Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Odysseus (oh-DIHS-ews), the crafty king of Ithaca. On his way home from the sack of Troy, he lands at Etna, in Sicily, the home of the Cyclops. Seeking food, he is captured by the Cyclops Polyphemus but manages to escape by blinding the giant after giving him wine. The story is taken from book 9 of Homer’s The Odyssey, but Euripides has changed both some details of the original story and the character of Odysseus. Odysseus and his men do not escape by clinging to a ram’s belly, nor does the Cyclops block the entrance to his cave with a boulder. The change in the character of Odysseus is more important. He is the son not of Laertes, but of Sisyphus, the famous sinner of Corinth, a cheat and a thief. Odysseus becomes in the play a representative of civilized brutality. His speech for mercy before the Cyclops is filled with sophistry, and the sympathy that he arouses at the beginning of the play, when he is weak and oppressed, is reversed by the brutality of his blinding of the Cyclops who, drunk, becomes a decadent but rather likable buffoon.

The Cyclops

The Cyclops (SI-klops), called Polyphemus (pol-ih-FEE-muhs), the son of Poseidon. The one-eyed giant of the Homeric legend, he is the exponent of egoism and immoral application of might and right. To Odysseus’ argument that the Cyclops should spare him and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Arnott, Peter D., trans. Three Greek Plays for the Theatre: Euripides, “Medea,” “Cyclops”; Aristophanes, “The Frogs.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1961. A fine translation of the play, with an introduction. Cyclops is described as a tragedy and a comedy.

Green, Roger L. Two Satyr Plays: Euripides’ “Cyclops” and Sophocles’ “Ichneutai.” New York: Penguin Books, 1957. A good translation, with an introduction. Sophocles’ The Searching Satyrs, an incomplete satyr play, offers a useful opportunity for comparison.

Seaford, Richard. Introduction to Cyclops, by Euripides. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1984. Offers a 60-page survey of the features of satyric drama in general and of Cyclops in particular. The connections of satyr drama with the cult of Dionysus in Athens are emphasized.

Sutton, Dana F. The Greek Satyr Play. Meisenheim an Glan, Germany: Hain, 1980. A comprehensive survey of the genre. Traces the history of the satyr play, offers a critical appraisal and provides a useful bibliography.

Webster, T. B. L. Monuments Illustrating Tragedy and Satyr Play. London: Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, 1967. Presents visual evidence from archaeological sources of satyrs and their role in drama. Explores the links between tragedy and the satyr play.