarf elephant skulls found in the region may have led to myths of Cyclopes. The skulls of these elephants—which lived in the area until about eight thousand years ago—feature a deep nasal cavity directly in the center of the skull. This cavity could easily have been mistaken for a giant eye socket, especially by people who had never seen living elephants.

Key Themes and Symbols

The Cyclopes are usually associated with fire and lightning. They are also associated with metalworking and are commonly thought to work alongside Hephaestus. Later Cyclopes such as Polyphemus, unlike the original Cyclopes, symbolized savagery and lawlessness.

The story of Odysseus and Polyphemus is usually used to highlight the craftiness of Odysseus, a quality the Greeks valued. Odysseus proves that cunning can be more valuable than physical force. The lesson was not lost on ancient Greek military commanders. When an overwhelming Persian invasion force threatened Greece, the Greek commander Themistocles (pronounced thuh-MISS-tuh-kleez) was able to decisively rout the Persian navy at the key battle of Salamis in 480 bce largely through sheer nerve and clever trickery. Odysseus would have been proud.

Cyclopes in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The Cyclops is an enduring image in art and literature. Cyclopes have appeared in films such as Krull (1983) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). On the animated television show Futurama, one of the main characters—Leela—has only one eye in the center of her head, though she is unrelated to the Cyclopes of Greek myth. Also unrelated to Greek myth is the Marvel superhero Cyclops, a member of the X-Men who can shoot powerful optic blasts from his shielded eyes. The character Polyphemus appears in Rick Riordan's novel Sea of Monsters (2006), in which he must once again tangle with a clever hero, this time the young demigod Percy Jackson.

The Cyclops has also lent its name to a genus of small freshwater crustaceans. Like their mythical namesakes, each of the crustaceans has a single large eye.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Many myths around the world feature monsters that are similar to humans, but possess a characteristic or deformity that separates them from normal people. In modern times, many medical disorders have been discovered that cause similar physical traits; for example, cyclopia is a rare condition that results in the eye sockets of an embryo failing to separate into two cavities.

Do you think rare medical conditions in ancient times could have been the source for some monster myths? Explain your reasoning.

SEE ALSO Hephaestus; Odysseus

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