Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Reviewed on July 23, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310

The play Cyclops by Euripides is a retelling and expansion upon the portion of the Odyssey in which Odysseus becomes trapped on the island of the Cyclops and must trick the beast so that he can save himself and his men. The story begins with a soliloquy from Silenus, a satyr who is trapped on the island of Polyphemus, the Cyclops. He explains that he and the other satyrs are all captives of Polyphemus, and they are in desperate need of help because they are slaves and cannot live as they are intended to—like frolicking beasts.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Cyclops Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Odysseus arrives on the island, and he offers wine in exchange for food, which Silenus greedily accepts, in spite of the fact that the food belongs to Polyphemus. After Odysseus and his men are blamed for stealing the food, they are taken captive as well.

Unlike in the Odyssey, Odysseus attempts to reason with the Cyclops, and they have a spirited discussion about morality and social welfare. Odysseus argues for hospitality and care, while Polyphemus reasons that personal gain is the only thing of importance, and therefore he couldn’t care less about the plight of others. He says that personal gain is worthy of worship and that the satyrs and other individuals who are in need have simply failed and deserve no help.

After being locked up by Polyphemus, Odysseus formulates his escape plan: to get the giant drunk and blind him with a burning poker. Silenus gets the Cyclops drunk, but the satyrs are unwilling to go through with blinding him. Odysseus gets his men to help him complete the plan, and they escape on their own. In the process he reveals his identity to Polyphemus, whose father, Poseidon, then rages against Odysseus for the remainder of his journey home, which is the cause of his ongoing troubles in the Odyssey.

Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596

As he rakes the ground before the cave of his master, the Cyclops, old Silenus laments the day he was shipwrecked on the rock of Aetna and taken into captivity by the monstrous, one-eyed offspring of Poseidon, god of the sea. About Silenus gambols his children, the Chorus of Satyrs, who pray with their father to Bacchus for deliverance. Suddenly, Silenus spies a ship and the approach of a group of sailors who are clearly seeking supplies. Odysseus and his companions approach, introduce themselves as the conquerors of Troy, driven from their homeward journey by tempestuous winds and desperately in need of food and water. Silenus warns them of the cannibalistic Cyclops’s impending return, urges them to make haste, and then begins to bargain with them over the supplies. Spying a skin of wine, the precious liquid of Bacchus that he did not taste for years, Silenus begs for a drink. After one sip he feels his feet urging him to dance. He offers them all the lambs and cheese they need in exchange for one skin of wine.

As the exchange takes place, the giant Cyclops suddenly returns, ravenously hungry. The wretched Silenus makes himself appear to be terribly beaten and accuses Odysseus and his men of plundering the Cyclops’s property. Odysseus denies the false charge, but although he is supported by the leader of the Chorus of Satyrs, the Cyclops seizes two of the sailors, takes them into his cave, and makes a meal of them. Horrified, Odysseus is then urged by the satyrs to employ his famed cleverness, so effective at Troy, in finding some means of escape.

After some discussion, Odysseus hits upon a subtle plan: First they will make the Cyclops drunk with wine; then, while he is in a stupor, they will cut down an olive tree, sharpen it, set it afire, and plunge it into the Cyclops’s eye. After that escape will be easy. When the Cyclops emerges from his cave, Odysseus offers him the wine, and the giant and Silenus proceed to get hilariously drunk. So pleased is the monster with the effects of the Bacchic fluid that Silenus without much trouble persuades him not to share it but to drink it all up by himself. The grateful Cyclops asks Odysseus his name (to which the clever warrior replied “No man”) and promises that he will be the last to be eaten. Soon the Cyclops finds the earth and sky whirling together and his lusts mounting. He seizes the unhappy Silenus and drags him into the cave to have his pleasure with him.

As the Cyclops lies in a stupor, Odysseus urges the satyrs to help him fulfill the plan they agreed upon, but the cowardly satyrs refuse and Odysseus is forced to use his own men for the task. Soon the agonized Cyclops, shouting that “no man” blinded him, comes bellowing out of the cave. The chorus mocks and jeers at him for this ridiculous charge and gives him false directions for capturing the escaping Greeks. The berserk giant thrashes about and cracks his skull against the rocks. When the escaping Odysseus taunts him with his true name, the Cyclops groans that an oracle predicted that Odysseus would blind him on his way home from Troy, but he foretold also that the clever one would pay for his deed by tossing about on Poseidon’s seas for many years. The satyrs hasten to join the escape so that they can once more become the proper servants of Bacchus in a land where grapes grow.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Next

Characters

Explore Study Guides