In Greek mythology, any of several one-eyed giants. In the Odyssey, the Cyclopes were cannibals who lived in a faraway land (traditionally Sicily). Odysseus was captured by the Cyclops Polyphemus, but he escaped being devoured by blinding the giant. According to Hesiod, there were three Cyclopes (Arges, Brontes, and Steropes) who forged thunderbolts for Zeus. In a later tradition, they were assistants to Hephaestus in this task. Apollo destroyed them after one of their thunderbolts killed Asclepius.
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In Greek mythology and later Roman mythology, a cyclops 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 ) or kyklopes (Greek Κύκλωπες). In English, the plural cyclopses is also used. The name is widely thought to mean "round-" or "wheel-eyed".
Hesiod described one group of cyclopes and the epic poet Homer described another, though other accounts have also been written by the playwrite Euripides, poet Theocritus and Roman epic poet Virgil. In Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus releases three Cyclopes, the sons of Uranus and Gaia, 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 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. It is upon Homer's account that Euripides and Virgil based their accounts of the mythical creatures.
In the Theogony by Hesiod, 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 the 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.
According to Alcestis, Apollo killed the Cyclopes, in retaliation for Asclepius' murder at the hands of Zeus. According to Euripides' play Alkestis, Apollo was then forced into the servitude of Admetus for one year. Zeus later returned Asclepius and the Cyclopes from Hades.
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.
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.
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..
After the "Dark Age", when Hellenes looked with awe at the vast dressed blocks, known as Cyclopean structures that had been used in Mycenaean masonry, at sites like Mycenae and Tiryns or on Cyprus, they concluded that only the Cyclopes had the combination of skill and strength to build in such a monumental manner.
Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft frequently used the adjective "cyclopean" to describe weird, massive architecture.