Animatronic cyclops incorporating dwarf elephant anatomy, in Yorkshire Museum & Gardens.
|Average height||230 cm (7½ feet)|
365 cm (12 feet)
762 cm (25 feet)
914 cm (30 feet)
|Average weight||136 kg (300 lbs)|
544 kg (1200 lbs)
|Behind the Scenes|
Cyclopes are a primordial race of one-eyed giants on Greek mythology, each with a single eye on the center of their foreheads.
The species' name is widely thought to mean "round-eyed" or "circle-eyed".
Giants with one central eye, the cyclopes were storm gods in early Greek mythology, in classical Greece, the "lesser cyclopes" were seen as the sons of Poseidon, bestial and violent, who were avoided and feared. There were also wise and powerful "elder cyclopes" that were the sons of Cronus.
Hesiod described three one-eyed cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes and Arges, sons of Uranus and Gaia, brothers of the titans, builders and craftsmen, while the epic poet Homer described another group of mortal herdsmen cyclopes. Homer does not tell if they are one-eyed, but this is assumed when Odysseus spins a beam in Polyphemus' eye. Other accounts were written by the playwright Euripides, poet Theocritus and Roman epic poet Virgil. In Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus releases three cyclopes from the dark pit of Tartarus. They provide Zeus' thunderbolt, Hades' helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon's trident, and the gods use these weapons to defeat the powerful titans. In a famous episode of Homer's Odyssey, the hero Odysseus encounters the cyclops Polyphemus, son of Poseidon and the nymph 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, and it is upon Homer's account that Euripides and Virgil based their accounts of the mythical creatures.
Among others, German scholar Walter Burkert 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 smithing, 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 entirely. The cyclopes seen in Homer's Odyssey are of a different type from those in the Theogony, and have no connection to smithing. It is possible that independent legends associated with Polyphemus did not make him a cyclops before the Odyssey; Polyphemus may have been some sort of local daemon or monster in original stories.
Another possible origin for the 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 Cyprus, Crete, Malta 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. White hellebore, a herbal medicine 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 deformity in 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. Using phylogenetics tools, Julien d'Huy has reconstructed the history of the versions of Polyphemus back to the Paleolithic.
The cyclops is generally described as a one-eyed monster possessing a huge body and, sometimes, fearsome tusks. Their skin is much tougher than a human's, and usually in human-like or brown/green/red/gray tone, and their hands and feet are usually drawn as having three to five digits, some depictions showing them with elephant-like feet. As the skin is usually shown to be tough enough to protect them from the ancient Greek bronze weapons and arrows, the eye is sometimes the only weak spot of a cyclops. Sharp claws, pointy ears, either fat or muscular bodies and one or more horns are not uncommon in modern sources, most likely to make them more monstrous than their mythological counterparts. The size of the adult cyclops can vary by source, but as primordial beings, they are usually depicted to be much larger than regular humans, mostly more than twice the size of the human average, and even larger than gigantes sometimes.
The tusk size, if such are present, is usually compared to the dwarf elephant's or, in modern fiction, to a sharper version of the African elephant's. The cyclops' weapon of choice seems to be the most common blunt ones, such as a large wooden club, giant ax, trees and even large rocks. Although the cyclopes are usually shown to have human-like faces, with humanoid noses, beard and hair, they are sometimes shown to have different features, such as having no hair of any kind and having snake-like snouts. As a result of their large size they are prone to sloth and apathy, most of the race being quite neutral.
However, they can be inspired to ferocious action when angered, and are even considered entirely evil by some sources. When cyclopes do attack, it is usually on a very unsophisticated, devastating way, using their brute force to smash and mutilate their enemies. Their intelligence varies by source and kind, but are mostly shown as semi-sapient creatures, being treated as animals and domesticated by more intelligent races, being used both as tools of work and weapons. Sometimes they are docile to those who feed them, although many are described to have a liking for the meat of sentient beings, mostly humans and satyrs.