Cyclops (play)

Cyclops (Ancient Greek: Κύκλωψ, Kyklōps) is an ancient Greek satyr play by Euripides. This satyr play would be the fourth part of a tetralogy by Euripides, performed for the dramatic festival of 5th Century BC Athens. A satyr play was a story usually taken from epic poetry or mythology, and then adorned with a chorus of satyrs.[1]

Written byEuripides
The Cyclops
MuteCompanions of Odysseus
Place premieredAthens
Original languageAncient Greek
GenreSatyr play

The satyrs are weak and useless when it comes to confronting the Cyclops; the satyrs are indeed willing to let other more heroic characters rush into danger. However the satyrs seem to offer magical powers in their music: After they sing of a burning branch moving on its own and blinding the giant, the giant is immediately blinded by a burning branch, though it happens off-stage and seems to have been brought about by Odysseus.[2]

The Cyclops is considered cannibalistic in that he includes humans in his diet, but there is a distinction: He will not eat satyrs or his fellow Cyclops.[3]

This play offers an eccentric view of a mix of worlds: It is contemporary, Homeric, and fantastical. It joins the ribald aspects of a satyr play with a setting that is contemporary to its fifth-century audience. It mixes the myth of Dionysus's capture by satyrs with the well known episode of Polyphemus, the cannibal Cyclops found in the Odyssey.[4]

The island of Sicily is the setting and is mentioned often. At the time this play was performed, Sicily was considered home to a sophisticated Hellenistic culture, but it also was seen as a place that contained both Greeks and non-Greeks. In this play it is portrayed as a barbaric place that is hostile to both man's laws and religion.[5]

Cyclops is a comical burlesque-like play on a story that occurs in book nine of Homer's Odyssey.[6] In several elements it is faithful to Homer's tale: The shipwreck, the goatskin of Maron's wine, the blinding of the monocular giant, and the pun on the word "Nobody" all occur in Euripides' play as well as in Homer's Odyssey.[7]

Cyclops is the only complete satyr play that has survived, due to continuous copying through the ages. Sizable fragments of other satyr plays have been discovered, such as Sophocles' Trackers and Aeschylus' Net-fishers.[8] Cyclops is found in two extant manuscripts. The first is the Codex Laurentianus, or Florentinus, xxxii. 2. It appears to have been written in the fourteenth century in a number of different handwriting styles. It is kept in the Laurentian Library at Florence, Italy. The second manuscript is the Codex Palantinus 287, thought to be from the fourteenth or fifteenth century. It is kept in the Vatican Library.[9]

The meter is principally iambic trimeter, which is common with both tragedy and comedy.[10] Regarding the date of composition, it is thought that this play was written earlier than Euripides' Alcestis, and after Aristophanes' play Acharnians, which parodies the Cyclops.[11]


The play is set in Sicily at Mount Aetna. It begins with an opening monologue by Silenus, who tells the tale of how he and the satyrs, who are his off-spring and followers, have been victimized by the giant Cyclops (named by him as Polyphemus). The satyrs are now enslaved to work for the Cyclops and shepherd his flock. [Lines 1-85] Then Odysseus, who has lost his way on the voyage home from the Trojan War, arrives with his hungry sailors. They meet Silenus and offer to trade wine for food. Being a servant of Dionysus, Silenus cannot resist obtaining the wine despite the fact that the food is not his to trade. But the Cyclops soon arrives and Silenus is quick to accuse Odysseus of stealing the food. [Lines 86-275]

Odysseus has a lively debate with the Cyclops, arguing against his brutality, and in favor of morality, laws, justice and hospitality, while the Cyclops argues in support of personal advantage and pleasure. The Cyclops considers the idea of social justice a fraud created by the weak as protection against the mighty; he is basically an atheist and claims that the only thing worthy of worship is wealth. After this debate, the Cyclops brings Odysseus and his crew inside his cave and eats two of them. Odysseus manages to steal out, stunned by what he has witnessed. In revenge, he hatches a scheme to get the Cyclops drunk and burn out his eye with a fiery stake after the giant has passed out from inebriation. [Lines 276-515]

The Cyclops and Silenus drink together, with Silenus attempting to hog the wineskin for himself. When the Cyclops is drunk, he says he is seeing gods and begins to call Silenus his Ganymede (the beautiful prince whom Zeus made his immortal cup bearer). The Cyclops then steals Silenus away into his cave, with the explanation that he prefers men to women. Odysseus now decides to execute the next phase of his plan. The satyrs initially agreed to help, but later offer a variety of absurd excuses when the time for action comes. The annoyed Odysseus gets his crew to help instead and they blind the Cyclops. [Lines 516-660]

Odysseus had told the Cyclops earlier that his name was 'Noman' or 'Nobody' (Greek outis or mētis), so when the Cyclops names who was responsible for blinding him, it sounds like he is saying nothing is wrong ("Noman has blinded me") and the satyrs have some fun with him over this. Once Odysseus and his men have escaped from the cave, he reveals his true name and sets off, taking the willing satyrs with him. Meanwhile the Cyclops rushes to the mountain peak to try and sink the departing ship with a boulder. [Lines 661-707]



  1. Euripides. Slavitt, David R. Bovie, Palmer, editors. "Introduction". Euripides, 2: Hippolytus, Suppliant Women, Helen, Electra, Cyclops. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. ISBN 9780812216295. page 299 - 301.
  2. Griffith, Mark. Greek Satyr Play: Five Studies. California Classical Studies. (2015). ISBN 9781939926043. page 33
  3. Winklerpage, John J. Nothing to Do with Dionysos?: Athenian Drama in Its Social Context. Princeton University Press, 1992. ISBN 9780691015255. page 211
  4. Dougherty, Carol. "The Double Vision of Euripides' Cyclops: An Ethnographic Odyssey on the Satyr Stage". Comparative Drama. Vol. 33, No. 3 (Fall 1999), pp. 313-338
  5. O'Sullivan, Patrick. "Cyclops". McClure, Laura. A Companion to Euripides. John Wiley & Sons, 2017. ISBN 9781119257509. page 315.
  6. Homer, Odyssey 9.331-333.
  7. Dougherty, Carol. "The Double Vision of Euripides' Cyclops: An Ethnographic Odyssey on the Satyr Stage". Comparative Drama. Vol. 33, No. 3 (Fall 1999), pp. 313-338
  8. Euripides. McHugh, Heather, trans. Cyclops; Greek Tragedy in New Translations. Oxford Univ. Press (2001) ISBN 9780198032656
  9. Euripides. Patterson, John. Editor. The Cyclops of Euripides. The Macmillan Company (1900) page ix.
  10. Mastronarde, Donald J. The Art of Euripides: Dramatic Technique and Social Context. Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 9781139486880. page 55.
  11. Euripides. Patterson, John. Editor. The Cyclops of Euripides. The Macmillan Company (1900) page xxxv.
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