Last Updated on July 23, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 320
The play Cyclops by Euripides is a comedic extrapolation of one of the episodes from the epic poem the Odyssey, in which Odysseus is trapped by the Cyclops Polyphemus and must trick him in order to escape with his men. The play is meant both to entertain and impart moral virtues to the audience. It is also unique as the only surviving complete text of a satyr play. A satyr play is a traditional type of ancient Greek drama incorporating satyrs and the things for which those creatures are famous, such as drunkenness, ribaldry, and sexual promiscuity. Euripides's satyr play is both a social commentary— discussing the merits of welfare and social programs—and a comedy full of sexual references and orgiastic revels.
Stylistically, the humor is much in the same vein as the cunning and tricky wordplay from Homer's Odyssey. A particularly humorous moment occurs when the satyrs sing about a burning spear floating on its own and gouging out the eye of the Cyclops, while this event actually occurs offstage. It almost seems to ascribe mystical powers to the satyrs, when in reality, Odysseus is the one taking these actions. The humorous part comes from realizing that Odysseus has taken the name “Nobody” so as to confuse the Cyclops, and therefore “Nobody” is lifting the burning spear and attacking the slumbering giant.
The play also makes great use of the expository chorus, which in this case (as in other satyr plays) is comprised of the satyrs. Ancient Greek plays traditionally include a chorus of some sort, be it compromised of satyrs, muses, or human citizens. The exposition and commentary provided by the chorus serves to accelerate the action and help change the course of the dialogue without confusion. In Cyclops, they also explore the themes and mores that Odysseus and Polyphemus argue about in the play, essentially representing either the masses or the government debating these social issues.