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The Cyclops were represented as strong, one-eyed giants in Greek mythology. Their name is also spelled Cyclopes, and, as usual with Greek words, the letter K may be used in place of the C.
- Pronunciation: /saɪ.klaps/
- Also Known As: one-eyed giants
- Alternate Spellings: singular: kyklops, kuklops. plural: cyclopes, kyklopes, kuklopes.
- Common Misspellings: syclops
- Examples: When the volcano at Mt. Aetna smokes, it is, mythologically speaking, the result of the cyclops working at their forge.
Who Were the Cyclops?
According to the Greek epic poet Hesiod, the Cyclops were the sons of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia/Ge (Earth). Hesiod names the Cyclops Argos, Steropes, and Brontes. The Titans and Hecatonchires (or Hundred-handers), both known for their size, may have been other offspring of Uranus and Gaia. Even though Uranus was their father, he lacked paternal instincts. Instead, he had the nasty habit of keeping all his children imprisoned -- inside their mother, Gaia, who wasn't very happy about it.
When the Titan Cronus decided to help his mother by overthrowing his father, Uranus, the Cyclops helped. But they were no better off with Cronus than Uranus. Instead of rewarding them for their assistance, Cronus imprisoned them in Tartarus, the Greek Underworld.
Zeus who, in turn, overthrew his own father (Cronus), set the Cyclops free. Since they were metal workers and blacksmiths, they repaid Zeus with a thank you gift of thunder and lightning. The Cyclops also gifted the gods Poseidon with a trident and Hades with the Helmet of Darkness.
Their time in fortune's favor was limited, though.
Apollo slew the Cyclops after they struck his son or were blamed for striking his son Asclepius with lightning.
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 15:
"Eratoshtenes says about the constellation Arrow, that with this Apollo killed the Cyclopes who forged the thunderbolt by which Aesculapius died. Apollo had buried this arrow in the Hyperborean mountain, but when Jupiter Zeus pardoned his son, it was borne by the wind and brought to Apollo along with the grain which at that time was growing. Many point out that for this reason it is among the constellations."
Ut Eratosthenes autem de Sagitta demonstrat, hac Apollo Cyclopas interfecit, qui fulmen Iovi fecerunt, quo Aesculapium interfectum complures dixerunt. Hanc autem sagittam in Hyperboreo monte Apollinem defodisse. Cum autem Iuppiter ignoverit filio, ipsam sagittam vento ad Apollinem perlatam cum frugibus, quae eo tempore nascebantur. Hanc igitur ob causam inter sidera demonstrant.
Cyclops as Described by Homer
Besides Hesiod, the other major Greek epic poet and transmitter of Greek mythology was the storyteller we call Homer. Homer's Cyclops are different from Hesiod's, starting with their origin since they are the sons of Poseidon; however, they share with Hesiod's Cyclops immensity, strength, and the single eye. The giant Polyphemus, whom Odysseus encounters in his ten-year return sea voyage from Troy, is a cyclops.
Here are some passages from Theoi with less well-known information about the various Cyclops:
Tiryns' Walls, by the Cyclops
Strabo, Geography 8. 6. 11 :
"Now it seems that Tiryns in the Argolis was used as a base of operations by Proitos, and was walled by him through the aid of the Kyklopes, who were seven in number, and were called Gasterokheirai (Bellyhands) because they got their food from their handicraft, and they came by invitation from Lykia. And perhaps the caverns near Nauplia in Argolis and the works therein are named after them."
Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7. 195 (trans. Rackham) :
"On inventions : Towers were invented by the Cyclopes according to Aristotle."
In Dionysus' War Against India
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 52 ff (trans. Rouse) :
"Rhea summoned the rustic gods and spirits to join the army of Dionysos for his campaign against the Indian nation : Battalions of Kyklopes came like a flood. In battle, these with weaponless hands cast hills for their stony spears, and their shields were cliffs; a peak from some mountain-ravine was their crested helmet, Sikeloi (Sicilian) sparks were their fiery arrows i.e. sparks from Mount Etna. They went into battle holding burning brands and blazing with light form the forge they knew so well--Brontes and Steropes, Euryalos and Elatreus, Arges and Trakhios and proud Halimedes."