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CyclopsIn Greek mythology a cyclops (pronounced /ˈsaɪklɒps/), or kyklops (Greek Κύκλωψ), is a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of its forehead. The plural is cyclopes (pronounced IPA: /saɪˈkloʊpiːz/) or kyklopes (Greek Κύκλωπες). In English, the plural cyclopses is also used. The name is widely thought to mean "round-" or "wheel-eyed".

Hesiod describes one group of cyclopes and Homer describes another. In Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus releases three Cyclopes, the sons of Uranus and Gaia, from the dark pit of Tartarus. They provide Zeus's thunderbolt, Hades' helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon's trident, and the gods use these weapons to defeat the Titans. In a famous episode of Homer's Odyssey, the hero Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and a nereid (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 Cyclops

In the Theogony, the Cyclopes – Arges, Brontes, and Steropes – were the primordial sons of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) and brothers of the Hecatonchires. 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 brute strength and power, and their name was invoked in connection with massive masonry. They were often pictured at their forge.
Uranus, fearing their strength, locked them in Tartarus. Cronus, another son of Uranus and Gaia, later freed thThe Cyclops, a 1914 painting by Odilon Redon.e Cyclopes, along with the Hecatonchires, after he had overthrown Uranus. Cronus then placed them back in Tartarus, where they remained, guarded by the female dragon 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' 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 the helmet of darkness that Hades gave to Perseus on his quest to kill Medusa. According to a hymn of Callimachus, they were Hephaestus' helpers at the forge. 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.

Apollo slew the Cyclopes in revenge when Zeus killed his son, Asclepius, with a Cyclopes-forged thunderbolt.

Homer's Cyclopes

The Cyclopes were 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 Book 9 of Homer's Odyssey, a scouting party led by Odysseus lands on the Island of the Cyclopes and discovers a large cave. They enter into the cave and feast on food they find there. This cave is the home of Polyphemus, who soon returns. Odysseus and his crew attempt to befriend him in the cave; but he traps them instead. He proceeds to eat several crew members, whereupon Odysseus devises a cunning plan for escape. To make Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gives him a skin of very strong, unwatered wine. When Polyphemus asks for Odysseus' name, he tells him that it is 'Outis', Greek for 'no man' or 'nobody'. Once the giant falls asleep as a result of being drunk, Odysseus and his men take the spit from the fire and drive it through Polyphemus' only eye. Polyphemus' cries of help are answered by the others of his race; however, they turn away from aiding him when they hear that "Nobody" is the cause of his woes.

Odysseus and his companions blind Polyphemus. Laconian black-figure cup, 565–560 BC.
In the morning, Odysseus ties his men and himself to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, the men are carried out. Since Polyphemus has been blinded, he cannot see the men, but feels the backs of his sheep to make himself sure that the men are not riding them. As he sails away, Odysseus shouts "Cyclops, when your father asks who took your eye, tell him that it was Odysseus, Sacker of Cities, Destroyer of Troy, son of Laertes, and King of Ithaca", which proves to be a catastrophic example of hubris. Knowing his attacker's name, Polyphemus asks his father Poseidon to prevent Odysseus from returning home to Ithaca, or to at least deprive him of his ship and crew.
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' desire for Galatea, a sea nymph. When Galatea instead married 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.


skull of a dwarf elephant displayed in the zoo of Munich, Germany.
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 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.

Another possible origin for the Cyclops legend, advanced by the paleontologist 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 Crete and Sicily. 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 described by Hippocrates before 400 BC, contains the alkaloids cyclopamine and jervine, which are teratogens capable of causing cyclopia (holoprosencephaly). Students of teratology have raised the possibility of a link between this developmental deformity and the myth sharing its name.

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