In Cyclops, Euripides lampoons a famous and very grave scene from Homer. Explain what details of this scene remain the same in both Homer and Euripides, and what details have been added or changed. How does Euripides create humor with both sight gags and literary reference to the Odyssey?

Euripides creates humor with both sight gags and literary reference to the Odyssey in Cyclops by changing several aspects of the original plot of the Odyssey to make it humorous and by adding additional characters, such as the satyr Silenus and his children, who form a chorus. These elements change the plot just enough to make it familiar while providing a comic spin.

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In the Odyssey, Odysseus describes his confrontation with the Cyclops Polyphemus in a serious, dramatic tone. He recounts to King Alcinous how he and his men became trapped in Polyphemus's cave; how Polyphemus ate several of his men; how he tricked Polyphemus, made him drunk, and poked out his...

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In the Odyssey, Odysseus describes his confrontation with the Cyclops Polyphemus in a serious, dramatic tone. He recounts to King Alcinous how he and his men became trapped in Polyphemus's cave; how Polyphemus ate several of his men; how he tricked Polyphemus, made him drunk, and poked out his eye; and how he and his men made their escape beneath Polyphemus's own sheep. The whole account is that of a courageous yet extremely dangerous adventure that was only brought to a successful end by Odysseus's clever trickery and violence.

Euripides, however, in his play Cyclops, turns this heroic scene into something of a farce to be laughed at. Euripides retains many details from the original story (or it would cease to be the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops). Odysseus still gets Polyphemus drunk and pokes out the monster's eye after some of his men are eaten by the Cyclops. He still identifies himself as “Noman” so that the Cyclops will proclaim that “Noman has blinded him.” But the playwright adds and changes several elements as well. First, and probably most obvious, the play features characters that do not appear in the original: the satyr Silenusand his children who form a chorus. These new characters add a comic element to the play through their antics and singing (more about that in a minute).

Euripides also changes several aspects of the plot. Odysseus and his men, for instance, are not trapped in Polyphemus's cave as they are in the original tale. Polyphemus drives them into the cave only after a rather long conversation and exchange of threats and insults. Even then, Odysseus somehow manages to come back out of the cave to inform the satyrs that the Cyclops had just cooked and eaten two of his men (in the original, he didn't bother to cook them first). Notice that Odysseus could escape right then but does not out of loyalty to his men. Instead, he forms a plan with the satyrs to poke out Polyphemus's eye. The satyrs, of course, back out later as their courage falls far short of their promise, and Odysseus has ask the help of his men instead.

All of these changes serve to introduce humorous elements into the play that certainly are not present in the original. The satyrs provide a wealth of comic relief both visually and in their songs and speeches. For example, Euripides plays his comic card to the hilt when he shows Polyphemus and Silenus in their drunken silliness. In the original, of course, Polyphemus simply throws up and passes out, but in the play, the Cyclops engages in a long, hilarious dialogue with the chief satyr. Silenus sneaks wine behind Polyphemus's back and then tells the Cyclops that the wine had insisted upon kissing him because of his good looks. Polyphemus himself sings and staggers, making a fool of himself, much to the audience's amusement.

Toward the end of the play when Odysseus has gotten Polyphemus so drunk that he falls asleep, the satyr chorus sings in what they think is a dramatic mode,

Tightly the pincers shall grip the neck of him who feasts upon his guests; for soon will he lose the light of his eye by fire; already the brand, a tree's huge limb, lurks amid the embers charred. Oh! come ye then and work his doom, pluck out the maddened Cyclops' eye, that he may rue his drinking.

Odysseus, however, has no time for such dramatics (which are so prominent in the original tale), for apparently they have become loud enough to risk waking Polyphemus. “Silence, ye cattle!” he hisses at the satyrs.

I adjure you; close your lips; make not a sound I'll not let a man of you so much as breathe or wink or clear his throat, that yon pest awake not...

The audience cannot help but chuckle at the satyrs' attempts at serious heroic drama and even more at Odysseus' threats to quelch it...and them!

Right after Odysseus essentially tells the satyr chorus to shut up, he calls on them to fulfill their promise to help him poke out the Cyclops's eye. The satyrs suddenly decide that they have no interest in doing so! One group claims they are just too far away to help (but of course they are not). Another group announces that they have all just gone lame (all of them at once?). The first group agrees and pleads sprained ankles. The second group decides that the dust and ashes have gotten in their eyes and they cannot see well enough. Even their leader tells Odysseus that he is suddenly quite worried about his back, spine, and teeth. Odysseus, probably throwing up his hands in frustration, goes back into the cave himself to take care of business without the cowardly satyrs.

Indeed, Euripides's play contains just enough elements of the original story of Odysseus and the Cyclops to make it recognizable and to maintain the general plot line, but he has turned the tale into a rollicking, if rather sarcastic, comedy, making his audience view an old, familiar favorite in a fresh and amusing way.

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