Animatronic cyclops incorporating dwarf elephant anatomy, in Yorkshire Museum & Gardens.
|Binomen||Cyclops cyclops |
|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, is 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.
Mythology and literature
Various ancient Greek and Roman authors wrote about cyclopes. Hesiod described them as three brothers who were primordial giants. All the other sources of literature about the cyclopes describe the cyclops Polyphemus, who lived upon an island (often identified by ancient authors with Sicily) populated by the creatures.
In the Theogony by Hesiod, the cyclopes Brontes (Βρόντης, "thunderer"), Steropes (Στερόπης, "lightning") and the Arges (Ἄργης, "bright") – were the primordial sons of Uranus and Gaia and brothers of the hecatonchires. As such, they were blood-related to the titans and Olympian deities. They were giants with a single eye in the middle of their forehead and a foul disposition, strong and stubborn. 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 both the cyclopes and hecatonchires, after the overthrowing of his father. Cronus then placed them back in Tartarus, where they remained, guarded by the female dragon Campe, until they were once again freed by Zeus. They fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus to use as weapons, and helped him overthrow the other titans. The lightning bolts, which became Zeus' main weapons, were forged by all three cyclopes, in which 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 ray, and Hades' helmet of darkness that was given 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, and the noises proceeding from the heart of volcanoes were attributed to their operations.
According to Euripides' play Alcestis, Apollo killed the cyclopes, in retaliation for Asclepius' murder at the hands of Zeus. For this crime, Apollo was then forced into the servitude of Admetus for one year. Other stories after Euripides tell that Zeus later returned Asclepius and the cyclopes from Hades. This was after the year of Apollo's servitude had passed. Zeus pardoned the cyclopes and Asclepius from the underworld, despite them being dead, even though Hades is lord of the dead and they are his prisoners. Hades as well does not ever allow any of his souls to leave the underworld but Zeus could not bear the loss of the cyclopes, for they were the biggest reason the Olympians assumed power. Also Zeus resurrected Asclepius at the request of Apollo, so that their feud would end. Some versions of this myth have it that after Apollo killed the cyclopes, their ghosts dwelt in the caverns of the volcano of Mt. Aetna.
The Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus wrote two poems c. 275 BC concerning Polyphemus' desire for Galatea, a sea nymph and his strategy for winning her.
Virgil, the Roman epic poet, wrote, in book three of The Aeneid, of how Aeneas and his crew landed on the island of the cyclopes after escaping from Troy at the end of the Trojan War. Aeneas and his crew land on the island, when they are approached by a desperate Greek man from Ithaca, Achaemenides, who was stranded on the island a few years previously with Odysseus' expedition (as depicted in The Odyssey). Virgil's account acts as a sequel to Homer's, with the fate of Polyphemus as a blind cyclops after the escape of Odysseus and his crew.
In Nonnus Dionysiaca, the Indian war (in which the cyclopes played a big part) was told about when Rhea asked a large group of rustic gods and spirits to join Dionysus' army. King Deriades was the leader of the nation of India and the cyclopes were said to crush most of his troops. It is explained that the cyclopes killed many men in the war, which is also the only story that tells how they fight. They are the same as the giants who tried to overthrow Zeus.