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The Cyclops

Updated on December 3, 2017

"Cyclops" is a term widely used to referred to any one-eyed being. The literal meaning of the word is something like "round eye" or "wheel eye".

In myth the "Cyclopes" were a race of one-eyed giants, the children of Uranus and Gaea . These cyclops were named Argos, Brontes and Steropes. Zeus released them from imprisonment in the earth and in return they gave him thunder and lightning. They then served as the helpers of Hephaistos who made weapons and armor for the Gods.

Cyclops also appear as a race of giant shepherds. For example Polyphemus who was outwitted by Odysseus (in The Odyssey).

Also known as:

  • Kyklops
  • Kuklops

 

Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus (~1645)
Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus (~1645)

Polyphemus

Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon and a nymph.

Polyphemus fell in love with the nymph Galataia. She rejected him in favor of an man called Acis whom Polyphemus killed by crushing him with a boulder.

In Homer's Odyssey, Polyphemus trapped the hero Odysseus in a cave and ate many of his men. He succumbed to drunkenness and Odysseus blinded him and escaped by hanging under the belly of one of his sheep. This story is probably a version or retelling of an even more ancient popular tale concerning the blinding of an ogre.

This scene from the Odyssey inspired a play, The Cyclops, by Euripides. This was a comic play characterised by drunkenness and a kind of burlesque, referred to as a "satyr play".

See also:

The Cyclops in Art

One of the most commonly depicted scenes is the blinding of the cyclops (Pholyphemos) by Odysseus and his men. This appears in artwork from throughout the ages including this 650BC amphora.

In ancient art the appearance of the cyclops sometimes showed marked variation, such as the example below shown with three eyes.

Around 1500 Annibale Carracci depicted the cyclops Polyphemus in a fresco showing the cyclops attacking Acis with a boulder.

More recently a whimsical cyclops appears in the painting shown to the right. The Cyclops (1914) was painted by Odilon Redon as a strangely benign looking creature.

In Movies

  • The Cyclops (1957) is a monster movie set in a remote area of Mexico. Radioactive material create the cyclops and various enormous animals that rampage though this low budget movie.
  • A stop-motion animated cyclops with goat legs appears in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958, shown right)
  • Cyclops (2008) is a truly low quality historical movie set in ancient Rome.
  • A cyclops also appears in Krull (1983), the mini series The Odyssey (1997) and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)


Namesakes

  • Cyclops (a.k.a. Scott Summers) is the leader of a team of super-heroes in Marvel's X-Men franchise (comics and movies). He is a mutant who projects destructive "optic blasts" from his eyes unless he wears a protective ruby quartz visor.
  • A wide range of products that give the general impression of a single eye are named after the cyclops, including a temperature measurement device and cellphone.
  • Cyclops is also the name of a genus of small aquatic crustaceans.
  • A type of portable forge.
  • Cyclops Press


Modern Cyclops Characters

  • Bob: Monsters vs. Aliens [animated movie]
  • Kang and Kodos: The Simpsons [animated television]
  • Mike: Monsters Inc [animated movie]
  • Plankton: SpongeBob Squarepants [animated television]
  • Turanga Leela: Futurama [animated television]--pictured
  • Zargon: Dungeons and Dragons [role playing game]

References:

  • Blodi, F.C. (1988). Blindness and the eye in mythology and religion as represented on postage stamps. Documenta Opthalmologica, 68, 401-421. [Full Text]

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