Characters

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Odysseus

The hero of the story is Odysseus, who is returning from Troy and the Trojan War. He is a noble, upstanding hero who falls victim to his own pride. He is a valiant fighter and a clever leader who is able to devise elaborate plots and make quick decisions to ensure the safety of his men. He argues in favor of justice and welfare for the satyrs, as he wishes them to have better lives and more options. Odysseus's men accompany him to the Cyclops's island and help him blind Polyphemus, but they have no lines in the play.

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Polyphemus

Polyphemus is the giant Cyclops who terrorizes the satyrs and takes Odysseus and his men captive. He is a violent and abhorrent beast who cares only for his own wealth and power. He is known as a "man-eater" and lives up to the title several times in the play. He has a philosophical discussion with Odysseus about the merits of wealth and self-interest as opposed to generosity and welfare.

Silenus

The leader of the satyrs, Silenus is a child of Bacchus, the god of wine, and is accordingly lewd and loves drinking and carousing. He trades food that he steals from Polyphemus to Odysseus for large portions of wine so that the satyrs can drink and have a party, in spite of the danger in which it puts them and Odysseus's men. He later helps with the plot to get Polyphemus drunk, but in the process, the Cyclops turns on him and takes him back to his cave, presumably for some form of sexual activity.

The Satyr Chorus

As is traditional in satyr plays, the satyrs are here employed as the chorus, led by Coryphaeus. They speak directly to Silenus and Odysseus at times, bringing them squarely into the story. The satyrs are both comic and cowardly, and while they initially agree to help Odysseus blind Polyphemus, they back out of the plan at the last minute. Drinking, reveling, and worshipping Bacchus are their main motivations in the play.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571

Odysseus

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 his men because the Greeks have preserved the temples of his father Poseidon and saved Hellas, the giant replies that he has no respect for the gods; his religion consists of his belly and his desires. He disregards morality through an appeal to nature and believes mercy a mere convention of the weak. The gory description of his cannibalism (he has two of Odysseus’ men for his meal) does much to justify Odysseus’ revenge, but he changes as he drinks. He becomes a decadent buffoon who loathes war and tries to rape Silenus. Blinded, he is comic because of his repeated assertion that “Nobody,” the name Odysseus has used, has done him in. As Odysseus leaves, having revealed his true identity, the Cyclops prophesies that Odysseus will be forced to wander the seas before returning to his home.

Silenus

Silenus (si-LEE-nuhs), a follower of Dionysus. Shipwrecked on Etna while searching for Dionysus, who had been captured by Lydian pirates, he was taken by the Cyclops and has remained his slave. He is the “father” of the satyric chorus and a standard part of satyric convention. A lewd, fat, bald, boastful, cowardly, and drunken old man, he freely offers to trade Odysseus food for wine; however, when the Cyclops appears, he says that Odysseus has stolen the wine. He continues to drink throughout the play and is given in mock marriage to the Cyclops.

The Chorus of Satyrs

The Chorus of Satyrs, also a standard part of satyric convention. They are “horse-men,” lewd in appearance, speech, and action. They exhibit a strong streak of cowardice. They offer to aid Odysseus in blinding the Cyclops, but when the time for action arrives, they excuse themselves on the grounds that they have become lame while standing still. Their only real interest is in resuming the worship of Bacchus.

Coryphaeus

Coryphaeus (coh-RIHF-ee-uhs), the leader of the Chorus.

The companions of Odysseus

The companions of Odysseus, members of his crew. They remain silent throughout the play. They help Odysseus blind the Cyclops.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 189

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.

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